Did you know you can grow your own mistletoe?
This popular winter decorative plant isn’t just only found at the nursery or your local department store.
Then you don’t have to pay those high retail prices for mistletoe (they hurt, especially in this economy).
You can actually grow it from seeds, cuttings, or plant division so you can give them to friends, and family, or have a bountiful supply of mistletoe for the winter season (and beyond).
Let’s dive in and learn how to grow and care for mistletoe.
Quick care guide: Mistletoe
|Plant type||Perennial parasitic, hemiparasite|
|Origin||North America, Europe, Asia|
|Scientific name||Varies: Californicum, pauciflorum, juniperinum, leucarpum, macrophylla, villosum|
|Other names||mislin bush, mistel, dung twig, kiss and go, and churchman's greeting|
|Soil type||Organic, rich, well-draining, mossy|
|Soil pH||6.0-7.0 (slightly acidic to neutral)|
|Sunlight requirement||Partial shade during the summer, full sun during the winter|
|Bloom season||Fall to winter for berries|
|Colors||Lime green, white, red, dark green, translucent , clear, black|
|Max height||12-40 inches tall|
|Max width||12-18 inches wide|
|Low temperature tolerance||20F|
|High temperature tolerance||90F|
|Ideal temperature range||60-70F|
|Humidity||Moderate (50% or higher), spritz with water if needed to bump it, avoid levels too high because it can grow fungus if too wet|
|Watering requirements||Water only when near dry, otherwise no watering is necessary|
|Fertilizer requirements||Balanced, general purpose plant food, but not necessary if host plant is good|
|Plant food NPK||10-10-10|
|Days until germination||3-4 years|
|Days until harvest||Seeds harvestable during the springtime for propagation or replanting|
|Bloom time||February to March|
|Speed of growth||Moderate|
|Hardiness zones||USDA hardiness zones 5-9|
|Plant depth||From seeds: 0.25 inches|
|Plant spacing||One plant per host cutting|
|Plant with||Approved host plants|
|Don't plant with||All other plants|
|Propagation method||From seed, self seeding, transplants|
|Common pests||None; only bugs that eat the host plant are dangerous, some rodents, birds, or butterflies may feed on mistletoe|
|Grown in container||No|
|Care level||Minimal to none|
|Best uses||Holiday decorations, festivities, etc.|
Kissing under the mistletoe is just the beginning. The plant is actually an evergreen with signature white berries.
The berries are semi-transparent so it relay looks good in the right lighting conditions.
When you peek out your car window in the wintertime, you can see those 3-foot cacti up in those branches.
Each one is a mistletoe plant and a single host can have several of them. They look like giant balls on the canopy.
Scientifically known as Phoradendron, its a genus of parasitic plants that originate from North America.
Mistletoe specifically isn’t from the US but rather introduced in Europe. They’re part of the Viscum genus, specifically V. Album.
This is the mistletoe you commonly find during the winter used in decor.
There are multiple species of it. We’ll be discussing how to grow American mistletoe in this guide because it’s suited for our environment here.
You shouldn’t try to grow European mistletoe because it can be invasive if it gets out of your yard.
The thing a lot of people don’t know about it is that mistletoe can grow on other plants. You can grow it on both indoor and outdoor plants.
They just need to be established so they can be the right host plants for mistletoes.
These plants are semi-parasitic because they grow their own roots, leaves, etc.
They’re not true parasites because they still have their own independent systems.
They latch on oak, which is commonly found in CA, OR, NJ, TX, WA, NM, and everywhere in between.
There are even eastern and western counterparts, but they have similar care. Pacific mistletoe grows in the southwest while P. uniperinum is found in the desert on juniper plants.
The common classification is broadleaf or leafy. When you think of the mistletoe you kiss under, it’s leafy. You can even find dwarf variants too.
So in a way, mistletoe is sort of a parasite. It feeds off the nutrients from other trees or shrubs.
While this may dampen your outlook on this plant, it’s really harmless to their host plants as long as the host is established.
Since mistletoe is relatively small compared to the plants they grow on, they don’t need many nutrients to thrive.
