realenglishfruit

Top fruit tree growing advice and information from Real English Fruit

Video: Mistletoe

Click to watch this video.

Mistletoe lives in association with various types of tree, such as oak or ash, but it can also grow on fruit trees such as apple. Mistletoe itself does no harm to the tree, but it does absorb some of the water and nutrients provided by the tree’s root system. It is generally described as semi-parasitic, but it is a green plant, and synthesizes at least some of the nutrients that it needs. It is possible that some of the substances that the mistletoe produces are transferred to the host tree, and so the relationship could conceivably be one of mutual cooperation, above all in winter when the mistletoe is still green and the host has lost its leaves. The relationship could be more complex than it appears at first glance, perhaps closer to symbiotic than parasitic.

In addition to encouraging kissing, in recent years it has been discovered to possess certain medicinal properties. Why are birds more successful than human beings in grafting mistletoe onto trees? The secret lies in the stickiness of the berries. The birds eat the seeds inside the berry, the sticky stuff sticks to their beak, and they clean it off by rubbing it onto the tree bark. So to have some mistletoe in your garden, you just have to encourage the presence of birds. Mistletoe itself is a good source of food for some birds, such as mistle thrushes and migratory blackcaps, and it seems to have a positive effect on biodiversity. If you are worried about the water and nutrients that the mistletoe is stealing from your fruit tree, all you have to do is to provide extra water in droughty periods, and organic matter such as some manure in the spring. It’s a good idea to provide a constant layer of mulch around the tree, not in contact with the trunk (take a look at this video), and right out to the edge of the canopy.

If you want to try growing mistletoe on a tree in your garden, here’s how it is done. Collect berries from the mistletoe on a tree in March or April (at this time of year the berries are ripe). The host branch should be at least 10 cm in diameter, positioned fairly high in the tree so that the mistletoe receives good light. The tree should be at least 15 years old. Locate a natural crevice in the bark, or cut and lift a small flap. Remove the seeds from the mistletoe berries and insert them into the opening. Place several seeds at every position you choose, because only a few of them germinate. You should plant the mistletoe in several positions because male and female mistletoe plants are needed for berries to form. Protect the seeds from the birds by wrapping some hessian around the branch. Click to watch.

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