The mulberry tree is a medium-sized deciduous tree that produces small, tasty-but-messy berries that resemble blackberries. Both the red mulberry (Morus rubus) and the white mulberry (Morus alba) are common in North America and feature dark green leaves with serrated edges. Mulberry trees thrive in areas with rich, well-drained, moist soil that receive full to partial sunlight, and they do best in growing season temperatures between 68 and 86 degrees (though most are hardy to minus 25 degrees). While the fruit is safe to eat, the leaves and unripe fruit of mulberry trees contain a latex that is mildly toxic to humans.
|Common Name||Mulberry tree, red mulberry, white mulberry|
|Botanical Name||Morus spp.|
|Mature Size||30–60 ft. tall, 20–40 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full, Partial|
|Soil Type||Moist but Well-drained|
|Soil pH||Acidic, Neutral|
|Flower Color||Yellow, green|
|Hardiness Zones||4–8 (USDA)|
|Native Area||North America, Asia|
|Toxicity||Toxic to humans|
Mulberry Tree Care
The main growing requirements for mulberry trees include:
- Plant far from important structures (foundation, driveway, plumbing, utility lines)
- Choose a spot with full to partial sun
- Plant in neutral to mildly acidic soil with good drainage
- Water deeply every week during the first year
- Fertilize once per year in late winter
- Avoid pruning aside from damaged or crossed branches
- Protect the trunk from animals with metal shields or hardware cloth during the first few years
White mulberry, which is native to China, is considered a seriously invasive plant in much of the Midwest and in scattered locations elsewhere. It is best to select a sterile cultivar whenever possible in these regions. Controlling the spread of fruiting trees is very difficult, as birds readily spread the seeds after eating the fruit.
Mulberry trees can thrive in both full sun and partial shade conditions. As with many fruiting trees, more light helps the trees produce more fruit.
Mulberry trees are somewhat adaptable and can deal with clay, loam, and sandy soil with ease, as long as the mixture can maintain sufficient drainage. The trees can thrive in a range of pH levels varying from neutral to mildly acidic.
Water your mulberry tree deeply and regularly after planting to help it establish a strong root system. Using 2 to 3 gallons per week for the first year is recommended. Once established, mulberry trees are fairly drought-tolerant, though prolonged dry weather can lead to a reduction in fruiting or early dropping of the unripe berries.
Temperature and Humidity
Depending on the species, most mulberry trees are cold-hardy and can handle temperatures as low as minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit during dormancy. They produce the optimal amount of fruit in regions where temperatures during the growing season are between 68 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit.
Mulberry trees often do quite well with no fertilization, though they can benefit from a yearly application. Feed your tree once in late winter, using a balanced 10-10-10 mixture and measuring out 1 pound of fertilizer for each inch in the trunk's diameter.
Types of Mulberry Trees
There are five species of mulberry trees, three of which are likely to be seen in North America:
- Morus alba: Also known as a white mulberry tree, this is the most common mulberry species found in North America. This native of China can be easily distinguished from other trees in the genus thanks to its blackberry-shaped fruit, which begins white but darkens to purplish red. It is available in the nursery trade in several cultivars that are ornamental and sterile, making them more suitable for landscape use. 'Kingan' is a drought-tolerant cultivar of Morus alba for dry regions, and 'Chapparal' is a weeping variety.
- Morus rubra: The native North American red mulberry tree has rough leaves that are twice as long as Morus alba with a coarse and hairy underside, and the fruit starts light green before turning red or dark purple when ripe. Red mulberry trees are often difficult to find in the nursery trade but they can be found growing wild in eastern Canada and the United States.
- Morus nigra: Black mulberry trees average 40 feet tall and feature dark purple (almost black) berries that are quite large when ripe. This native of Asia is not commonly found in North America.
- Morus australis: Also known as Korean mulberry, this species is a small tree, reaching only 20 to 30 feet at maturity. It features light green foliage that is slightly glossed and fruit that ranges in color from almost white to deep red and purple. It is not a common landscape tree in North America.
