Three Parts:Harvesting Your MistletoePlanting Your MistletoeCaring for MistletoeCommunity Q&A
Many people have grown up admiring mistletoe decorations each Christmas season and even sharing kisses underneath them. With a bit of work, you can grow mistletoe in your yard to admire and use throughout the year! The growth process is long, lasting around five years until the plant reaches maturation. Knowing how to properly plant and cultivate mistletoe can make the process (and the wait) much easier.
Part 1 Harvesting Your Mistletoe
- Pick several mistletoe berries from a fully mature branch.
The best time of year to gather mistletoe berries is in February, when the berries are fully mature and ready to be planted. You can also purchase them online if there are no mistletoe plants in your area.
- Fresh mistletoe berries are ideal for planting. You can trust they are ripe and ready to germinate, unlike older berries (or berries used in decorations), which may have already begun to decay.
- To identify whether a mistletoe berry is fresh enough to plant, check out the color. Look specifically for white berries; their pale color means they have reached full maturity.
- If you must use older berries, be sure to store them in water until you’re ready to plant. You can submerge your mistletoe in a cup or vase. The mistletoe will also need ample amounts of light; set them near a window to meet this need.
- Choose hawthorn, apple, lime, or poplar trees to plant your mistletoe on.
These particular species of trees are proven to be the most suitable for mistletoe growth. If you have none of these types of trees nearby, you can try planting your mistletoe on oak tree branches.
- Mistletoe is a partial parasite. Although its leaves do make some energy through photosynthesis, the plant also roots down under the bark of a host tree to take more nutrients from the tree.
- Most trees and shrubs from the Rosaceae family will work.
- Pinch the mistletoe berries open to extract their seeds.
They should come out covered in a viscous material known as “viscin.” Be sure to wipe the seeds partially clean with your fingers before planting them. You should leave only a bit of viscin on the seeds to help them stick to the tree.
Part 2 Planting Your Mistletoe
- Place your mistletoe seeds onto the branches of your tree.
All you have to do is stick them on like a decal. The bit of viscin you’ve left on the seed will help it stick to the tree branch so the seed can take root there. Choose smaller, newer branches for planting mistletoe. Picking smaller branches makes it much easier for mistletoe to adhere and start growing. This will also reduce damage to the tree, since mistletoe grows by taking nutrients from the tree.
- Try to stick to branches with a diameter of eight inches. The mistletoe will mature more easily with eight inch branches. This is because they are thin enough for the mistletoe to attach itself to while it grows.
- By sticking the seed to a leaf, you are mimicking a bird releasing a seed in its droppings.
- Flag the branches you’ve planted mistletoe on with string or tags.
You don’t want to forget where you planted your mistletoe later on. Adding some type of labeling system will help you to remember where your mistletoe has been planted, so you can more easily check on its growth.
- Look for signs of germination in the spring.
If you planted your mistletoe in February, you should notice your seeds beginning to sprout in March or April of that same year. Newly sprouted mistletoe will look like tiny green stems with no leaves.
- Check for noticeable sprouts and leaves by the fourth year of growth.
Remember: mistletoe takes a long time to grow. You won’t be able to spot much progress until the fourth year, when the tiny buds of the mistletoe have begun growing higher and developing leaves. From this point onward, you can expect your mistletoe to progress at a much quicker rate.
Part 3 Caring for Mistletoe
Plant your mistletoe on trees that get lots of sunlight. Mistletoe needs to be exposed to sunlight to survive. Try to choose a tree in your yard that directly faces the sun to help the mistletoe grow.
- Don’t worry about watering the mistletoe.
It will naturally get all the water it needs from the tree you’ve planted it on. Instead, check the health of your tree from time to time as the mistletoe grows. If you notice the tree becoming weaker, you can give it extra water and fertilizer to boost its health. Caring for the tree will help the mistletoe to thrive, too.
- You can identify a sick tree by its branches. Sick tress may have branches with dead leaves that will not fall off, or branches with no leaves (when it isn’t fall or winter).
- Check out the tree’s trunk to determine its health. Trees will shed their bark from time to time, but a healthy tree will regrow its bark. A sick tree will not replace its bark, so you’ll always see bare wood.
- Trim your mistletoe with gardening shears if it starts getting too unruly.
You may notice the tree branch the mistletoe is planted on beginning to sag from its weight. Alternatively, you might see other parts of the tree beginning to die. These are two major signs the mistletoe is in need of a trim. Cut away at the outer parts of the mistletoe bush until it’s smaller and even on all sides.
