Hugely underrated, the mulberry tree is an attractive specimen that makes a good addition to many planting schemes and landscapes. A valuable addition to a fruit tree collection, in addition to being ornamentally attractive, the mulberry tree also produces lots of flavorsome fruit.
If you want to learn more about the mulberry tree, including how to add one to your garden, this guide has all the information that you need.
Morus is an attractive, fruiting plant.
What is a Mulberry Tree?
Part of the Moraceae family, alongside figs and breadfruits the mulberry tree is a medium sized deciduous plant. An attractive, ornamental plant, the mulberry tree has a reputation for being a messy plant. Ripe fruit can fall from the plant staining surfaces beneath.
Today, this is less of a problem both sterile or non fruiting varieties and nor-staining types are available. Additionally, male plants do not bear fruit meaning that they do not make a mess. It is only the female, fruiting plants that stain. If you are not growing the plants for the fruit, a male specimen should be selected.
Many types are self pollinating.
The berries, similar in appearance to elongated blackberries, are filled with flavor. Depending on the cultivar they can be sweet or tart.
Mulberry fruits are rich in vitamin C and are also a good source of potassium, vitamin K and iron. They are also high in resveratrol which helps to fight cancer. The fruit can also be used as a dye and has some medicinal qualities.
The wood of the mulberry tree is often used to make furniture or for fencing.
Warning, the leaves and unripe fruit of the mulberry tree contain latex. This can be mildly toxic to humans.
Different Types of Mulberry Tree
There are 5 main types of mulberry tree. 3 of these are common in North America.
The most commonly seen cultivar in North America is Morus Alba or the White mulberry tree. Native to China it is easy to identify by its blackberry shaped, white fruit. As the fruit matures it turns dark purple-red.
The White mulberry tree is commonly sold in plant nurseries and garden stores. Noted for its vigorous growth habit and ability to spread rampantly, Moura Alba is considered invasive in large parts of the Midwest and other areas.
Other varieties are more easily contained. If you wish to grow a Morua Alba plant, sterile and purely ornamental cultivars are available.
The white fruiting Morus Alba cultivar has a vigorous growth habit.
Another commonly grown cultivar is Morus Ruba or the Red mulberry tree. Native to North Eastern America, the rough leaves of Morus Ruba are twice as long as the foliage of the Alba variety and have a coarse, hairy underside. As it forms the fruit is light green, turning red or dark purple as it matures.
The other varieties of mulberry tree are:
- Morus Nigra or Black mulberry tree. This variety reaches a mature height of 40 ft and produces large, dark purple, almost black berries. Native to Asia, Morus Nigra is rarely seen in North America.
- Morus Australis or the Korean mulberry is a small plant, mature specimens reach 20 to 30 ft in height. Producing slightly glossed, light green foliage the fruit of Morus Australis ranges in color from white to red and deep purple. Despite its attractive appearance, Morus Australis is not a common sight in North American landscapes.
- Morus Celtidifolia or theTexas mulberry tree is native to Southwest America. These shrublike specimens reach a maximum height of 25 ft and produce edible fruits in red and purple, almost black, colors. Morus Celtidifolia is a reliable choice if you want to draw wildlife, especially birds, to your garden.
If you do not want to worry about the potential spread of the plant, staining or are growing the plants purely for their ornamental value, seedless and fruitless cultivars such as Morus Alba Chaparral, an attractive weeping variety, and Morus Alba Kingan are both are good choices. Kingan is pleasingly drought-tolerant, making it ideal for growers in drier climates.
Morus plants produce fruits in shades of black, purple, red and white. Black fruiting types tend to have the most flavor while red varieties are hardier and tolerate a little more shade than other types. White mulberries are typically milder with a bitter taste.
The rapid growth of the Morus Alba cultivar means the plants are often considered invasive. The following types do not have this issue:
- Oscar is a red or purple type. Hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 9 it is popular for its prolific fruiting, bearing mulberries early in the season. The fruits are particularly good in jams.
- Illinois Everbearing is a hardy reliable type that is capable of surviving in USDA Zone 3. It produces black fruits during July and August.
- Dwarf Black is a small, compact specimen. Ideal for container gardens it reaches a mature height of 8 to 10 ft. The fruit of Dwarf Black is not as sweet as other types.
