Mistletoe, The Kiss of Death

Aahhhh! A life-sucking parasite is draining the health out of your trees! Tell your trees to brush them off and step away . . . wait! They can’t! They are anchored to the ground by roots and are dependent on you, the homeowner, to rescue them. What is this green substance that is destroying the vitality of your beautiful trees? It is mistletoe! I know you’re upset, but don’t worry, after reading this you will be both equipped and educated on how to handle this formidable foe.

The leaves have fallen, but something green is still growing there in your cedar elm, in your hack berry, and in your mesquite tree. These are a few common trees in the Texas Hill Country to become victims of mistletoe. But what is it? In order to eradicate mistletoe, we must understand how it functions. Without getting too scientific, mistletoe is a plant that is attached to your tree and is consuming the food that your tree has made for itself. Just as your tree is pulling water from the soil, mistletoe is pulling water from your tree. Birds tend to be the culprit in spreading this parasite. They just love the little white berries that the mistletoe plant produces. They eat a berry, digest it, and then poop the seed onto your tree. Once attached and rooted, it will spread all over. If left to work its evil, mistletoe can eventually destroy a tree.

In the winter, when the trees are bare, this sneaky mistletoe can no longer hide beneath the shadow of its host's leaves. This is the best time to remove mistletoe because the new leaves have not yet budded. Just drive up Highway 29, and go through Georgetown, Liberty Hill, and Burnet. Or head South on 183 through Leander, Cedar Park, and Austin. You’ll begin to notice it wherever you look. Don’t procrastinate too long because spring is on its way. Once the new leaves bud, it makes it almost impossible to remove this little tree carnivore, (or I guess it would be called an herbivore in the animal world.)

The most effective way to get rid of this holiday devil is to climb up to the tip-top of the infected tree, remove each mistletoe sprout by hand, and work your way down until you've removed all that you can see. Pole saws and small handsaws really come in handy for this job. Some of the tree’s limbs may need to be removed if heavily infested. This method does not permanently eradicate the mistletoe, but it does give the tree relief for some time. Often, I get asked if you can spray a chemical on it in order to eradicate the infestation. Remember that the mistletoe is growing on a living thing, and whatever chemical you use on the mistletoe can have harmful effects to your tree. So I do not recommend chemicals.

Unfortunately, the mistletoe will come back. There is no permanent way to eradicate it without removing your whole tree, and I know you don’t want to do that. This is a task that needs to be done about every two years, and your tree is worth the effort. You could take it on as a weekend project, or you can contact your local arborist, like Aabear Tree Care, and have them to do it for you. Either way, now you know that mistletoe is a harmful parasite and not just some holiday decoration that people kiss under.