Mistletoe is a holiday tradition but a pest for trees

Updated November 26, 2018
Mistletoe is a holiday tradition but a pest for trees

Now that we are in the midst of the holiday season, it seems appropriate to have a discussion about a plant we all associate with this time of year—mistletoe. Used for holiday decorations, this festive plant is actually a pest that causes damage to trees, is poisonous to pets and humans and is difficult to control. Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that attaches itself to a host tree and then grows, stealing nutrients and water.

How to control and prevent mistletoe

Once you have identified a tree that has a mistletoe infestation, there are control options that you can employ. If there are numerous trees in your area that are infested with mistletoe, it’s wise to conduct control measures as a neighborhood so that the plants and seeds are reduced in a larger area.

  • Mechanical control is the most effective control method. Physically cutting out the mistletoe or removing an entire branch may be necessary to keep the mistletoe from re-sprouting along the affected limb. If a tree is completely infested with mistletoe, removal of the entire tree might be the only option. Removal of mistletoe is best done in the dormant season while all the leaves are off the tree so it is easier to see and manage. Be sure to landfill the infected branches and do not compost.

  • If you are replanting a tree or planning a new landscape in an area that mistletoe is established, plant resistant species to reduce further infestations. Chinese pistache, crape myrtle, ginkgo, golden rain tree, liquidambar and sycamore are resistant to mistletoe.
Don’t use chemicals—they don’t work

Chemical control is not effective for mistletoe and might actually damage the tree or trees you are attempting to help or cause off-target plant or environmental damage by drift or over spray onto desirable plants. Spraying or applying herbicides or growth regulators to mistletoe will only provide temporary control.