Mental lists are more flexible than paper ones

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 8, 2015

Looking for something to do outside in the yucky weather this week, I went with one of my favorite chores.  I looked out front, out back and to each side and made a mental list of things that I absolutely must do the first sunny day.  I never commit these “must dos” to paper, only to memory.  A man can overcommit himself on paper.  Working from memory allows for adjustments as needed.   Well, there’s also downright forgetfulness.
The first thing I saw needing attention was the mistletoe in the three young ash trees in the front yard.  I’m not foolhardy enough to think I could impact the mistletoe in the large oak trees along the driveway.  But the ash are store-bought trees I planted sixteen, seventeen years ago as six footers.   I was surprised how quickly and profusely they became infested with mistletoe.  I have made past wintertime attempts to get some mistletoe relief to the young trees.
Mistletoe is a true parasite.  A heavy dose of it so soon in young trees is not good because mistletoe gets its water and nutrients directly from within the tree.  It grows roots eventually to eighteen inches long inside the host tree limbs.  Spanish moss and other plants that are epiphytes rather than parasites get water and nutrition from the air, not their host.
It’s common knowledge that just cutting mistletoe from tree limbs is temporary and mostly cosmetic because the mistletoe sprouts back from its live roots the next spring.  But if cutting off all mistletoe in a tree were done each and every year, at least the mistletoe plants would not become as large.  And based on timing, annual removal could prevent mature mistletoe seed from being spread from that particular tree.   I suppose that might be helpful somewhere.  But where there is lots of mistletoe in the immediate area, there will be seed aplenty.
I have read suggestions for cutting mistletoe from a limb, wrapping the cut site with layers of black plastic and tying or taping the plastic on securely.  The theory is if the mistletoe stump is denied sunlight for at least two years, the remaining plant parts, including roots, will die.  With intentional skepticism here, that just sounds to me like one of those things based on logic and not on good odds of success.  To do any good with pruning, the host limb itself needs to be removed.  The cut site should be at least that eighteen inches below the mistletoe and preferably at the limb collar on the limb that gives rise to the one being removed.  Often there is just not a way to remove infested limbs without making the tree unbalanced or with “holes” in the canopy or just weird-looking.
As for a mistletoe spray, it can’t be a true herbicide since mistletoe grows amongst the tree and has roots growing inside.  There is a rather complicated, but legal, chemical treatment.  It’s now on my mental list for next week’s column.

Terry Rector writes for the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District, 601-636-7679 ext. 3.

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