- California White is a sweet white type, the fruits are slightly smaller than raspberries. A small plant, California White tolerates drought and sandy soil once established. Further adding to the attraction, California White fruit doesn’t stain.
- Beautiful Day is a large plant. Despite the size it won’t become invasive. The white 1 inch fruit also doesn’t stain.
- Weeping is an attractive ornamental specimen. While it doesn’t always produce fruit, if you are determined to include fruiting plants in your landscape make sure that you select female plants.
There are many different types of Morus plants.
When and Where to Plant
The best time to plant a mulberry tree is either in the spring or fall. This gives the plants time to establish themselves in the soil before the heat of summer or cold of winter arrives.
These specimens are best placed in full sun. Some varieties also tolerate partial shade. As with other fruit trees, the more light the plants receive the more fruit they produce.
If you are planting more than one, space the plants 20 to 25 ft apart. This gives the growing plants lots of space to grow into. Smaller dwarf types can be spaced around 10 ft apart.
Most varieties are hardy in USDA Zones 4 to 9 and are capable of tolerating temperatures as low as -25 ℉ during the dormant, winter period. For optimal fruit production, the temperature during the growing season should average 68 to 86 ℉.
Select your planting position carefully. Larger types in particular can set out large root systems up to 100 ft wide. Don’t plant close to sidewalks, driveways, drainage systems or patios. You should also take into account potential overhead obstacles such as wires.
Take into account potential obstacles before planting.
The fruit of some varieties can stain surfaces. While some non-staining varieties are available, remember to take this into account when selecting your planting position.
If you have a livestock enclosure try planting your mulberry tree in close proximity. The branches are brittle and drop in heavy wind. Chickens, goats and hogs all like to snack on the fallen twigs and berries.
These plants tolerate most soil conditions as long as it is well draining. Neutral to mildly acidic soils, a pH of 5.5 to 6.5, are preferred but they also tolerate a slightly alkaline soil. If your soil is overly alkaline, amend it before planting.
Before planting, work in any necessary amendments. You should also dig over the soil to break up clumps of earth and remove any pebbles or stones that could impede the development of the root system.
How to Plant a Mulberry Tree
These are not fussy plants, you can plant a mulberry tree as you would any other fruit tree.
Morus plants grow in a range of different soil types and conditions.
Remember to harden off the plant before planting.
Use a shovel to dig a large hole. This should be at least twice the size of the root ball.
Work compost or peat into the bottom of the hole. You can also work a little balanced, slow release fertilizer into the soil. This provides a nutritional boost, helping your plant to settle more quickly in its new home.
Carefully remove the mulberry tree from the pot it is sitting in. Gently shake the plant to remove any soil that is clinging to the root system. If the roots are overly compacted you may need to tease them apart.
Position the mulberry tree in the hole. The plant should sit at roughly the same depth as when it was in the pot. The crown, or top of the root system, should sit level or slightly below the soil level.
When you are happy with the position of the sapling, backfill the hole with a combination of ground soil and fresh soil or a little compost. Gently tamp the soil down. This removes air pockets. Water well
Planting is the ideal time to install a support such as a KOGEN Tree Stake Kit. This supports the young trunk, ensuring that it grows tall and straight.
Dwarf types can also be planted in a large pot.
How to Pot and Repot a Mulberry Tree
Planting in a pot is largely the same as planting in the ground.
Smaller types are suitable for planting in a large container.
Use a large, wide container. Unlike some container plants it is best to start with a large pot because repotting can be difficult as the plant grows larger.
No special potting mixture is necessary. These plants thrive in a combination of ordinary potting soil and compost.
Add a layer of potting mixture to the bottom of the pot. Remove the young plant from its container and center in the pot. You may need to add or remove some potting mixture before you are happy with the level of the plant.
After centering the mulberry tree, fill the pot with more potting mixture, gently firm down the soil and water well.
Remember that plants growing in containers require more frequent applications of water and fertilizer than those growing in the ground. In cooler climates, specimens growing in pots can be moved to a more sheltered location during the winter months.
How to Propagate
The easiest way to grow a mulberry tree is to purchase a young specimen. You can find saplings for sale online, in plant catalogs or plant nurseries and garden stores. You can also try to propagate your own.
You can propagate new plants from stem cuttings.
How to Root Cuttings
The most reliable propagation method is to take and root cuttings from semi-hardwood branches. Semi-hardwood are stems that are partly but not completely mature. These stems are flexible to bend easily but still break with a snap.
