Q: I have mistletoe in my oak tree. My kids think it’s pretty and want to make holiday decorations with it. What do you think? And will it kill my tree?
Answer: Mistletoe is pretty. But then, so are many things that are poisonous, damaging and invasive. Mistletoe is a parasite, so it can harm or destroy the tree it infests. By removing mistletoe, you can help the tree, but removal isn’t necessarily a simple task.
One option is to remove the branch that is infested by cutting it a minimum of 6 to 12 inches below the location where the mistletoe is attached to the branch. Sometimes, the cure is worse than the issue ... this could damage the structure of the tree. A pruning pole, and head, eye and hand protection will be needed.
The second option is to use a growth regulation chemical when the tree is dormant, which is generally from December to early February. If applied at times other than these months, it will damage the tree. The chemical is Ethephon and it must be applied by a licensed pest control operator.
Regarding making crafts with mistletoe, it’s best to keep this plant out of the reach of children and pets. The U.S. poison control center received 1,754 cases of accidental poisoning between 1985 and 1994 that involved pets, children and mistletoe. You may want to consider purchasing plastic mistletoe from craft stores or online instead.
For information, see the University of Florida publications from which this information was adapted at http://solutionsforyourlife.ufl.edu/hot_topics/lawn_and_garden/mistletoe.html and http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/giam/potpourri/holiday/mistletoe.html.
Lynn Barber is the Florida Yards and Neighborhoods agent at Hillsborough Extension.. Reach her at BarberL@hillsboroughcounty.org.