How to Grow and Care for Red Mulberry

Red mulberry tree branch with red spiked fruit hanging

The Spruce / K. Dave

The red mulberry tree (Morus rubra) is an uncommon sight in both the natural landscape and the nursery trade. It has been overtaken by the invasive white mulberry, which out-competes and hybridizes with the red mulberry. When used in garden design, the red mulberry is chosen for its ornamental value and, occasionally, its delicious fruit often used in jams and pies. 

Whether choosing the tree because it is a native and the idea of fresh berries is enticing, or the grand spreading shade tree’s pendulous red fruit is attractive to the eye, the red mulberry deserves closer inspection.  

Common Name Red Mulberry 
Botanical Name Morus rubra
Family Moraceae
Plant Type Tree
Mature Size 35-50 ft. tall, 30-40 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Partial to Full
Soil Type Moist, Well-drained
Soil pH  Neutral to Basic 
Bloom Time March to April
Flower Color  Green
Hardiness Zone  4-8 (USDA)
Native Area  North America

Red Mulberry Tree Care

If planted and attended to with some affection, the red mulberry tree is a beautiful, large, stately species that can produce a bountiful harvest of berries. 

Site selection will be an important aspect of the mulberry tree’s success. It is a large tree in height and spread. Consider a spot that will not just fit the tree now but 15 years in the future. Think about how the tree will interact with the infrastructure and hardscaping. The red mulberry’s messiness makes this step especially important to avoid staining and property damage from falling fruit.

When ready to plant, place the tree in a hole as deep as the container or ball and two times the width. Mulch around the newly planted tree out to the dripline, ensuring not to touch the bark, helping the newly planted tree retain moisture. 

Red mulberry fruit hanging from branch closeup

The Spruce / K. Dave

Red mulberry tree with sprawling branches in middle of green field and against blue and cloudy sky

The Spruce / K. Dave

Red mulberry bright red and dark red fruits stacked on each other from above

The Spruce / K. Dave

Light

The tree will be its showiest and produce the most fruit when placed in full sun. It does tolerate part shade somewhat well but will not produce as proficiently.

Soil

To ensure success, place the red mulberry tree in well-draining conditions that are moist and rich. A loamy soil that is neutral to alkaline is preferred.

Water

Other than when first planted, there is no need to worry about supplemental watering. Initially, it is necessary to water the newly planted tree weekly. A thorough soaking is adequate. A good rule to go by is ten gallons of water for each inch of the trunk diameter. Weekly watering only needs to be maintained for the first year until roots are established. 

The red mulberry tree is drought-resistant, but it would be best if you still watered them to keep the soil around them from drying out during a drought. That way good fruit production will be more likely.

Temperature and Humidity

The species is a hardy tree with a range covering most of the United States east of the great plains. The red mulberry does well at a variety of temperatures. Its USDA Hardiness Zones are 3-8.

Fertilizer

There is no need to fertilize the red mulberry tree. It will do well in most soils, but increasing the yield of berries can be achieved by applying a 10-10-10 slow-release fertilizer every spring.

Types of Mulberry Trees

The only other native mulberry in the United States is the Texas mulberry (Morus microphylla), also known as littleleaf mulberry, mountain mulberry, Mexican mulberry, or dwarf mulberry.

Other varieties of mulberry are generally considered pests when planted in the US. In particular, the invasive white mulberry out-competes and hybridizes with the red mulberry, making it problematic in terms of preserving our native species.

Pruning

Mulberry trees have rather delicate bark and are prone to "bleeding" if cut during the growing season. So, only prune dead or damaged limbs during winter dormancy. This is also the time to prune your mulberry for guiding its growth toward the desired shape.

Propagating Red Mulberry Trees

Mulberry trees can be propagated with branch cuttings. Here's how:

  1. Cut an 8-inch long end of a green branch with a 1/2-inch diameter.
  2. Dip the bottom of the cutting into rooting hormone, and plant about 3 inches deep in a small pot filled with soilless potting mix.
  3. Water thoroughly, then place the pot in a clear plastic bag to retain warmth and moisture.
  4. Place the pot in a full shade location for about 4 weeks, until the cutting begins to root. Keep soil moist but not soggy.
  5. When the cutting has rooted, remove the plastic bag and continue growing in the pot through the summer.
  6. In the fall, plant your little tree in the ground.

How to Grow a Red Mulberry Tree From Seed

Red mulberry can be planted from seed and can be sown without stratification (a cold period) in the summer and fall; they can also be planted in the spring after 30 to 90 days of stratification in the refrigerator. The seeds should be planted 8 to 12 inches apart.

Trees will produce fruit in 4 to 10 years.

Overwintering

Red mulberry trees are cold tolerant and do not need special care during the winter.

Common Pests

Red mulberry trees are generally pest-resistant, hardy trees in their native growing areas. Young trees may be browsed by deer, which can harm growth, but fencing off small trees keeps deer at bay until the trees are large enough to survive on their own.

Common Problems With Red Mulberry Trees

The fruit that makes this tree so attractive to some people is also the reason people shy away from using red mulberry in their landscapes. After falling, the crushed fruit is notorious for staining anything in the area under its canopy. In addition, birds love the fruit and deposit their droppings, which are brightly colored around the area. Red Mulberry is a fantastic tree for feeding wildlife, but this species might need to be overlooked if cleanliness matters.

FAQ
  • How long can a red mulberry tree live?

    Red mulberry trees can live to be over 100 years old.

  • Where should I plant a red mulberry tree?

    Plant mulberry trees away from sidewalks, driveways, or any area in your yard that can be stained from falling berries.

  • What are alternatives to a red mulberry tree?

    If looking for the aesthetics, form, and size of a red mulberry without the mess, consider one of the numerous fruitless M. alba cultivars available in the nursery trade. Two other benefits of these fruitless cultivars are that the trees will not hybridize and spread, and the M. alba cultivars are readily available in the nursery trade.