- Morus celtidifolia: Texas mulberry trees are native to the Southwest and appear more shrub-like, growing to a maximum height of just 25 feet. The edible fruits are red, purple, or nearly black and are fantastic for drawing wildlife to your landscape, especially birds.
Routine pruning is not necessary for mulberry trees, but damaged or crossing branches and stems should be pruned away in late fall or winter while the tree is dormant (which helps avoid sap loss).
Propagating Mulberry Trees
Mulberry trees are easily propagated in spring or early summer by rooting semi-hardwood branch cuttings. Not every cutting will successfully root, so it's a good idea to take at least four or five cuttings to increase your odds. Here's how to do it:
- In spring as new growth is starting, cut 6- to 8-inch long segments from the tips of 1/2-inch diameter branches—branches that are relatively new but not completely soft and green—using sharp pruners.
- Dip the bottom of the cuttings into rooting hormone, and plant the ends in small pots filled with commercial potting soil or seed starter mix.
- Water the pots well, then place them inside 1-gallon clear plastic bags bound with rubber bands.
- Place the pots in a full shade location until they root, checking periodically to make sure they remain moist.
- When the cuttings have rooted (generally after about one month), you can take off the plastic bags and continue growing them in the pots until fall, when they can be planted in the garden.
How to Grow Mulberry Trees From Seed
Mulberry trees are incredibly easy to grow from seed, as evidenced by the rampant self-seeding they produce. They can be grown indoors by chilling and germinating the seeds. Here's how:
- Collect plenty of fruits from the tree, either fresh or those that have fallen from the branches.
- Collect the seeds and soak them in water for 24 to 48 hours.
- Place the seeds on a damp paper towel and store inside a closed plastic bag in the refrigerator.
- Chill the seeds for three months, adding new damp paper towels weekly to maintain moisture levels. If any seeds germinate in the refrigerator, take them out of the bag and plant them.
- After chilling, plant the seeds in fresh potting soil mixed with peat moss to lower the pH. Place the container in a warm area with full sunlight (at least 8 hours per day).
- Once seeds sprout, replant them in separate containers and keep the soil consistently moist as the plants grow. The young mulberry trees will be ready to plant in the ground outdoors after about 1 year.
For an even easier method, you can simply wait for fallen seeds to sprout up in the yard and carefully transplant them to new locations.
Potting and Repotting Mulberry Trees
Container culture is not common for these plants, since they are fast-growing and can quickly achieve a size that's too large for most containers. That said, if you are willing to prune often and willing to sacrifice the tree when it becomes too large after a few years, it's entirely possible to grow mulberry in a large container for a sunny deck or patio (though the messy fruit can be a hindrance in these locations).
Use ordinary commercial potting soil amended with plenty of compost, in the largest, widest container that's practical. It's best to start with a large pot rather than repotting as the plant grows larger.
Be prepared to water and feed your mulberry tree more often when growing it in a container. During winter, try to move the potted tree to a slightly sheltered location.
Routine fall cleanup of fallen fruit is a good idea to reduce the rampant self-seeding that occurs with mulberry trees. These hardy trees require no protection against winter cold if they are being grown within their accepted hardiness range.
While they're hardy to cold temperatures, mulberry trees are prone to damage from animals. Protecting the trunks of young trees with metal shields or hardware cloth for the first few years will shield them from rabbits, deer, and other browsing animals that gnaw on the bark. After about three years, the trees are usually large enough to resist animal damage.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
Mulberry trees are more likely to incur pest and disease problems in warmer climates. These trees may have to contend with a variety of pest issues, including whitefly, scale, and mealybugs. The good news is that these bugs won't really cause much damage to mature trees. They're tough enough to withstand it—which is good, because treating a large 50-foot tree is no easy feat. If you notice signs of an infestation on a more vulnerable young sapling, you can apply a horticultural oil such as neem oil.
These trees are relatively free of disease problems, though bacterial blights and fungal leaf spot diseases may sometimes occur. Diseased plant parts should be removed as they are noticed. Fungal diseases are rarely fatal and usually require no treatment.
