Mulberry trees are easy to take care of and produce sweet fruit in abundance. The most difficult aspect of growing mulberry trees is propagating them, so it’s best to buy a start.
Mulberry Tree Overview
|Origin||Asia and North America|
|Scientific Name||Morus spp.|
|Type||Deciduous fruiting tree|
|Common Names||Mulberry tree|
|Height||Up to 80 feet|
|Pests||Caterpillars and scale insects|
Black Mulberry - Morus nigra
These mulberries are native to China and prefer a warm climate. The coldest regions they can be grown in is USDA hardiness zone 6; any lower and the tree would not survive the winter. Black mulberry trees are the smallest of all the mulberry trees, with the ability to grow up to 30 feet in height. However, unless they are pruned when young and trained to form a tree shape, they will often grow into more of a mulberry bush than a tree.
Bears a large black juicy fruit over an inch in length.
This cultivar fruits heavily, bearing an abundance of very sweet fruit of up to 1.5 inches long. The tree originated in LA, USA, in 1971.
This cultivar has interesting foliage, with oversized heart shaped leaves. It enjoys warmth and is an ideal mulberry tree for growing in the southern United States. It originates from Florida and bears large black fruits.
White Mulberry - Morus alba tatarica
White mulberry trees were originally imported from China to the US as part of the emerging silk trade because silkworms liked to eat mulberry trees. The silk trade failed to take off in North America, but the white mulberry trees were here to stay. They grow easily, being forgiven of poor soil conditions and can also adapt to grow in partial shade. Despite their name, the fruits of the white mulberry tree are actually dark purple in color, though they start out as white. White mulberry trees are the tallest of the three varieties, growing up to 80 feet in height. They can take many forms, depending on the cultivar, with some trees having a weeping habit, while other grow to form a pyramid shape.
The purple fruits of this cultivar are fleshy, juicy, and sweet. The tree originates from California and has a long harvest period of April through to June.
Red Mulberry- Morus rubra
Red mulberry trees, which are also known as American mulberry trees, are native to the United States. They are first known to have grown all along the Gulf Coast up to Massachusetts. Red mulberry trees have a lifespan of up to 75 years and can grow to heights of 70 feet in rich, fertile soil. They are cold-hardy to temperatures below 0 but do prefer warmth. The appearance of the red mulberry is similar to the black mulberry, though it has more delicate twigs and smaller buds. Many red mulberry trees have been hybridized with white mulberry trees to form new cultivars.
Originating in Pakistan, this cultivar prefers warm weather but can tolerate colder winters. It bears exceptionally large fruit, measuring up to 3.5 inches in length.
This cultivar originated in China but has been grown in Europe for over 1,500 years. It is very tolerant of wind, and so, is commonly used as a windbreak. It grows to 35 feet in height and is one of the hardiest cultivars (California Rare Fruit Growers).
Caring for Your Mulberry Tree
Mulberry trees are fairly tolerant of drought once mature and therefore do not need to be watered frequently. Throughout the fall, winter, and spring, rainfall alone usually provides sufficient hydration for the tree, though it will benefit from additional watering during long dry seasons. The tree should be planted in well-draining soil as it dislikes sitting in soggy soil, and the well-draining quality of soil will help divert water away from the roots of the tree. The tree would prefer to be in rich soil with high organic content, though it will grow well in a variety of soil types.
The mulberry tree will ideally be in a position of full sun. This encourages more flower production, which in turn will result in more mulberry fruits. Large varieties of this tree can grow up to 80 feet in height, so full sun for these trees won’t be a problem as they will likely tower far above any nearby trees or buildings. Some varieties, particularly black mulberry trees, may only reach heights of 20 to 30 feet, or dwarf varieties just 6 feet so that they may end up in the shade of larger trees or nearby buildings. It’s important when planting a mulberry tree to take note of the light, making sure it won’t be shaded.
Young mulberry trees especially will need full sun to grow tall and strong, so they should be positioned away from anything that could put them in the shade. Some varieties of mulberry trees will adapt to partial shade, but they will produce fewer flowers and, therefore, less fruit. This may not be a problem if you are not interested in the fruit, but for an abundantly fruiting tree, it is advisable to ensure full sun (University of Florida).
Most mulberry trees are suitable for growing in USDA hardiness zones 5 to 9, though some varieties are hardy to zones 3 and 4. The tree enjoys warmth, happily growing in full sun conditions. During the winter, it's a good idea to mulch over the soil surrounding the base of the tree, as this helps to insulate the roots against freezing. This is especially important for young mulberry trees as they may not yet have strong root systems that can survive extended cold temperatures.
Mulberry trees are challenging to grow from seed. They require 90 consecutive days of cold, and even then, they have a low germination success rate. If you want to grow a mulberry tree, it is best to buy one from a reputable nursery, where they are now readily available. They were once considered a nuisance, due to the mess they left on the ground, and the way they grew in a weed-like fashion, becoming invasive in some areas. This led to a lack of mulberry tree availability, but the tree has once again become in vogue as people learn how to use it correctly.
To plant the tree in your garden, select an area away from sidewalks and buildings, ideally a meadow or similar area. This will prevent a mess from forming on your patio when the fruits drop. Large varieties will need to be planted around 30 feet apart, while smaller varieties should be 10 to 15 feet apart. Dig a deep hole to sit the root ball in and cover it over with nutrient-rich soil. Once planted, water the tree deeply, then continue normal care.
The flowers of the mulberry tree are white and fairly unremarkable. They bloom in early spring before transforming into the fruit of the tree.
Mulberry fruits are sweet and have the look of an extended blackberry. They are available in red, black, and white varieties, and the time for harvest will depend on the variety. The white and red varieties ripen first, being available for harvest in late spring, while the black varieties don’t ripen until late summer.
To pick the mulberries from the tree, you will need plenty of patience as this is a time-consuming task. Gently squeeze the berry to loosen it from the tree, being careful not to squeeze too hard and end up covered in juice. If you would prefer a less labor-intensive harvesting solution, prepare a sheet around the base of your mulberry tree and then gently shake the branches to encourage the fruit to drop. Gather up the sheet and wash the mulberries before eating or cooking with them. They will keep in the fridge for up to three days, or you could freeze any leftovers for several months. They make excellent dried snacks or can be used to make pies, smoothies, or even wine.
The main pests of a mulberry tree are caterpillars and birds. Mulberry trees are a favorite food of silkworms, which are the caterpillars of silk moths. In fact, white mulberry trees were first introduced to North America from China as a food source for silk worms when America was trying to start up their own silk trade. Natural ways to keep caterpillars at bay include spraying the tree with neem oil or making a homemade garlic spray.
Another problem for mulberry trees is birds, who love to feast on the fruits. If you have a large mulberry tree, this shouldn’t be too much of an issue because the tree will produce more than enough fruit to satisfy the appetites of both the birds and your family. In fact, there will usually be more mulberries than you can eat. The main problem with birds eating the fruits is that they tend to do so in a messy manner, leaving remnants of mulberries all over the ground. The best way to avoid this issue is to plant your mulberry tree away from your house or any patio areas so that dropped mulberries won’t be a nuisance. Dwarf mulberry trees will not bear as much fruit, so if you want to keep the birds from eating all of your mulberries, then you can use netting to cover the tree during harvest time.
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