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Growing mistletoe

Posted: Friday 3 January 2014
by Kate Bradbury

I adore mistletoe, and would love to one day harvest my own, for ‘welcoming’ guests at Christmas.


What better way to see in the (gardening) New Year than by propagating mistletoe? I adore mistletoe, and would love to one day harvest my own, for ‘welcoming’ guests at Christmas.

A partially parasitic plant, mistletoe, Viscum album, grows on the bark of trees such as apples, limes, poplars, hawthorn, ash, sycamore and pear (most predominantly in the Midlands, but in other parts of Britain, too). It doesn’t harm the host tree, and instead grows in a big evergreen ball high up in the canopy. I think it looks fantastic against the bare bark and branches of its host in winter.

Usually propagated by birds, mistletoe takes its name from the Anglo-Saxon mistel (dung) and tan (twig), and it’s often the mistle thrush that does the job of spreading this dung on the twig. The berries are sticky, and much of the stickiness is still present after they have passed through the gut of a bird, making them very good at staying on the twig they have been deposited on.

The seeds don’t tend to geminate until spring. But if a mistle thrush can poo on a branch at Christmas, I can spread sticky berries on a branch at Christmas. There’s no harm in trying.

Taking berries from seasonal displays is the least successful method of propagating mistletoe. The berries will have likely dried out and there’s no way of knowing where they came from (a lot of mistletoe is imported from Europe and it’s thought that the young plants grow best on the same host species that their parent plants grew on).

I was lucky to buy mistletoe from a local supplier who told me hers grew on an apple tree. So, before making the display for my mum’s hallway, I removed a few stems and popped them into a glass of water to keep them fresh.

Mistletoe berries grow on female plants, so it’s good to sow as much seed as possible, to increase your chances of having both male and female plants in the garden. I had about 20 berries in total, and it was these I took into mum’s garden on Boxing Day morning. Mum has two apples and a pear tree, and I thought I’d try my luck with all three.

Younger branches apparently make the best new mistletoe hosts, as the bark is thin enough to penetrate. However, a diameter of less than 20cm is not ideal, as it needs to be able to physically withstand the new plant. It’s sometimes recommended to make a nick in the bark before spreading the seed, but this can lead to the onset of disease, so I prefer to let the berries find their own way into the host.

I simply chose my branches and smeared the sticky berries onto the bark, and then tied a piece of twine around them so I would know where to look for signs of growth next year.

All being well, in spring the berries will germinate and grow roots into the bark, and the following year they will start to produce leaves. Mistletoe grows slowly, with just two new branches growing each year. It will be at least four years before I see berries. But what a Christmas it will be, to welcome guests with a kiss under some home-grown mistletoe.



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oldchippy 03/01/2014 at 18:04

Happy New Year Kate,on my walk up the golf course today I saw quite a lot of Mistletoe growing on the trees, I hadn't noticed it before,one thing it wont kill the tree like Ivy(I know ivy doesn't kill trees)no the wind bring them down I must have seen more that a dozen trees down covered with Ivy and most haven't had any leaves last year choked to the tips of the branches. Oldchippy.

Bob Eliott 20/02/2014 at 18:02

Where can I get mistletoe seeds

nutcutlet 20/02/2014 at 19:01

Have you tried googling mistletoe seeds. I got some from somewhere in Lincolnshire but sorry, can't remember the name of the company.

Singing Gardener 21/02/2014 at 09:45

I just bought some from The English Mistletoe Shop (www.buy.mistletoe.org.uk) which sells a nice little gift box with instructions etc. but I think they're probably quite expensive. I also found someone selling them on ebay which were much cheaper but I wanted the gift box so went for that.