Mistletoe – Throw the bums out

As the cooler fall weather moves in and changes our landscapes from summer green to shades of yellow, gold, and orange; you may begin to see one persistent pest that refuses to give up the green.  In fact, it refuses to give up at all.  Under the cloak of your trees’ leaves, mistletoe has found itself a home.  Whether it be on the humble Hackberry or your prized Texas Red Oak, it has been growing—pulling its moisture from the host.

Mistletoe In Your Yard

Mistletoe In Your Yard

One of nature’s most harmful “bird gifts”, mistletoe seeds, move from one landscape to another looking for that perfect arboreal environment.  The two and three year old wood on Cedar Elms and Hackberry trees are prime real estate, but a few other local species will do in a pinch.  Once the location is right, the seed germinates and a strange, opportunistic root-like structure finds an opening in the bark and taps in to the tree’s vascular system.  Mistletoe becomes a tree squatter, ready to take the neighborhood.

Invasive Mistletoe

Invasive Mistletoe

Winter is the best time to kick this bum out.  While it is safe to remove mistletoe any time of the year, it is a simple matter of economics that the winter months are the best.  With no leaves to hide behind, mistletoe is highly visible, so your time or your money is put to its most efficient use during the dormant season.

As previously noted, new infestations are usually found on wood that is a few years old.  In these cases, removal can be as simple as pruning the branch about a foot below the infection site.  The pruning can be done in such a way as not to affect the aesthetic of the tree.  Older infections may now be on limbs or branches that cannot be removed without damaging the structural integrity of the tree.  If that is the case, the mistletoe can be scraped off to the bark.  However, keep in mind the site is still infected and the mistletoe will sprout new leaves, and the process should be repeated before the mistletoe plant begins to produce seed—that is usually 2-3 years.

While mistletoe rarely kills its host (because doing so it would kill itself), old infection sites can diminish a tree’s structural integrity—causing limbs to fail.  It is important to remove new infection sites and manage those sites that cannot be removed.  Contact your arborist if you need more information on managing mistletoe.  A program can be designed to help meet the specific needs of your trees.