Semi-hardwood cuttings are best made in summer, but you can take the cuttings anytime from late spring to late summer.
Trim a 6 to 12 inch branch away from the parent plant. Your chosen stem should have at least 3 buds on it.
To speed up root production the cut end of the stem can be dipped in rooting hormone. Plant the prepared stem roughly 3 inches deep in a pot filled with potting soil or seed starter mix.
Place the cutting in a propagator or a plastic bag and place in a full shade position. Regularly check the cuttings for signs of new growth. Moisten the soil when it shows signs of drying out. Dry soil can cause cuttings to fail.
To check for new roots, gently tug the stem. Resistance is a sign that roots are forming, anchoring the plant in the soil.
Once new roots form remove the cutting from its protective cover. Continue to care for the cuttings undercover until the fall. Once the cuttings are large enough they can be hardened off and transplanted into their final growing position.
Cuttings are often prone to failure. Taking a few more cuttings than you need means that even if one fails, you should still have some that succeed.
Growing from Seed
A slow process, it can take up to 3 years before plants grown from seed start to bear fruit.
Gather fresh berries and soak for 24 hours in a bowl of water. Soaking in water helps to separate the seeds from the rest of the fruit. Pick out the seeds and wrap in a moist paper towel in a plastic bag.
Place the seeds in the refrigerator for 90 days. Known as stratification, this exposure to cold temperatures tricks the seeds to thinking that they have experienced a winter chill. Stratification is necessary for seeds to germinate.
You can also purchase seeds from seed catalogs and garden stores. These will have already gone through the stratification process.
Growing from seed is a slow process.
Sow the prepared seeds in seed starting trays filled with Seed Starting Potting Mix. Space the seeds roughly 4 inches apart. Moisten the soil.
Place the trays in a sheltered position or a propagator. Germination typically takes around 14 days.
Following germination, allow the seedlings to grow on in the tray until they are large enough to handle. At this stage the seedlings can be transplanted into pots filled with fresh potting soil. Continue to care for the developing seedlings undercover until they are large enough to transplant outside.
Remember to harden off your seedlings before transplanting. Transplant into their final growing position as described above.
How to Care for a Mulberry Tree
Once planted in a favorable position the mulberry tree is a low maintenance addition to the garden. Wind pollinated, self-fertile and largely pest free, these plants require minimal care to thrive.
In favorable conditions the mulberry tree can last for a surprisingly long time. Some types can last for over 100 years.
Caring correctly for the plant encourages lots of fresh growth and fruit.
When to Water
In the weeks after planting apply 1 inch of water per plant each week if it doesn’t rain. This regular drink of water helps the mulberry tree to establish itself in its new position. When you water, use a garden hose to evenly soak the soil around the plant.
Once established and new growth is visible, the plants are largely drought resistant. This means that you need only water during prolonged dry spells.
Do I Need to Fertilize?
In healthy soil there is no need for applications of fertilizer. A compost mulch in spring, spread 1 inch thick from the trunk all the way to the drip line, provides all the nutrients that the mulberry tree needs.
Alternatively, apply a dose of balanced fertilizer measuring 1 pound for each inch of trunk diameter.
Do not compost or fertilize the plants from the end of July onwards. Fertilizing too late in the season promotes excess growth that won’t be hardy enough to survive winter.
Pruning a Mulberry Tree
A low maintenance plant, formal pruning is minimal. The only time you may need to prune the plants is to remove any dead or damaged branches. You may also need to prune to thin out branches that are growing too close together.
Pruning is best done in late winter when the mulberry tree is dormant. Do not prune when the plant is actively growing and producing sap. The sap is the weeping liquid which emerges from the trunk or branches if they are cut.
There are a number of useful pruning tools available that are designed to make keeping the tallest specimens in check a straightforward task.
Controlling the Spread of the Morus Plant
White or Morus Alba cultivars have a reputation for spreading easily and quickly. Avoid planting invasive types in the ground. If you are unsure, check with your local extension office or plant nursery.
Watch out for shoots emerging near the base of the plant. Pulling up the shoots as soon as you notice them helps to control the spread of the plants.
As well as their ability to spread easily, the mulberry tree is also banned in some places, including El Paso, because of the amount of pollen the flowers produce.