While the relationship isn’t symbiotic, it’s worth it so you have your own kissing plant. Plus, you’re basically raising two independent plants for the price of one!
Types of mistletoe
We’ve already discussed the two main types you come across: European and American mistletoe.
There are over 1300 species, so you have choices. But realistically, you’ll only be seeing a small dozen or so that are actually obtainable
Choose from Phradendron or Viscum species, but don’t plant Arceuthobium. Find what’s native in your zone and grow those. It’ll improve the chances of germination.
Because there are so many types of mistletoe, here’s a quick rundown of choosing one:
- P. Juniperinum (western US)
P. Leucapum (east, southern US)
P. Villosum (coastal US)
What does mistletoe grow on?
Mistletoe has a few favorite host plants that include:
- Crab apple
Orchard apples are one of the most popular plants for mistletoe to latch onto and grow.
Seed the mistletoe then it’ll slowly sap the nutrients its needs. Since orchards are hardy, it shouldn’t affect them.
They send out their own roots called haustoria to draw nutrients. They’re capable of photosynthesis using their large carves.
But in reality, mistletoe can latch onto any tree or shrub. Not only the ones on this list.
While the parasite part can sound scary, they’re usually harmless to the host if it’s taken care of. They’re also beneficial to wildlife.
Birds, squirrels, and other pollinators will eat the berries. It’s also a source of food for animals in the winter season when food is scarce. It’s even the ONLY source of food for some species like butterflies.
If you have these plants, whether in your garden or inside your house, it should be easy and simple to do. Just put in a bit of TLC with the right setup and you’re good.
Please check the compatible host plants before you decide to start planting. This list isn’t complete, so even if you don’t have anything on this list, you can still use other substitute plants.
If you’re unsure, post a comment.
Plants that can’t supply enough water or nutrients to themselves or to the mistletoe will be a disaster for both plants. This is why it’s important to choose the right plant for your mistletoe to grow upon.
The mistletoe will grow seeds inside their berries. The host plant needs to be compatible to work.
The seeds will germinate on the surface of the host plant and then produce the signature plant to kiss under.
Mistletoe will produce oval-shaped leaves that are olive in color. They can grow up to 24 inches in height and 18 inches wide.
They’re considered evergreens with succulent stems.
Is it poisonous?
Yes, mistletoe is poisonous.
You should never ingest it and always wear protective gear when handling it. Wash your hands after touching them and never kiss the plant.
The Viscum genus contains the most toxins out of the 1300 or so identified species of mistletoe.
The European counterpart is the most dangerous mistletoe, which can be upwards of 10 times more toxic than the American one. It’s toxic for humans, dogs, cats, horses, or other pets.
Do NOT ingest! It can cause some serious adverse effects. If you’re going to do the whole kissing under the mistletoe thing, make sure you use the right species. Then wash your hands!
Mistletoe should be planted when still fresh. If allowed to dry, you may not get a successful “infestation” of the host plant.
Gently remove the seeds from the berry so you don’t damage them. Put on some gloves then squeeze the berry to extract the seed.
Clean it with a paper napkin because it’ll be coated with a sticky glaze. Wash it under cool water. That’s it. It’s ready to plant!
Don’t use a sprig of mistletoe you bought from the store. This likely won’t work. You need a real wild plant to collect the berries. You can find this at specialty holiday Christmas tree lots, nurseries, or hardware stores during the season.
In the wild, mistletoe will do this automatically on its own. It latches onto other plants, but cleaning the seed isn’t necessary for it to germinate. We just clean it because it reduces the risk of plant infections.
Mistletoe will need a source of light for successful germination. We’ll germinate it first, then we’ll move it to a host plant after it sprouts.
Get a seed starter kit or flat then fill it with some potting mix. Mistletoe prefers a light mix that drains well with some peat mixed in.
Fill it to the brim then sow 2-3 seeds per compartment. Get a spray bottle and mist it with distilled water. Do NOT water it.
This is too much water and will lead to fungus or other problems. The soil should be moist, but not wet.
Use some cling wrap to keep the humidity locked in. Place the flat somewhere where it’ll get ambient light or dappled sunlight.
Seeds will take time to sprout. Mistletoe germination will test your patience and take up to many years to do so.
