Managing Mistletoe

In recent years there has been increasing interest in mistletoe management- with some people wanting to grow more, others wanting to have less and many simply interested in sustainable Christmas harvesting.

One reason for this is the ongoing loss of traditional apple orchards, where most mistletoe is harvested. Whilst this can result in a reduced harvest it can also result in a short-lived glut of mistletoe as the trees in remnant orchards become neglected and overgrown with too much mistletoe.

Harvesting, sustainably and strategically, is a key part of any approach to management, particularly in these old orchards. That sustainability needs to be both practical (for the tree and mistletoe) and economic (for the landowner/manager).

Publicity, and campaigns to ensure a continuing harvest by growing your own, has helped maintain a keen interest from gardeners, for whom growing mistletoe has always been a particular challenge and pleasure.

This page gives some outline advice on mistletoe management and harvest. For information about growing mistletoe visit our Growing Mistletoe page. We are gathering information on mistletoe management in orchards and gardens as part of our Mistletoe League project. Details of that are on our Mistletoe Surveys site.

Harvesting mistletoe
Marketing mistletoe
Controlling mistletoe
Growing Mistletoe
Mistletoe Management Survey

Harvesting mistletoe

Mistletoe is not often grown deliberately as a crop. Most of the annual Christmas crop is a by-product of traditional apple orchards in the south-west midlands of England. But with the continuing loss of those orchards to agricultural change there is increased interest in strategic mistletoe harvesting and marketing - moving beyond seeing it as just a seasonal extra, or even as a seasonal nuisance (see Control below).

With hardly any written guidance on harvesting techniques - how much to take, how much to leave, and what to do with the excess male mistletoe plants (which have no berries and so are commercially useless, except as pollinators for the female plants) - harvesting methods vary widely and wildly. Some harvesters just strip everything, some take a measured approach and others don't take enough to keep the host trees healthy. Mistletoe Matters has no magic bullet for these problems, but we do have many years of experience in harvesting issues and understand that each orchard or farm is unique and needs develop its own strategic approach.

We are gathering information on mistletoe management in orchards and gardens as part of our Mistletoe League project. Details of that are on our Mistletoe Surveys site.

Marketing mistletoe

Marketing the mistletoe is an activity closely-allied to the harvest. How do you make your harvest pay? Wholesale prices are often rather low, and may not cover manpower and overheads. Mistletoe Matters has been very closely involved in innovative marketing that can maximise returns, particularly using online solutions and selling direct to the public, and to wholesale buyers (garden nursery chains etc).

We are gathering information on mistletoe management in orchards and gardens as part of our Mistletoe League project. Details of that are on our Mistletoe Surveys site.

Controlling mistletoe

Mistletoe is 'only' a hemi-parasite, with its own leaves and own photosynthesis. But it will have an impact on the host branch it is growing on. And if it grows on a high proportion of the branches of one tree it can compromise the whole tree, and may eventually (indirectly, over several decades) kill it. This rarely a problem in large trees but can be an issue for smaller hosts, particularly fruit trees in orchards and gardens.

The decline of traditional orchards, as an economically viable part of a farm, has led to a huge increase in neglected and remnant orchards, where fruit crops aren't gathered and the trees are no longer pruned or managed. If those orchards are in 'mistletoe country' (the south-west midlands) a side-effect of this neglect is often an excess of mistletoe. Tree death, due partly to that excess mistletoe, can be quite sudden, over just one season, following a decade or two of increasingly prolific mistletoe.

The best cure for this is prevention - keeping the trees in management from year to year and subsidising the management cost by marketing the female mistletoe plants at Christmas (see Harvesting and Marketing above). Following a few years of neglect remedial management is often possible, though it usually needs a very dedicated land-owner or an orchard conservation group (pictured above) to achieve this.

Mistletoe Matters can advise on ongoing management, and help scope and carry out remedial management where practical. We are gathering information on mistletoe management in orchards and gardens as part of our Mistletoe League project. Details of that are on our Mistletoe Surveys site.

INDEX FOR THIS PAGE
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Harvesting mistletoe
Marketing mistletoe
Controlling mistletoe
Growing Mistletoe
Mistletoe Management Survey