When you walk along a wooded lot and spot a mulberry tree (or its telltale berry-colored stains on the sidewalk), it's likely that the tree you are observing isn't a native red mulberry, but a white mulberry—or a hybrid of the two. White mulberry trees were introduced to North America by the English prior to the American Revolution in an effort to establish a silkworm industry in young America's burgeoning textile industry. White mulberry is the silkworm's preferred food and the Colonies had land to spare to grow the caterpillar's feast. Unfortunately, this grand scheme failed, and the white mulberry population went rampant due to its ease of germination and spread. Alternately, the popular red mulberry tree is native to North America but seen much less frequently.
Regardless of their issues, mulberry trees of all types make for beautiful landscape additions, as long as they're selected and cared for properly. Both the red and white varietals—as well as any hybrids—feature berries that look strikingly similar to blackberries and possess dark green leaves with serrated edges. Mulberry trees are best planted in the early spring and will grow quickly, often reaching heights of 10 to 12 feet in under six years' time.
|Botanical Name||Morus spp.|
|Common Name||Mulberry tree, red mulberry, white mulberry|
|Mature Size||35–50 ft. tall, 35–40 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun, partial shade|
|Soil Type||Rich, moist but well-drained|
|Soil pH||Neutral to acidic|
|Hardiness Zone||4–8 (USDA)|
|Native Range||North America, Europe|
|Toxicity||Mildly toxic to humans (when unripe)|
Mulberry Tree Care
Mulberries are easy trees to grow (even if you have the brownest of thumbs), but they aren't suited to every garden. Be sure to pick one of the many seedless cultivars available, including Morus alba 'Chapparal', which is a weeping variety, and Morus alba 'Kingan', a very drought-tolerant cultivar suitable for some drier regions.
It is important to keep in mind that mulberry trees can have very prolific (and fast-growing) roots. Plant your tree away from important structures (like your foundation, driveway, or garage) and features (like utility, septic, or sewage lines) so you don't risk the roots damaging vital elements of your property. You should also take the tree's mature height into consideration and pick a spot where it can be kept relatively free of pruning (which causes it stress) and let it do its job of producing berries and enjoy the many fruits it will offer you.
Mulberry trees can thrive in both full sun and partial shade conditions though, like with many fruiting trees, more light equals more fruit. It's likely that once your plant reaches maturity it will be one of the taller specimens in your landscape, so you shouldn't worry too much about light when choosing where to plant your tree.
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. Additionally, the trees can thrive in a range of pH levels varying from neutral to mildly acidic.
Water your mulberry tree deeply and regularly after initially planting it in order to help it establish a strong root system—two to three 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 berries (before they're truly ripe).
Temperature and Humidity
Depending on the species, most mulberry trees are cold-hardy and can handle temperatures as low as -25 degrees Fahrenheit during dormancy. That being said, they produce the optimal amount of fruit when temperatures range from 68 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit.
Mulberry trees usually thrive with minimal 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.
Mulberry Tree Varieties
In North America, the five mulberry trees you are most likely to see are:
- Morus alba: Also known as a white mulberry tree, this is the most common species found in the country. It can be easily distinguished from other trees in the genus thanks to its white, blackberry-shaped fruits. It is still available in the nursery trade in several cultivars that are ornamental and sterile, making them suitable for planting.
- Morus rubra: The native red mulberry tree is relatively short-lived, with rough leaves that are twice as long as Morus alba and feature a coarse hairy underside. The fruit starts light green then turns to red or dark purple when ripe. Red mulberry trees are often very difficult to find in the nursery trade.
- Morus nigra: Black mulberry trees average 40 feet tall and feature dark purple (almost black) berries that are quite large when ripe.
- Morus australis: Also known as Korean mulberry, this varietal is small, 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.
- Morus celtidifolia: Texas mulberry trees are native to the Southwest and appear more shrub-like than tree, 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.
Your mulberry tree will be ready to produce fruit after approximately three years, and when it does you better be ready to harvest. You can expect the berries to be ready between June and August, though that's not to say that they'll all hit peak ripeness at once. As a general rule of thumb, the darker the fruit, the sweeter the taste. Be warned that mulberries are very tender and will crush easily. The fruit can cause a sticky mess if allowed to fall to the ground, so be sure to collect it promptly to protect against insects, wildlife, and property damage.
The two methods of picking mulberries are handpicking, which can be very tedious, or placing a tarp or old sheet under the tree and giving it a good shake. 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.
Common Pests & Diseases
Mulberry 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 like neem oil.