LYNNE’S NATUREWATCH: What, mistletoe in February?

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WE seem to be getting very mixed weather at the moment, from extremely cold to actually very pleasant sunny days which all adds up to not knowing what to do in the garden, or what to wear if just going out for a walk.

Well, there are a couple of things you should consider if you do venture out into the garden. Rotting leaves are usually excellent mulching, but if they are rotting down on top of emerging shoots you will need to clear them off as they will damage them and attract slugs on the warmer days which in turn will enjoy those new shoots.

You might also want to keep a little protective fleece handy to cover up those shoots again, if the weather turns cold again.

Around the district you may have noticed that some trees are receiving a bit of winter pruning. Now is a good time to get out in your own gardens and tidy up or conduct essential maintenance, or even carry out some hard lopping to dormant trees and shrubs.

Remember that it’s worth checking your gardening books or the internet to see which ones benefit and which should be left alone at this time of year if you’re not sure.

Fruit trees that produce stoned fruits such as cherries, apricots, peaches and nectarines can suffer from silver leaf a disease if pruned during the winter months and really only need minimal pruning anyway.

Did you have any mistletoe hung up for the Christmas and the yuletide season? You may well be wondering why I should mention it now, but if you have the right tree you could try growing it yourself and very generally speaking the host tree should be at least 15 years old.

Mistletoe is a parasitic plant which takes all its nutrients and water from its host, commonly found on big old apple trees it can also grow on hawthorns, ash, sycamore, pears, whitebeam and lime to name a few. Opinions vary as to how much damage a mistletoe does to a healthy established tree, but certainly if the tree is not in the best condition mistletoe will definitely weaken it further.

I noticed mistletoe growing on one of the lime trees in Grantham cemetery the other day - if you’re looking for somewhere for a quiet walk it’s quite a special place to visit. Mistletoe also seems to enjoy growing on trees in parks and open spaces so if you do visit these facilities keep your eyes open.

As for the berries, some birds absolutely adore them and you’d be lucky to spot any left this year. February to March is good time to collect a few if you would like to try and grow mistletoe yourself. The berries are ripe just about then, unfortunately any mistletoe berries that were around on bought mistletoe in December would be immature and most unlikely to be viable. But ensure you ask permission from the trees owner and please don’t take them from the wild as mistletoe doesn’t seem to be as common as it once was. Another tip is take note of the tree that your berries come from and introduce them to the same species of tree for the best chance of them taking, as different mistletoes tend to like particular species.

An easy method I found involves simply getting the ripe berry into a natural crook in a branch that’s approx 10 cm diameter and in such a way that the seed can nestle in and stay put, also try placing a few in different locations as not all of them will germinate, but if you are lucky enough to get any to germinate and the birds haven’t found them they need some natural light to grow away well.

Just a note of warning, the whole plant is poisonous with the berries being the most poisonous so care should be taken and kept away from children and pets.

There are lots of different ideas and methods to grow mistletoe available in books and on the internet; sites of reference include Royal Horticultural Society, Christmas Lore and – just type in ‘mistletoe’ and start surfing, just starting with folklore, you’ll be amazed how much there is to discover about mistletoe.

Or of course you could go to your local garden centre to buy then plant a holly bush!