Mistletoes are perhaps some of the lesser understood plants that can be found in and around local gardens.
The first evidence of mistletoe will often be the yellow petals that appear on the ground at this time of the year. A glance upwards will reveal the source - leaves and flowers that are often hanging from the underside of branches, as well as attached to branches.
The mistletoe commonly seen around this area will have yellow, orange and red, narrow bell-shaped flowers in amongst grey-green leaves.
While mistletoes attach themselves to other plants, often trees, they are only semi-parasitic, in that they have chlorophyll in their leaves. This enables them to manufacture their own food. They attach themselves to other plants for water and support, using the host to support their root system.
Mistletoes are spread by birds which eat the sticky seeds what are then left on the tree or pass through the bird's digestive system. The flowers, fruit, nectar and leaves are highly nutritious and, therefore are a good source of food for various wildlife, including sugar gliders, possums, birds and insects.
The Australian mistletoe bird (pictured) is responsible for spreading many of the plants through the bush, as well as local gardens.
Like many fruit-eating birds, these species have a relatively simple digestive tract, so that the seed passes through the bird rather quickly, leaving the seed with a coating of glucose. The single seeds are contained in a small, sweet, sticky fruit. The sticky layer dries and causes the seed to become attached to the branch. This leads to rapid germination.
When the seeds germinate, a modified root penetrates the bark of the host's stem and forms a connection through which water and nutrients pass from the host to the mistletoe.
They do this by melding their root structure into the woody structure of the host's stem, and thereafter it becomes a living part of the stem receiving all the nutrients that the foliage of the host plant receives.
The growth of the mistletoe often restricts nutrient flow further along the host branch, and the end part may die, leaving the mistletoe in a terminal position on the branch. Mistletoes can be removed from trees and shrubs by cutting below where it has attached itself to the host plant.
Mistletoes that attach themselves to trees that are under stress may eventually cause the tree to die.
Many birds prefer to nest in mistletoe because it provides shade and cover. Mistletoe nesters include the Grey Gosshawk, several species of pigeons and doves, honeyeaters, wattlebirds, friarbirds and many others.
Butterfly larvae also feed on mistletoe, and some caterpillars can completely strip mistletoe of its leaves in a matter of months, providing another natural check on mistletoe.
Potted plants make bright and long-lasting gifts at Christmas. Seedlings that are planted out now into attractive pots will make good growth during the coming weeks.
Herbs used in this way will provide an attractive, as well as most useful gift. Parsley, basil, sage, oregano and varieties of thyme will provide different leaf shapes, colours and textures. Pots that have been developed specially for use with herbs will allow the plants to spread over the edges.
Pots containing brightly-coloured annuals such as petunias are also ideal to use in this way .
Dwarf marigolds, pansies or impatiens would also be suitable choices for growing in pots.
People who have enjoyed gardening for many years, but now cannot manage tasks because of different disabilities will then be able to enjoy the bright colours displayed in these pots. Elderly relatives and friends, including those in hostels and nursing homes, will appreciate the efforts you have made.
Seedlings should be planted into a premium potting mix as this will help to ensure prolonged flowering. Water saving crystals that have been added to the soil mixture will assist with water retention.
CUT BACK ORCHIDS
Cymbidium orchids that have multiplied and now fill their pot will have reduced flowering as they will gradually become starved of needed nutrients.
Once the plants have been removed from their pot, which may take some effort if they are very overgrown, the old "soil" should be removed from the roots. Then the plant should be divided into smaller plants, making sure each one has some older shoots as well as one or two strong new shoots that will eventually produce the flower spikes.
Older and damaged roots should be cut from the plant. It is advisable to sterilize the secateurs to avoid the transfer of diseases.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember when repotting orchids is the medium that is placed into the pot with the plant. Orchids require a very free-draining mixture as their root system will quickly rot if it has been placed into heavy soil.
A mixture of small to medium sized pine bark is good to use.