It depends on the light, temperature, and humidity available.
You should plant multiple seeds because this will get you both male/female plants.
Soak the seeds for at least 24 hours before you plant them. Freshly harvested seeds should be cleaned and then soaked.
Only harvest berries in the spring. Berries must be free of pathogens because you don’t want to waste a bunch of time waiting only for it to be infected.
Moving to the host plant
When the seeds have finally sprouted, they’ll need to be moved to a proper host plant to grow on.
Now that germination is complete, the next step is successfully rooting it.
There are multiple ways to do it and the choice is yours. See which one works for you.
Cutting into the host plant to germinate
Once you’ve gathered the berries from wild sprigs, find a healthy host plant to plant them!
This is a traditional method of germination. You cut a small hole in the host plant’s bark so you can put the seeds within the small crevice.
You don’t need to make a huge hole, just a small crack so that the seeds can be pushed slightly inside and then sit there on tier own.
Find a flat area on the tree bark then make a cut. Place the seeds inside then wait. That’s it.
Find a nice and thick piece of bark. It should be at least 2-3 inches wide. Use a sterilized knife to make a cut.
The host should be growing in full sun, but the cut side should be in the shade. The reason is that it needs full sun during the winter when the leaves from the host are shed, but it needs to be in the shade during the reason of the season.
Of course, this may not always be possible.
The branch should be thick and higher up so rodents won’t mess with it. You may need to use a ladder to reach the tops of the oaks. Be careful and follow precautions.
The berry shouldn’t fall out. The bark shouldn’t need to be pressed to firm. It should be left exposed to the environment so the seeds can germinate.
The berries will be sticky, so you may want to use a small toothpick to make it easier.
Proper seed germination at this point can take up to 5 years to complete. It’s not for the impatient.
This is why many people prefer to just buy mistletoe instead of growing it on their own.
You’ll know when the seedlings are ready because they’ll have small leaves coming out.
The roots should be inserted into the bark that you cut then surrounded with a medium like peat moss to hold them in place.
Mist it every now and then until the seedlings latch onto the host plant.
If rodents or birds make it to the branch site, they may eat the berries. Use netting to keep them out. Be sure to plan multiple seeds.
You can mix both male/female seeds together.
Growing from cuttings
You can grow from cuttings if you use the roots. While it doesn’t always work, just like germinating seeds, it’s possible to transfer the cuttings.
Of course, you’ll need to have a few of them in the first place. If they’ve rooted onto the peat or the host plant, you may not be able to transfer them.
Use seeds for improved germ rates.
How to grow mistletoe
As you probably know by now, mistletoe requires very little care other than getting it to properly germinate and then root.
Once you’ve done that, it takes care of itself because it uses the nutrients from the host plant.
Mistletoe isn’t prone to insects and they’re dioecious.
You pretty much just let it sit there until it’s ready to e picked. Remember how we talked about planting multiple seeds in the same host plant?
This is imperative because each seed either results in a male or female plant- but not both. So you’ll need both in order to maximize your chance of getting mistletoes with berries.
Only female plants will produce berries. If your mistletoe only has leaves, then it’s a male.
Planting multiple seeds will increase your chances of getting both plants so you’ll be able to harvest the berries or use them as decor.
Other than that, be sure to check in on the host plant because the mistletoe saps the energy from it.
Use fertilizer, water well, and give it appropriate TLC so it can keep providing for the mistletoe and itself. If you’re planting more than one in the same host, double your care routine for it so it doesn’t get wrecked.
It gets water, nutrients, and everything else it needs from the host. Never water it directly, fertilize it, or mess with it. Just leave it on its own and care for the host.
That’s it. Here are some other tidbits of info that you may find useful.
So if you’re in this range and you have a compatible host to put the mistletoe inside, then you’re good to go. Regions that are too hot or too cold will not be suitable for growing mistletoe.
In the US, mistletoe grows natively in the wild from New Jersey to Florida on the east through Texas. It can also be found in Alaska, Canada, Mexico, and even Honduras.
Plant in the bark with some organic peat moss. This will serve multiple purposes: it’ll hold the seeds in place so they don’t fall out.
