Growing mistletoe at Acorn Bank

Mistletoe growing in an apple tree at Acorn Bank

We were encouraged to grow mistletoe at Acorn Bank by Mr W. Bailey; an orchard keeper living near Preston. We started nine or 10 years ago and now have seven plants spread throughout our orchard.

If you want to grow mistletoe in your own orchard or garden, this is what you need to do.

  1. Choose a healthy (young) tree. Mistletoe needs light and healthy, intact bark to grow, so no cutting or nicking.
  2. You'll need lots of berries and a good deal of patience – it's very slow, taking three years before you see very much in the way of leaves for your effort and at least five years before you get any berries at all. After that things speed up and you'll need to be prepared to harvest and control the crop.
  3. The berries should be ripe before planting; you'll have more success in February and March than at Christmas.
  4. Squeeze the berries and gather a number of seeds on your finger; they'll stick just fine. Transfer the seeds one at a time with some of the sticky goo onto a young, smooth branch, about pinkie- finger thickness. If you label the branch you'll be able to look out for signs of growth. If you don’t label you'll have a nice surprise in a few years' time!
  5. Try for about 20 berries per tree. Two reasons: you need a male and a female mistletoe to get berries, and a lot will germinate but suffer from early mortality – eaten or knocked off.
  6. Move on to the next tree; it seems that some varieties of apple could be better hosts than others. You could also try growing mistletoe on pear, poplar, and hawthorn.