Kissing under the mistletoe is a festive tradition that originates from its connection to ancient fertility rituals. Whilst the pagan links may no longer be honoured, the majority of us have taken advantage of it at some point in our lives.
Mistletoe is beautiful in its simplicity and can easily be grown following a few simple steps. Here is our ‘how to grow mistletoe’ guide.
What Is Mistletoe?
Mistletoe, or Viscum album, is a parasitic, evergreen, hardy, shrub that is covered in white berries through the winter months. There are over 1,500 varieties of Mistletoe in the world.
Where Do You Grow Mistletoe?
Mistletoe grows in the host branches of apple, hawthorn, poplar and lime trees. The most common host tree is the apple tree. Although mistletoe is a parasite, it will not kill a tree but it will affect a trees growth and harvest yields.
How To Obtain Mistletoe Seeds
Mistletoe seeds can be bought online (try a 'Grow Your Own Mistletoe kit') but it is far more fun to gather your own. Ripe Mistletoe berries are white in colour and are available between November and February. If you gather Mistletoe for your festive decorations, keep back as many white berries as possible (between 20-30 is ideal) and store them in a plastic bag with a little water, in a cool, dry, frost-free place.
The best time for cultivation is in February or March. If you have stored your berries, you will need to rehydrate them by immersing overnight in a bowl of water.
- Select your host tree (apple, lime, poplar or hawthorn) or shrub (most of the Rosaceae family are also suitable).
- Squeeze the berries, one at a time, so that a sticky jelly-like substance emerges containing black seeds. It is perfectly safe for this to be squeezed between fingers, but ensure that hands are washed thoroughly afterwards.
- Spread the jelly-like viscin, complete with the seeds, onto the chosen branch. Do this over three or four young branches, which should be between 5 and 10cm in diameter. Choose branches away from the centre of the tree, as high in the tree as you can for maximum light, and avoid the trunk.
- Label the branches on which you have spread the seeds, this may also help to deter birds.
- Leave to germinate, which should happen in March or April. Some will be eaten by birds or invertebrates, but hopefully, enough will have been planted to ensure some success.
Once germination has occurred growth will be slow and it may take up to 3 years before the plant even develops leaves. From year 4, growth accelerates and branches will develop and finally in year 5, berries should start appearing.
How To Care For Mistletoe
Initially, Mistletoe requires little care apart from a strong tree on which to grow. As growth increases, from year 5 onwards, it is important to regularly prune the Mistletoe branches. This will help the host tree to stay healthy as it will prevent the Mistletoe from dominating the tree. If the Mistletoe grows too big the host tree will have less foliage of its own and suffer from wind stress. The host tree will also suffer a loss of water and reduced nutrients which will be used by the Mistletoe instead.
The Mistletoe Festival
Each year at the end of November and beginning of December the Tenbury Mistletoe Association in Tenbury Wells, holds a Mistletoe Festival celebrating this wonderful plant and the festive traditions associated with it. Storytelling, music and mistletoe sales take place in the Mistletoe Capital of England.
Have you a Mistletoe bush in your orchard? Have you successfully grown Mistletoe? Do you have a special way of displaying Mistletoe during the festive season? We'd love you to share your tips and photos with us.