The decline in old apple orchards is threatening the quantity of mistletoe in some parts of Britain – but its fondness for apple trees means that you can do your bit to help in your own garden.

In the wild, seeds are spread by birds, mainly mistle thrushes and blackcaps, the latter being especially efficient as they wipe the seeds from their beaks by rubbing them against a branch, placing them in the perfect spot to germinate.

It’s not difficult to grow this fascinating semi-parasitic plant in the garden and establishing them by hand is easy. Mistletoe expert Jonathan Briggs outlines how:

  1. You need fresh berries – when you buy it at Christmas, keep some sprigs outside so the berries don’t dry out. Germination is best from February, so keep the sprigs cool until then, or get fresh supplies. Each berry contains one seed, set in a gluey white jelly.
  2. Choose a suitable host (apple trees are ideal, but most shrubs in the rose family will do), and pick a young branch 2 to 4 cm in diameter. Squeeze seeds from as many berries as you can (mortality can be high) and stick them, using their own glue, to the underside of the branch, preferably into a crack or crevice in the bark. Label the branch, and wait…
  3. Growth in the first 2 or 3 years is slow, and you’ll need that label to remind you where to look, as seedlings are tiny (10mm max). But, if successful, you’ll have recognisable mistletoe shoots from year 3 onwards and you may need to control it later on as it grows fast once established. And remember that because male and female flowers grow on separate plants, you will need at least 2 plants for berries to appear.

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