It’ll also hide them from rodents or birds. The moss serves basically as a foundation for the mistletoe to root itself.
Some kind of medium for it to grow is necessary. Don’t just toss the seed into the bark!
If you’re starting from seed, use an organic, rich, well-draining substrate that’s pH neutral or slightly acidic. You can test your soil using a pH test kit. The range should be between 6-7 for ideal propagation.
Sow each seed .25″ deep. They should be sown near the surface of the soil so they can get adequate light and warmth. If you’re transferring cuttings, plant them into moss each about 2″ deep.
Space each seed a few inches apart so they don’t compete for nutrients. Ideally, you’ll want to sow each seed to their own neat little compartment in your soil starter. If planting directly into the host, only plant one mistletoe per cutting.
The ideal temperature for mistletoe is between 70-75F. Mistletoe may not grow if it’s too cold or warm.
If you’re planting in the right zone, there should be no issue with temperatures.
Humidity should be relatively moist. If it’s dry, supplement with some sprays of water every week during the dry period. You don’t need to worry about this because it’s quite hardy.
You shouldn’t need to water your seeds.
They’ll get water from the host plant. But if you expect drought, you can give them a few spritzes of water every week. Taking care of the host plant takes care of the seeds.
Note that mistletoe does drain precious water from the host, so keep it well-watered.
There’s no need to supplement fertilizer or plant food unless the host plant is lacking them.
When you monitor your mistletoe, you can often see it thriving simultaneously with the host plant. If they’re both happy, then continue feeding the host and the nutrients will go to the mistletoe indirectly.
If you notice that the host plant is weakened, then supplement fertilizer as needed.
During the winter, the mistletoe should be exposed to full sun in the winter when the oak is bare and has dropped its leaves. But for the rest of the year, it should be growing in a shaded canopy from the leaves.
So you want to pick a side of the branch that has the right exposure levels.
Caring for mistletoe
This section covers some basic mistletoe care tips. If you have questions of your own, post them in the comments.
You’ll need to prune your mistletoe a few times per year. Once it germinates, it can sap too many nutrients from the host plant which can make it weak.
If you notice that the host becomes weak, has yellowing or browning leaves, or produces poor fruit, the parasite that is mistletoe needs to be pruned.
Trim it back 2-3 times per year to limit its size of it.
Remove the berries completely during the harvest season. Keeping it tidy will help keep it manageable and your host plant virulent. Keep it happy and you’ll be happy!
So will your mistletoe too. Pruning can be done by using a sky saw.
Cut it away to get the size/shape you desire. Don’t worry about pruning it. You’re helping your host plant by doing so.
Cut it back in the spring after you’ve harvested the berries. The rest of the berries that are surplus can be pruned off so they’re no longer viable for germination.
If you want to remove the entire mistletoe, be sure to kill the haustoria left behind (the roots attached to the host). Once you take the mistletoe off, you can set it up as decor.
Collect the berry seeds you want to replant for the next season at the time of harvest. Extract, clean, then store.
The seeds can be stored until the next planting season.
Seeds need to be dried before storage. If wet, they can mold or wither. Do not ingest the seeds.
The ideal time to harvest is between March and April. While this is far from
December when mistletoe is most used, you can store it until then. So don’t worry.
The early spring guarantees that the berries are ready to be plucked.
Mistletoe will be ready after 3-4 years and will likely need pruning by then. It’s a very hardy plant so don’t be scared to give it a good trim.
You can harvest it by saving the berries and then collecting the seeds for sowing again or you can prune the entire plant for decor.
Mistletoe is very easy to grow once you get a small culture started. In some states, like CA, it’s considered to even be invasive so you need to be careful with it.
It doesn’t need care other than the host plant because that’s where it gets everything it needs.
Female berries are white. The signature red berries belong to the V. Cruciatum species.
The male plants will still be an important source of pollen for bees, ants, butterflies, birds, and more.
Use a sharp, sterilized pair of scissors to cut the sprigs you need for holiday decor or presentations. If you need to store mistletoe, they go well in the fridge for a few weeks when wrapped in a sandwich bag.
