Mulberry Tree: The Easiest Berries To Grow
No matter the fruit color, the fruiting mulberry tree is an easy way to get sweet berries easily. Our guide shares how to grow them!
Mulberries are the perfect summer treats. It is even better when you can pick out handfuls of these sweet dark fruits right off your own mulberry tree! Fresh mulberries consist of 88% water. A cup of fresh and juicy mulberries (about 140 grams) contains only 60 calories, making it the perfect fruit for casual snacking.
Dried mulberries are also popular and can be eaten just like raisins. The dried fruit contains 12% protein, 70% carbs, 14% fiber, and only 3% fats. As compared to most other berries, mulberry has one of the highest protein content levels. They are also loaded with iron, potassium, Vitamin C, E, and K1.
Apart from offering sweet, colorful fruit, mulberry trees also provide shade in summer and attract a variety of fruit-loving birds, including bluebirds, tanagers, warblers, and orioles. In the spring, when the mulberry tree is laden with berries, you can also expect bees and butterflies to visit your garden.
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Quick Care Guide
|Common Name(s)||Mulberry tree|
|Scientific Name||Morus alba, Morus rubra, Morus nigra|
|Time to Harvest||Mid-June through August|
|Water:||Drought-tolerant once established|
|Soil||Well-draining loamy soil|
|Fertilizer||Compost or a 10-10-10 slow-release annually|
|Diseases||Bacterial blight/bacterial canker|
All About Mulberries
What is a mulberry? Mulberry trees are high-harvest, low-maintenance fruit-bearing species. Once established, they hardly require any care beyond pruning and occasional watering. There are various varieties of mulberry trees. However, the three most commonly grown mulberry trees include black mulberry (Morus nigra), red mulberry (Morus rubra), and white mulberry (Morus alba).
Native to western Asia, black mulberry trees produce the most popular fruits. It’s been raised to produce fruit in Europe since the days of the Roman Empire.
Red mulberry trees are a bit hardier than black mulberry. They are native to North America, particularly the eastern United States, and thrive in deep rich soils. In their natural habitat, you will find them growing along streams and bottomlands.
White mulberry trees come from China. They were originally introduced into America as part of silkworm production. These trees have hybridized and naturalized with the native red mulberry tree.
Mulberry trees are deciduous and attain different heights based on their variety. White mulberry trees are the tallest, reaching up to 80 feet in height. Red mulberry reaches 70 feet. The black mulberry tree, which is the smallest of these three species, reaches only 30 feet in height.
Mulberries are fast-growing trees, especially when young. The leaves are arranged alternately on the branches. They are often lobed or saw-toothed on the margins. The flowers are white and grow in clusters called inflorescences. Each fruit is a cluster of drupelets, which means that each berry is actually made up of individual juice-filled drupes or segments with a seed inside each one. When combined together, the drupes make up a single berry.
The fruit is much like gigantic blackberries or raspberries, with dark purple skin. They can be used in a similar manner. Mulberries are used to make jams, muffins, pies, pancakes, sorbets, and the like. You can also include fistfuls of mulberry fruit in your summer smoothies or on top of ice cream.
Planting Mulberry Trees
Planting a mulberry tree in your garden means you get an unlimited supply of sweet and yummy treats. Take a look at how to plant mulberry trees.
When To Plant
While there’s no particular season that is considered perfect to plant the mulberry tree, it’s usually best to do so when the temperatures are not extremes. Planting in spring or fall is the most common, with summer plantings optional in areas with mild summer temperatures. Do not plant when the ground is frozen or when daytime temperatures are below 32ºF or above 90ºF.
Where To Plant
Mulberry trees grow well when planted in full sun but will tolerate partial shade. Select a spot, preferably one sheltered from the wind, that’s not near any buildings, underground pipes, or fences. It’s a good idea to space each mulberry tree at least 15 feet apart, with larger varieties up to 30 feet apart.
As mulberry fruit stains concrete or decking, you may want to choose a location where you have soil under the future canopy of the mulberry tree. Fruit that becomes overripe will fall from the tree, and you’ll always have a few splattered on the ground. In full sun in the summertime, those splattered fruits will bake onto any surface they land on!
Container growing is an option but often doesn’t ensure good fruiting as you’re limiting the height to around 6 feet or smaller. If container growing is your only option, try the Air Pots we stock in our store. If you want to get your mulberry tree started out, this might be a good idea until you’ve chosen its permanent location.
