Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to start growing your own mistletoe.
Mistletoe berries ripen in February and March, making this the best time to try and germinate them and stock up a lifetime of Christmas kisses.
Gardeners will need plenty of mistletoe berries, available in grow your own kits for those without access to a local supply, and a suitable host tree, such as apple, poplar or hawthorn.
The berries need to be squeezed to reveal the seed inside, and these are then smeared on to branches of the host.
Kate Merry, Orchard Officer at the National Trust, said: “Mistletoe is normally spread by birds but with a bit of luck, and a lot of patience, it is possible to grow your own and play a role in securing the future of this fascinating plant.
“Though you might have to wait a bit for that first home-grown Christmas kiss, hopefully you’ll be harvesting your own mistletoe by 2015.”
A campaign to encourage Britons to buy local or sustainable sourced mistletoe, as a way of supporting the income of small traditional orchards, was launched by the Trust in December.
Though mistletoe can be found across the UK, its heartland and future is linked to that of small orchards. The demise of traditional orchards in the last sixty years has affected the amount of easily accessible mistletoe and means that it has an uncertain future in the West Country and West Midlands.
The National Trust and Natural England have been working on a project to revive the fortunes of traditional orchards since 2009.
Mistletoe is an important winter food source for the mistle thrush and blackcap, while also providing a habitat for the specially-adapted mistletoe marble moth and the kiss me slow weevil.
Although it is a semi-parasitic plant, mistletoe and its host tree can live in harmony if managed carefully. In apple trees it will reduce fruit yield and left unchecked can completely swamp the tree. However, regular careful pruning will result in a healthy tree, a mistletoe crop and all of the benefits it has for wildlife.
Kate Merry added, “The chemistry required between trees and mistletoe is like the happiest and most long lasting of relationships, it’s all about give and take.”