Be sure not to contaminate your foods because you don’t wanna ingest it.
Growing in pots
Mistletoe doesn’t grow well in pots because the host plant doesn’t grow well in pots.
Unless you’re planting a large shrub inside your house. You should plant only outside so it gets the sunlight it needs to gain energy.
For this reason, you shouldn’t plan indoors if possible to maximize successful rooting/germination.
As discussed above, you should plant mistletoe where it belongs- outside on a host plant!
While it’s possible to grow it indoors, it’s not easy. Since it already has such a long germination time, why take risks?
Mistletoe doesn’t need any specific winterizing. If it grows with the host plant in the right zone, it can tolerate the cold.
By nature, it can handle temperatures as high 90F as low as 20F. But it prefers temperatures in the 60F range.
So you don’t need to worry about protecting it from the cold. The range is wide and depends on the available shade, type of mistletoe, local environment, humidity, and water production.
Mistletoe will only tolerate being paired with its host plant. Don’t plant anything nearby in the same cutting that it’s sitting in.
This is a sole, lone plant. It’ll likely choke other plants if you try to plant them together.
Don’t plant with
Don’t plant with any other plants other than the list of host plants.
The issue with pests is that they infest the host plant rather than the mistletoe.
This is because the host plant will start to show signs of weakness, which means it’ll become more susceptible to pest infestation.
The only way to keep bugs out is to keep your host plant in good shape.
Similar to dealing with pests, the plant is only vulnerable the bugs that eat your host plant. Take care of the primary plant that supplying your mistletoe is what you need to care for.
Mistletoe is a low maintenance plant that requires little to no care. This is why it’s so appealing to grow your own. Then you never need to buy it again.
Oh, you buy it? I grow it! Now that’s a coffee table convo.
Mistletoe can be used for decor or just to have on your treetops like a bunch of winter snowballs. Or you can pick them off and give them to friends. When you’re ready to harvest, use some scissors or pruners to clip off the sprigs you need.
You can also create displays using wire, ribbons, or baskets.
Commonly asked questions about mistletoe
This section covers some basic tips and tricks for mistletoe TLC. These plants basically care for themselves should be pretty much self-explanatory.
Can I grow my own mistletoe?
Yes, you can grow your own, but you’ll need a berry or a few seeds that are viable for planting.
It’ll take quite some time before it roots and you have any harvestable decor. So if you need it by next season, you should just buy mistletoe instead.
Can you grow mistletoe in any tree?
There are some host plants that mistletoe prefers and will grow much more efficiently compared to others.
Check out the list of preferred plants for mistletoe above. It needs to be some kind of oak that grows in the same native zone as mistletoe or else it’ll wither while the mistletoe thrives.
Then the mistletoe will wither too once the host can no longer support nutrients for it.
Note that mistletoe can’t grow anywhere- you need to plant in it the right hardiness zone and use the right host plant.
How long will mistletoe last?
It can be stored in an airtight bag in the fridge for several days. It is meant to be cut and then displayed immediately after so you have the greenest leaves possible.
The berries can be collected to replant at the end of the season so you can regrow mistletoe from seed as needed.
Can you grow mistletoe anytime?
If you’re in the right hardiness zone, you can grow it throughout the year and then harvest it during the winter for decor.
If you need to use it before winter, it can be pruned back and then used.
The berries can only be harvested in the spring, but the mistletoe foliage and spurs?
You can grab them anytime you need them. Just leave the roots in the host and you’re good.
- Mistletoe science and folklore – MSU Extension
- Mistletoe – UF/IFAS Extension – University of Florida
Grow your own mistletoe
Growing mistletoe is pretty easy if you’re patient.
For most people who just use it once per year as holiday decor, it’s more efficient to just buy cuttings from the nursery.
For those that want to grow those big spheres of mistletoe on their canopies, it may be a fun little project.
If you have any questions, post them in the comments!
I’ve always been interested in gardening, but I never took it seriously until I was forcefully gifted an orchid. This was what got me into the hobby and I’ve never looked back. I enjoy writing about it, but not nearly as much as getting into the dirt and sculpting the perfect decorative ornamental to enjoy for the times.