How To Plant
The germination success rate is low for mulberry trees, so starting from seed requires special care. Cold stratification for 4 to 16 weeks helps to increase the chance of germination of mulberry seeds.
Start seeds in a sterilized seed starting mix. Plant just under the surface of the soil and keep the growing medium moist. Once they have germinated, ensure they have ample light for 12-16 hours daily as they grow. Harden off seedlings to the outdoor temperatures as they mature. Sapling trees under 2 years of age should be brought indoors during particularly cold weather or into the shade during very hot weather.
When transplanting saplings (either self-grown or purchased), dig a planting hole as deep as the root ball and about 3 times as wide. Remove the mulberry tree from its pot and gently untangle any circling roots. Plant the tree at the same depth it was in its pot, using the removed soil to backfill. It’s best not to amend the soil when planting, so the mulberry tree is forced to stretch out its roots for moisture or soil nutrients.
Mulberry trees are hardy, low-maintenance plants. However, they still need quality care to grow, bloom, and produce fruit. Let’s talk about mulberry care strategies that will help you get a healthy tree!
Sun and Temperature
Ideal conditions for your mulberry trees include full sunlight, moderate temperatures, and a bit of wind protection for young saplings. But the full sunlight is really the key here. While young saplings can tolerate small amounts of shade, particularly during summer afternoons, they will grow better and fuller overall with complete sun exposure.
Mulberry trees grow best in USDA zones 4-9. There are frost-hardy varieties available, as well as varieties that prefer warmer temperatures. Choose a variety that’s appropriate to your region’s climate if possible. In addition, these trees are deciduous in colder climates, but in warm ones will hold their leaves year-round.
Watering and Humidity
While mulberry trees are drought-tolerant, they grow and fruit best in areas that get regular rainfall. Regular watering will ensure you have good-quality mulberry fruits.
About an inch of water a week is good once the mulberry tree is established. For younger trees, water a bit more frequently during their first year, as their roots have not stretched out far enough to find additional water on their own.
It’s best to water deeply rather than heavily. Use a soaker hose, or put a normal hose on a slow trickle and move it around the exterior of the mulberry tree to allow the water to sink gradually into the soil. This allows the soil to absorb the water rather than letting it flow through, and the tree will have ready access to it when needed.
Mulberry trees are very accepting of different soil qualities. In ideal situations, they’d prefer nice loamy soil packed with organic content, but they’ll accept nearly any other conditions. Container-grown trees can be grown in compost and peat-based potting medium for a truly soilless mulberry tree if desired.
Well-draining soil is a must. If your soil holds too much moisture, it can put the tree’s root system at risk of various rots. While most mulberrys are pretty rot-resistant, it’s best to be proactive and ensure the soil drains readily.
Once established, mulberry is salt-tolerant. Black mulberry prefers a slightly more acidic soil pH down to 4.5, but white mulberry and red mulberry tree varieties tend to prefer 5.5-7.5, with 8 being the uppermost limit for fruit viability.
Minimal fertilization is required for mulberry trees. An annual late winter or early spring application of compost is usually plenty. If you don’t have compost at hand, a 10-10-10 balanced slow-release fertilizer applied in late winter or very early spring is also fine.
Keep all applications of fertilizer at least 6 inches away from the trunk itself. This applies for applications of compost as well.
Pruning and Training
It’s best to prune your mulberry trees while they are dormant. Late winter provides the perfect time to do this necessary annual trimming.
Cuts over 2” in diameter should be avoided, as mulberry will bleed a lot of sap from larger cuts. Larger cuts also provide more space for fungi or bacteria to make their way into the trunk and put the mulberry tree at risk.
Rather than allow a mulberry to reach its full height, it can be trained outward both for ease in harvesting and to increase the overall canopy size. Young trunks have a surprising amount of flexibility in them and can be bent and weighted with concrete blocks to keep them angled outward from the tree’s base. Keep them secured for at least a year, as this gives the wood time to harden. Eventually, you will be able to remove the weights, and the mulberry tree will maintain its shape.
Mulberry trees are usually propagated through seed, cuttings, or grafting.
Mulberry trees can be propagated through seeds or cuttings from an existing plant. Take a look at how you can propagate the plant.
Seeds we discussed briefly above. For cuttings, take 6-8” tip cuttings from healthy, vigorous branches. You want something no wider than a pencil in diameter. Strip off all but the topmost leaves at the cutting’s tip. Dip the cut end in water, then a powdered rooting hormone, and place in moistened prepared potting soil. Keep moist, and roots will form within a few weeks’ time.