How to Get Mulberry Trees to Bloom
Mulberry trees typically bloom in spring during April and May.
How Long Do Mulberry Trees Bloom?
The flowers on mulberry trees last for one to two months before the plant's fruit production starts, which lasts from mid to late summer. The blooms continue coming back every year on their own.
What Do Mulberry Tree Flowers Look and Smell Like?
The flowers on mulberry trees are small with a yellow-green color. They grow in clusters, and the tree's foliage produces a scent with earthy, spicy, and slightly sweet fragrances.
How to Encourage More Blooms
Generally speaking, homeowners don't want to encourage mulberry trees to bloom, since the flowers aren't showy. If you want to encourage blooming for increased fruit production, simply make sure the tree's basic needs are being met—plenty of sunlight, regular water, and annual fertilizing. The most common reason for bloom and fruit failure on a mulberry tree is the lack of soil nutrients and late spring frost that kills the flower buds.
Caring for Mulberry Tree After It Blooms
Mulberry trees do not require deadheading of their flowers or additional care after blooming. Continue providing your tree with adequate water and annual fertilizer to encourage healthy growth.
Common Problems With Mulberry Trees
Mulberry trees are typically easy to grow, but the most common issues with mulberry trees involve their messiness and invasive spread. Gardeners cannot prevent invasive varieties from spreading, so it's best to choose seedless or fruitless cultivars if you live in a region affected by invasive mulberry trees.
Stains From Fruit
The fertile, fruiting varieties of this tree are often considered nuisance plants in urban environments, since the fallen fruit will stain pavement and cars, and the stains can easily be tracked indoors. To avoid this, it's best to plant one of the sterile cultivars that don't produce fruit. If you do want the fruit for the benefit of feeding birds or making jams, try to position the tree in an area of your yard where the fruit will not create a mess.
Mulberry trees can spread very easily through self-seeding. Garden areas immediately around a tree may see hundreds of volunteer seedlings, which, if not immediately plucked, can quickly develop root systems that make the saplings hard to eradicate. If you have a fruiting mulberry tree, learn to recognize the seedlings and pluck them out as soon as they appear.
How do I harvest the fruit from a mulberry tree?
Your mulberry tree's berries will be ready to harvest between June and August (as a general rule of thumb, the darker the fruit, the sweeter the taste). The two methods of picking mulberries are handpicking, which can be very tedious, or placing a tarp or old sheet under the tree and shaking it. You can then collect the unbruised fruit and carefully prepare the berries as part of jelly or jam, or freeze the berries to use them periodically as desired.
How do I remove a mulberry tree?
Many gardeners want to remove mulberry trees once they realize how messy and invasive they can be. Even if the tree is cut off at ground level and the trunk is dug up and removed, small remaining pieces of the root can quickly sprout up again. The best solution is to cut down the tree and dig up as much of the root structure as possible, then apply a concentrated non-selective herbicide (such as glyphosate) to whatever green growth sprouts up again.
How long does a mulberry tree live?
White mulberry trees can live as long as 100 years, though lifespans of 25 to 50 years are more common for landscape cultivars. Red mulberry trees typically live for 75 years or less.
What is the difference between red and white mulberry?
White mulberry has 3- to 4-inch glossy green leaves, while red mulberry has 4- to 7-inch dull green leaves. With white mulberry, the fruit can be white, red, or even a purple color when ripe. Red mulberry fruit is a dark red color when ripe, and it can be almost black.
How can I use mulberry trees in the landscape?
Mulberry trees are medium-sized with dense, rounded crowns that can make a good understory tree in a big yard. Because the fruit can be quite messy, it's best to plant the tree out of the way where it can provide fruit for birds but human feet won't stomp on them. This is not a tree you want hanging over a patio, driveway, or sidewalk. If you wish to use mulberry as a small shade tree in more heavily trafficked areas, it's best to choose a sterile cultivar that produces neither fertile seeds nor fruit.
White Mulberry. University of Redlands.
Not All Trees Are Good Trees. University of Illinois Extension.
Mulberry—Morus spp. University of California Integrated Pest Management Program.
Mulberry. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.