I got to thinking about mistletoe because it’s Christmastime and because I heard some of my neighbors discussing mistletoe removal from a few trees.
Take a quick look and you’ll notice mistletoe hanging in large clumps from many of the leafless deciduous trees.
A parasitic plant, spread through the dispersal of seeds in bird droppings, mistletoe actually grows year-round, becoming noticeable in winter on bare branches. Seeds deposited on tree branches take root in openings in the bark and begin to rob the host tree of water and minerals, weakening branches first, then the entire tree.
Healthy trees can usually handle a few clumps of mistletoe, while trees weakened by drought or insect infestation will likely decline or die. Taking action during the winter months when it’s more obvious is recommended. Also, it’s much more difficult to reduce when there is a total infestation, so act as soon as it’s noticed.
Taking action can include a few options:
Pruning branches: Recommended for trees with small amounts of mistletoe. Remove the branch 6 to 12 inches below each clump.
Prune clumps: Recommended for trees with severe infestation. Removing mistletoe at the spot can only help, not control. It’s best to do this before there are any seed-producing berries.
Wrap clumps with black plastic: This method blocks sunlight and eventually kills mistletoe. Problems with this method include difficulty reaching all the clumps, it looks bad, and it takes at least two years to kill it.
Chemical sprays: Not highly recommended. Chemicals can be sprayed on clumps of mistletoe prior to any leaves returning in the spring. This is a temporary solution and can possibly damage surrounding flora and contaminate any nearby water sources.
Plant hormones: Successful research is being done using specific plant hormones. This may become available in the future.
Tree removal: Recommended for severely infested trees beyond saving. This can remove the potential of spreading by reducing clumps and berries.
Darla Horner Menking is a Texas Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org