Is Mistletoe Killing Your Trees

Mistletoe may be a favorite romantic sight during the Christmas season, but it's downright unwelcome at other times of year. If you're unfortunate enough to have a misteltoe infestation in your trees, getting rid of this plant parasite can be a real challenge.

Know Your Enemy
Mistletoe is a parasitic, evergreen plant that draws its nutrients from a host tree. Soft-barked trees, such as pines, maples and elms, are favorite hosts.

Mistletoe blooms in the early Spring. The blooms ripen into sticky berries that appear in late November or early December. Some species simply let the wind blow the berries to nearby trees. Others rely on birds to carry the berries to new homes.

Once a berry finds itself on a tree, it sticks there, sending roots through the bark to tap into the tree's veins. A small infestation will rarely pose a threat to the tree. If allowed to grow, however, mistletoe can kill branches, stunt a tree's growth or even kill the tree itself. The areas where roots bore through the bark are also prone to fungal and insect invasions.

Getting Rid of Mistletoe
Mistletoe needs to be eradicated from your yard as soon as you spot it. This plant spreads and grows rapidly, often extending its roots deep into the trunks of trees. Once a tree has been invaded to this degree, it's nearly impossible to get rid of the mistletoe plant.

As soon as you see mistletoe, prune off the infected branches. If you catch it early enough, this will end the infestation. Mistletoe will often make a home very high up in trees, so you may need to use a cherry picker to get at the branches.

If pruning the branches isn't possible, or if the mistletoe is somewhat established, you should first cut off any live growth. Cut the roots flush with the bark of the tree, but don't damage the bark, as this leaves the tree vulnerable to infection.

Mistletoe will grow back from its roots, so you'll need to starve the plant for light. You can do this by wrapping black plastic loosely around the branch and securing it on both ends with elastics or tape. Be sure to allow some space for air flow if you want to save the branch, otherwise it will rot.

You'll need to keep the branch covered for at least two years to ensure that the mistletoe roots have died. After that, you can remove the plastic, but keep a careful eye on the infected area for any signs of new growth.

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