- Keep an eye on the tree after trimming to see whether it starts to regain its health. It may begin growing new leaves, or the branch the mistletoe is on may perk up. If the tree continues to get worse, remove the entire branch. You can try planting new mistletoe on a different tree next year.
Add New Question
Are mistletoe berries poisonous to animals and birds?
Lauren Kurtz is a Horticulturist in Colorado. She has worked as a horticulture specialist for the City of Aurora, Water Conservation Department since 2016.
Mistletoe berries are not poisonous to birds. They are mildly toxic to pets and humans.
Where can I order seeds to start my own mistletoe?
You can order mistletoe seeds from the “English Mistletoe Shop,” which can be found online. Try looking around on eBay as well.
Can I grow it from a cutting?
No, mistletoe can only grow from seeds. It is impossible to grow it from a cutting.
How can I kill mistletoe in an olive tree?
The best way to kill mistletoe is to remove the stems one by one to ensure that there is nothing left.
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- Mistletoe is notorious for taking a long time to grow. Keep in mind that it will take several years for your mistletoe seeds to reach maturation, and don’t lose patience.
- Plant a generous amount of mistletoe seeds. Mistletoe seeds are divided up by sex: female and male. Planting a lot of mistletoe will guarantee that at least some of your seeds will start to grow properly.
- If you’re collecting mistletoe from someone’s yard or orchard, be sure to ask what tree species the mistletoe is coming from. Your new mistletoe seeds should thrive on the same tree species, making this step of the planting process easier.
- Ask the owner of the mistletoe bush you’re collecting from whether it’s okay to gather berries before you pick anything.
- Avoid planting the mistletoe berries from your Christmas decorations. These berries are too old and are unlikely to be able to grow.
- If you managed to obtain mistletoe berries or seeds during the holidays, stow them for only a few months at the longest. They will be ready to plant by February or March. If you don’t plan to plant your mistletoe seeds right away, it’s fine to store them—as long as you put them somewhere well-lit. Mistletoe cannot survive without light.
- Never try to plant mistletoe on the trunk of the tree. This area is much too large for the mistletoe to adhere to and germinate properly.
- While you may be advised to create nicks in tree branches so the mistletoe can stick, this step is unnecessary. In fact, doing this may cause more harm than good. The exposed flesh may make the tree branch more susceptible to decay and sickness.
Things You’ll Need
A hawthorn, apple, lime, or poplar tree
Ladder or stepping stool
Twine, string, or plant tags
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When physics grad student Fielding Monroe and skirt-chaser and football player Mick Colman become college housemates, they’re both in for a whole new education. Mick looks out for the absent-minded genius, and he helps Fielding clean up his appearance and discover all the silly pleasures his strict upbringing as a child prodigy denied him. They become best friends.
It’s all well and good until they run into a cheerleader who calls Mick the ‘best kisser on campus.’ Fielding has never been kissed, and he decides Mick and only Mick can teach him how it’s done. After all, the physics department’s Christmas party is coming up with its dreaded mistletoe. Fielding wants to impress his peers and look cool for once in his life. The thing about Fielding is, once he locks onto an idea, it’s almost impossible to get him to change his mind. And he just doesn’t understand why his straight best friend would have a problem providing a little demonstration.
Mick knows kissing is a dangerous game. If he gives in, it would take a miracle for the thing not to turn into a disaster. Then again, if the kissing lessons get out of hand they can always blame it on the mistletoe.
Three year old Mistletoe seedling on apple
Many people (particularly in Britain) want to grow their own mistletoe – but often get conflicting advice on how to do it.
There is almost a whole mythology about it, based on confused understanding of what mistletoe needs and how it grows.
A few of the usual myths (often repeated by gardening ‘experts’ in magazines, newspapers and television) are listed below. Some of these myths are completely counter-productive and following them will minimise, not maximise, your chance of success!
- “seeds have to pass through a bird to germinate” – not true!
- “seeds need the fertilisation from bird droppings to germinate” – not true!
- “seeds should be placed under a flap in the host bark” – not true!
- “seeds should be covered in muslin/raffia/etc to hold them in place” – not true!
- “seeds must be planted on the same host as their parent plant” – not true!
- “the best location is in old fissured bark” – not true!
Scroll down to go straight to detailed instructions on how to grow your own, or click here if you want information on buying Grow-Your-Own Kits.
Remember this website is about the Viscum album the traditional mistletoe of Europe. Growing advice given here is for that species, and may not be suitable for other species of mistletoe.
How to grow mistletoe
There is much mis-information (see above) about mistletoe germination and how to grow your own. This section sets out helpful stage by stage instructions on how it should be done. The instructions are tailored to European Mistletoe Viscum album.