Do I Need to Pollinate my Mulberry Tree?
Many types of Morus Nigra or Black mulberry are monoecious. This means that the flowers contain both male and female reproductive organs. Monoecious flowers are largely self pollinating. They are are pollinated by the wind or by visiting pollinators.
Other types set fruit without pollination. This means that, unlike other plants such as some types of holly bush, you need only plant one specimen to get fruit.
Morus plants are good companion plants. In an orchard they act as a detractor; birds choose mulberries over other ripe fruit such as cherry trees.
Morus plants grow well in mixed fruit orchards.
Other good companion plants which can all be underplanted beneath the mulberry tree include:
How to Overwinter
Younger plants require some protection in cooler climates during the winter months. Plants growing in pots can be moved on a plant caddy to a sheltered position. A JIBOLAT Plant Stand with Wheels comes with a locking feature, meaning that your plants can’t accidentally be moved.
The trunks of specimens planted in the ground should be covered with a Natural Jute Burlap Protective Wrap or hardware cloth for the first few years.
Covering the trunk also helps to protect it from rabbits, deer and any other critters that may gnaw at the bark. After 2 to 3 years of steady growth, when the plants are large enough to withstand the damage, the protective wrap can be removed.
Common Morus Problems
In the right conditions the mulberry tree is largely problem free. However, even in the best growing conditions, issues can sometimes still occur.
In some growing climates the plants are prone to developing canker. This unsightly issue causes leaves to wilt, bark to peel away from the trunk and black spores to form on the bark and branches.
Should canker develop, trim away and destroy any affected parts of the plant. Do not place diseased plants or cuttings on the compost heap. The canker spores may live on in the compost heap, later infecting other plants around your garden.
Whilst not common in humid conditions unsightly powdery mildew can develop. As our guide to powdery mildew shows, it is easily treatable.
Birds adore mulberries.
While pests and insects tend to leave the plants alone, larger creatures such as birds, squirrels, groundhogs and deer can all target the plants in an attempt to harvest the fruit.
You can cover smaller specimens with a protective netting as fruit emerges. An Ankra Tree Trunk Protector is a flexible, durable solution which is easy to install and provides long lasting protection to vulnerable trunks. A fence can also be used to keep deer away.
Despite being described as a pest free plant, infestations of mealybugs, whitefly and scale can all still occur. These are easily treated with an application of neem oil. Our guide to using neem oil for plants explains how to safely and effectively apply the product.
How to Harvest Mulberry Fruit
Most plants start to produce edible fruit 1 to 2 years after planting. Plants growing from seed can take up to 5 years before they are mature enough to bear fruit. An established plant can produce 15 to 25 pounds of fruit each year.
When the fruit ripens depends on the variety of plant and your growing conditions. In general, fruit usually ripens from late spring to late summer.
Easily picked by hand, in fact ripe fruit almost falls away in your hand. Mulberry fruits fall from the plant as they ripen. In some cases the fruit can break as it lands on a hard surface, leaving behind difficult to remove stains. If this is a concern, a number of cultivars such as Beautiful Day produce non-staining fruit.
An easy way to harvest lots of fruit quickly is to place a sheet under the plant and shake the branches. This causes lots of fruit to fall onto the sheet. The sheet can then be carefully picked up and tipped into a basket.
Best used fresh, mulberry fruit doesn’t last long. Placing the fruit in the refrigerator keeps the fruit fresh for several days. Fresh mulberries can be used like raspberries on yogurts, in desserts, pancakes or smoothies. You can also use the fruit to make wine.
A versatile fruit, you can also use mulberries to make jams and preserves. This is a good way to use up a glut.
Excess fruit can be frozen. To freeze, rinse and gently dry the fruit before placing it in freezer bags. Mulberry fruit can be kept frozen for around 3 months.
The berries are full of vitamins and flavor.
If you don’t have the space to freeze the fruit, you can also dry it. To do this, remove the stems and soak in cold water for 10 minutes with a tablespoon of lemon juice.
Drain the water and lay out the fruit on a non-stick tray. Bake at 140 ℉ for 24 hours, using a spatula to gently turn the drying fruit every few hours. This ensures that the fruit dries evenly.
Once dried the fruit can be stored ready for use at a later date.
Hardy and reliable, once established these low maintenance plants, some of which are self-pollinating, require little regular care. Why not a mulberry tree to your garden?