Grafting is best left to the professionals. As mulberries do bleed a lot of sap from cuts, it can be difficult to get a perfect graft for this tree type.
Harvesting and Storing
What do mulberries taste like? Summer, of course! Whether you’re growing a white mulberry tree or a black one, or anything in between, harvesting is easily the most enjoyable part of growing a mulberry tree. Let’s talk about that!
Young mulberry trees won’t produce much in their first year, sometimes not even their second. But after that, mulberry fruits hang heavily on the tree. Fast-growing, these berries range from white mulberries to dark purple in color, and they’re easy to spot on the tree.
Harvesting begins in mid-June for mullberies. Depending on the species, it can last through August. Usually, the red mulberry and white mulberry tree varieties are the first to start bearing, with the black ones ripening a little later.
Handpicking early berries results in a tart berry. Waiting too long means the berry may fall from the mulberry tree on its own and be wasted. But there’s a method that works to knock the more ripe berries free, and it can be done every few days.
Spread an old sheet or tarp out under the tree. Then, give the branches over it a shake. The ripest berries will fall onto the tarp, while the slightly under-ripe ones will stay attached.
If you’re not planning to eat the fruit right away, you can store fresh mulberries in the refrigerator for 2-4 days. Keep a watchful eye on them, as like other berries, they can turn bad very quickly.
Freezing the harvest is an option for long-term storage. Wash your berries and lay them out on a kitchen towel to air dry. Once dry, place them on a baking sheet with a piece of parchment lining it. Freeze until solid, then transfer to an airtight container or freezer storage bag.
Drying is also a good storage option. Once washed and destemmed, add ¼ cup lemon juice to 1 quart of water in a bowl, and soak your berries in the lemon water for a few minutes, being sure they all get thoroughly coated. Place them on the tray of a dehydrator and process until they’re thoroughly dried out. They will have a raisin-like consistency.
Mulberry trees have few disastrous issues like other plants do, but they still have some problems to contend with. Let’s talk about the issues you might face.
The splattering of berries is one of the worst problems that mulberries actually have. If you do not consistently harvest, soft berries will splat down from the mulberry tree and stain every nearby surface. The fruit then becomes a tasty temptation for ants and other insects. Keep the area around your tree regularly maintained so you don’t end up with unwanted pests!
I mentioned ants earlier, but this applies as a pest on the mulberry tree as well. Prevention of ants in your mulberries is pretty easy, though. Invest in a tangle trap that can be painted on the trunk of the tree. It’s best if you paint a wide band that goes all the way around the trunk. The ants will get stuck in it and will never make it to the fruit. Repaint whenever the stickiness starts to subside.
Birds are another pest for mulberries because just like us, they find the black fruit tasty (and the red mulberry and white mulberry fruit too!). While it’s possible to drape bird netting over the tree, it’s usually easier to just let them take their share. They can be messy while eating, though, so be prepared to pick up partial berries they’ve dropped.
Bacterial blight caused by Psuedomonas syringae bacteria can cause black spotting on leaves and large brown spotting on the fruit. This bacteria thrives in areas with poor air circulation around wet branches and leaves. If left unchecked, it can cause cankers to appear on the branches, then eventually on the trunk itself. Damaged branches, foliage and fruit should be removed. If the trunk develops cankers, the tree itself should be removed before it dies off.
To prevent this form of blight, keep the canopy open so air can readily pass through it. Remove branches that bend inward into the canopy or cross over others so that air can more easily flow through.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How tall do mulberry trees grow?
A: They range in height from 30 to 80 feet depending on variety. The white mulberry, Morus alba, is typically the tallest.
Q: Why are mulberry trees illegal?
A: They’re not in most parts of the US and world, but certain areas have disallowed the male, pollen-producing mulberry tree. Among those locations are Phoenix, El Paso, and Las Vegas. All of these southwestern US cities have banned the trees due to the amount of pollen they produce. In the hot desert wind, that pollen can cause many allergy attacks. Areas outside of the desert southwest typically do not have the same issues with the mulberry.
Q: Why are mulberries not sold in stores?
A: The mulberry fruit is actually quite delicate, and is generally too fragile to go to market. You can sometimes find people selling their own harvests at farmer’s markets but it’s unlikely you’ll encounter them in your supermarket.
Q: Can you eat mulberries from a mulberry tree?
A: Absolutely! Make sure they’re ripe before you do, and eat them quickly. Unripe ones can irritate the digestive system.
Q: Why are mulberries not sold in stores?
A: They aren’t sold in stores because they have a short 2-3 day shelf life.