Germination can be divided into non-parasitic and parasitic phases. In the first the seed extends a green hypocotyl which bends towards the host surface. Once this is contacted it flattens to a sucker-shaped holdfast adhering to the host surface.
Once the holdfast is established the parasitic phase begins as the seedling begins to penetrate the host tissue stimulating the growth of a connecting organ or haustorium. The haustorium, which will appear as a swelling where the mistletoe is attached, is a mix of both host and mistletoe woody tissue.
Ignore most old gardening lore.
Disregard any advice you’ve heard or read that suggests cutting flaps in, and hiding seeds under, host bark! This is unnecessary and counter-productive – mistletoe seeds need intact healthy host bark, and light, to grow. They are naturally sticky, and so simply glue themselves onto the bark surface.
Don’t store seeds for long – and never in the dark.
Mistletoe seeds germinate best in February and March, not at Christmas. You can keep Christmas berries fresh by detaching them and leaving them in a shed window until mid-February – though this is not ideal.
And even if you keep them for a short time don’t keep them in the dark (and never in the fridge)! The seeds are actively photosynthetic and need to be kept in the light, otherwise they will die within a couple of weeks.
Be prepared to be patient
You’ll need a lot of berries to be sure of success. You need to time it right – success is much higher in February to March. Mistletoe grows very slowly in the first 4 years – so it’ll be some time before you get a significant plant. But it grows very fast once it’s well-established.
It is best to obtain fresh berries in February. If you’re worried about birds taking them try netting the parent plant at Christmas to ensure some are left. In most years this shouldn’t be a problem – there are usually still some berries left as late as April.
If you don’t have a local source you can buy fresh berries online (in Grow-Kits) at the English Mistletoe Shop.
In February, if the berries have been stored, rehydrate them for a few hours in a little water.
Whether fresh or stored, the seed needs to be squeezed out of the berry – you’ll find they come out enclosed in a ball of sticky jelly-like viscin. Collect several of these sticky seeds on your fingers. You’ll find they stick onto you rather well, and this is a convenient place to keep whilst planting on the tree. Try to remove as much of the jelly-like gluey viscin as possible, as the seeds seem to germinate better when fairly ‘clean’, and still stick on perfectly well with only a little glue remaining.
Choose your victim…
Then choose your host, bearing in mind European Mistletoe’s preferences – apple first, then poplars, limes, false acacia, hawthorn etc. Most trees and shrubs of the Rosaceae are suitable.
There is an information sheet on Hosts and Habitats in Britain available here:
Remember that mistletoe is a parasite and will affect the growth of the branch it is on and, if on apple, will reduce fruit yield.
Choose young branches, from 2 to 6 cm diameter.
Avoid older branches and the trunk – they will be more difficult for the mistletoe – and anyway you don’t want mistletoe close to the trunk, it’s best to grow it well away from the centre of the tree.
Stick those half-dozen seeds you stuck on your hand onto the branch.
Label them! – with a plant label tied to the branch (it’s very easy to forget which branch you used and initial growth over 24 months is tiny so you may not spot the tiny seedlings).
Try to plant as many as possible, at least 20 berries at once, divided between 4 or so branches. Germination is easy (it will happen – but many will later die, or be eaten by birds and invertebrates.
And remember mistletoe is ‘diocieous’ – so each plant will be either male or female. This means you’ll need at least two plants, and maybe several, for berries…
By March/April your seeds should be germinating.
A few will already be mssing, eaten by birds or grazed off by invertebrates – but survivors should begin to look like those pictured here.
This is as big as they get in Year One – so be sure your label is tied securely to the branch or you’ll lose track of them by next year.
After 12 months…
In Year Two, your surviving seedlings may become more erect, but you’ll often see little growth – but as long as your shoots are still green your mistletoe should still be ok. If your seedlings have been grazed by slugs or snails they may be set back another year, but don’t despair, they can survive for some time as really tiny growths!
After 24 months…
In Year Three, if all’s gone well, you’ll probably get some proper leaves – though these may be tiny at first. If the plants have been set back this stage may not be until year 4 or 5.
After the first proper leaves the mistletoe plant will start to grow much more rapidly. Each branch bifurcates at least once a year – so the number of branches doubles. This picture is of two Year 4 seedlings, just about to start growing very fast.
Need more help?
For more guidance you might want to try a Grow-Your-Own Mistletoe Kit – you’ll find more information about these on the next page, or from our sister site The English Mistletoe Shop,
And there’s an information sheet on Growing Your Own here: