Mulberry Trees 101: A Complete Guide to Planting and Care

Mulberry trees (genus Morus) are charming, fruitful, and hardy additions to any landscape or home garden, offering delicious berries and attractive foliage, but is growing mulberry trees really as easy as you’ve heard?

What does it take to keep them healthy and productive season after season?

To maintain a healthy mulberry tree, provide it with proper sunlight, rich and well-draining soil, regular watering, and appropriate fertilization. Pruning, mulching, and controlling pests and diseases are also essential for the tree’s overall well-being.

This comprehensive guide provides essential information with everything you need to know about planting and caring for mulberry plants and trees to ensure their health and productivity.

Key Takeaways

  • Plant your mulberry tree in a location that receives full sun and has well-draining soil with a slightly acidic to neutral pH.
  • Provide regular and deep watering during the first growing season to establish a strong root system.
  • Regular pruning during the dormant season helps maintain the tree’s shape, improve air circulation, and remove dead or diseased branches.
  • Harvest ripe mulberries when they are fully colored and slightly soft, being gentle to avoid damaging the delicate fruits.
  • Keep an eye out for common issues like leaf spot diseases, aphids, spider mites, and fruit fly infestations.

Mulberry Tree Overview

Mulberry trees come in various species and varieties, each with unique characteristics. Understanding the basics of mulberry trees will help you make informed decisions when selecting, planting, and caring for them.

Tree Appearance & Size

Mulberry trees are deciduous and can vary in size, depending on the species and variety.

They typically have a broad, spreading canopy with heart-shaped leaves. Some varieties, like the weeping mulberry, have graceful, cascading branches that add an elegant touch to the landscape.

Mulberry Tree Leaves

Mulberry leaves are alternate and serrated and come in various shapes, including unlobed, lobed, or deeply serrated.

The leaves of some species, like the white mulberry (Morus alba), can display a beautiful array of colors during autumn, ranging from yellow to orange and red.

Mulberry Tree Pollination

Most mulberry trees are self-pollinating, meaning they can produce fruit without cross-pollination with other trees.

However, having multiple trees in the vicinity can increase fruit yield, especially in wind-pollinated species.

Mulberry Tree Fruit

Mulberry fruits vary in color, including white, black, red, white, and purple. They are juicy and sweet when ripe, making them a delightful treat for humans and wildlife alike.

Many people compare the taste to that of raspberries, and the fruit can be used in various culinary creations, such as jams, pies, and smoothies. 

Know that once the fruits ripen, they will fall from the tree, and the juice from the fruits will stain hands, shoes, driveways, cars, sidewalks, etc., so plan your planting site carefully. 

Also, be aware that while many mulberry varieties produce both male and female flowers, others are dioecious, meaning that trees are either male or female. Male trees will not produce berries.

A glass bowl of fresh mulberries being poured onto a wooden table.

Growth Habit & Rate

Mulberry trees have a fast growth rate, especially when young, and can reach heights ranging from 20 to 50 feet, depending on the species. Their branches tend to spread wide, making them excellent shade trees.

Mulberry Trees in Fall & Winter

In autumn, mulberry leaves turn shades of yellow, orange, or red before dropping for the winter. During the colder months, the tree’s bare branches add architectural interest to the landscape.

Mulberry Tree Grow Zones & Preferred Climate

Mulberry trees thrive in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 9 where temperatures remain moderate and winters are not overly harsh.

They prefer a climate with well-defined seasons as they require a period of winter dormancy for optimal growth and fruiting.

In extremely hot or arid climates, mulberry trees may benefit from partial shade during the hottest part of the day.

Mulberry Tree Planting Tips

Proper planting is crucial to the success of a mulberry tree. Consider the following tips to ensure a healthy start for your tree:

  • Mulberry trees thrive in full sun exposure, which promotes vigorous growth and optimal fruit production. Choose a planting location with at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight daily and rich, well-draining, loamy soil.
  • White mulberries are considered invasive and are banned in certain regions, so be sure to choose an appropriate variety for your area.
  • Mulberry trees prefer well-draining soil with a slightly acidic to neutral pH (pH 6.0 to 7.0). If your soil is heavy or drains poorly, consider adding organic matter like compost to improve soil structure and fertility.
  • For dwarf varieties, space them about 10 to 15 feet apart. For larger varieties, provide 20 to 30 feet between trees to allow for their broad canopies.
  • Plant the tree at the same depth as it was in the nursery container. Avoid planting too deeply as this can hinder root growth and lead to issues in the future.
  • Newly planted mulberry trees require regular and deep watering during their first growing season. This helps establish a strong root system.
  • Once established, mulberry trees are relatively drought-tolerant but benefit from occasional deep watering during dry spells.
Numerous red and black mulberries on a branch of a healthy tree.

Mulberry Tree Care and Maintenance

Mulberry trees are generally low-maintenance trees, but they still need some care to thrive and bear abundant fruit. The following practices are essential for the health and productivity of your mulberry tree:

Watering Needs

While mature mulberry trees are relatively tolerant of drought, it’s crucial to provide adequate water during their first few years to establish a strong root system.

Water the tree deeply and evenly, allowing the soil to dry slightly between watering sessions. Be cautious not to overwater as soggy soil can lead to root rot.

During periods of extreme heat and/or drought, supplement with additional water. This may mean having to irrigate every other day in particularly hot and dry weather.

Fertilization

In early spring, just before new growth begins, apply a balanced, slow-release fertilizer formulated for fruit trees.

A balanced fertilizer contains equal or nearly equal amounts of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). This one comes highly recommended and is approved for organic gardening.

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the proper application rate based on your tree’s size.

Mulberry trees planted in fertile soil might not need any fertilization at all except for an occasional top dressing of compost.

Pruning

Regular pruning is essential for maintaining the shape and health of your mulberry tree. Prune during the dormant season, typically in late winter or early spring, before new growth begins.

Remove dead, damaged, or diseased branches and stems as well as any crossing or crowded branches that may obstruct airflow within the canopy.

Mulching

Applying organic mulch around the base of the tree offers several benefits. Mulch helps to:

  • Retain soil moisture
  • Suppress weed growth
  • Regulate soil temperature
  • Add nutrients as it breaks down.

Leave a gap between the mulch and the tree’s trunk to prevent moisture-related issues.

Harvesting

Harvest ripe mulberries when they are fully colored and slightly soft. Gently pick the fruits to avoid damaging them, or place a large sheet under the tree and gently shake the branches.

Mulberries have a short shelf life, so consume or preserve them promptly after harvest.

Mulberry Tree Diseases and Pests

Mulberry trees, including the various varieties and cultivars, show good hardiness and are resistant to many diseases and pests. However, certain issues can still arise.

Being aware of common problems and implementing preventive measures can help keep your tree healthy:

  • Leaf Spot Diseases: Fungal leaf spot diseases can cause spots or lesions on the leaves, leading to defoliation if severe. Avoid overhead watering and ensure good air circulation around the tree to reduce humidity and minimize disease development.
  • Aphids: These small insects can infest mulberry trees and suck sap from the leaves, causing distortion and yellowing. Regularly inspect the leaves for aphids and use insecticidal soap or neem oil as a natural remedy if necessary.
  • Spider Mites: These tiny pests feed on the underside of leaves, causing stippling and yellowing. Introducing predatory mites or spraying the tree with a strong jet of water can help control spider mite populations.
  • Fruit Fly Infestations: Fruit flies can lay eggs on ripe mulberries, leading to maggot infestations. Harvest ripe fruits promptly, and avoid leaving fallen fruits on the ground to reduce fruit fly attraction.

Propagating Mulberry Trees 101

Mulberry trees can be propagated through various methods (find more details in my article here):

  • Cuttings in Soil: Propagate mulberry trees using hardwood cuttings taken during winter dormancy. Choose healthy, disease-free branches, and dip the cut ends in rooting hormone before planting them in well-draining soil.
  • From Seed: Collect ripe mulberries, extract the seeds, and plant them in a pot or directly in the ground in spring. Keep the soil consistently moist until germination occurs.
  • Air Layering: Encourage the growth of roots on a branch while it is still attached to the parent tree. Once the roots have developed, detach the new plant, and transplant it.
  • Grafting: Join a piece of a desired mulberry variety (the scion) with a rootstock to create a new tree. Grafting allows you to preserve specific traits and characteristics of different mulberry varieties.

Mulberry Tree Varieties

Mulberry trees come in various varieties, each offering unique flavors, colors, and growth habits. Here are some popular mulberry species:

  • Black Mulberry Trees: Well-known for their large, juicy, and flavorful black fruits.
  • Red Mulberry Trees: Produce sweet, dark red fruits with a slightly tart flavor. Native to the U.S.
  • White Mulberry Trees: Offer a range of flavors from sweet to mildly tart and are often used to feed silkworms.
  • Weeping Mulberry Trees: Display graceful, cascading branches, adding an elegant touch to the landscape.
  • Everbearing Mulberry Trees: These mulberry cultivars produce fruit multiple times per year, extending the harvest season.
  • Dwarf Mulberry Trees: Ideal for smaller spaces, producing compact trees with delicious fruits.

Mulberry Tree Companion Plants

Companion planting can benefit fruiting plants, including mulberry trees, by attracting beneficial insects, improving soil health, and providing shade. Some suitable companion plants include:

  • Comfrey: Adds nutrients to the soil through its deep roots and acts as a dynamic accumulator.
  • Borage: Attracts pollinators and beneficial insects to the garden.
  • Chives: Deters aphids and provides a culinary herb.

Best Places To Buy Mulberry Trees

When you’re ready to buy a mulberry tree, consider purchasing from reputable nurseries or online sellers that specialize in fruit trees.

Look for healthy, disease-free trees with good reviews and recommendations. Local garden centers may have quality mulberry trees for sale, but you’ll typically find more variety when purchasing from online retailers such as these:

Closing Thoughts

Mulberry trees are a delightful addition to any garden or landscape, offering both ornamental value and delectable fruits.

To ensure your tree remains healthy and productive, establish a regular watering schedule, fertilize annually, prune routinely, and monitor closely for pest or disease issues.

With the right growing conditions, your mulberry tree should provide a large crop of berries every year.