Red Mulberry Trees: Overview, Care Guide and Harvesting

If you experience any issues while trying to rephrase the following message, please reply with the error message: Unable to process the request due to encountered difficulties. The unique red mulberry tree adds a remarkable touch to any outdoor scene with its unique foliage, thick coverage, and plentiful clusters of scrumptious, sugary fruits.

An unfortunate trade-off for this abundant fruit crop though is a less-than-tidy appearance at the base.

As red mulberry fruit has a short shelf life, fallen berries can quickly turn soft and mushy underfoot, staining paths, driveways, sidewalks, lawns, building structures, and most other surfaces. The bark also tends to bleed sap when pruned in season, so cutting back growth during dormancy is advised.

Due to its messy tendencies, some growers opt to grow male mulberry trees instead, which don’t produce fruit.

With careful planting consideration and timely harvesting though, the benefits of these gorgeous fruiting trees can be well worth it!

Here’s our guide to caring for and maintaining your red mulberry tree plus common issues, where to buy them, and more.

Discovery the diversity within the world of mulberry trees! Explore my article Best Mulberry Tree Varieties spotlighting the top mulberry options and their defining attributes.

Red Mulberry Trees

Also known as “common mulberry,” red mulberry trees are native to eastern and central North America, and documents date their use back to 1500 when the fruit was consumed by the indigenous Muskogee people.

Mulberry fruit still has a wide use today in baking, natural dyes, and cosmetics while the wood is often used in meat smoking and making furniture and farming tools. Let’s look quickly at the main features of the red mulberry tree:

Botanical nameMorus rubra
Mature height30-50 feet
Mature width30-40 feet
Growth rateModerate, 2 feet per year
Light preferencesFull to partial sun (6 hours direct sunlight for best fruit yield)
Ideal soilMoist clay or loamy soil with high organic matter. Neutral-alkaline pH
Watering needsDeep weekly watering in first year (10 gallons per inch of trunk diameter)
Fertilization10-10-10 or similar slow-release feed every spring
Years to bear fruit2-3 (longer if grown from seed)
FlowersSlender green to red catkin clusters
Fruit 1-1½ inch blackberry-like berries, red when immature to dark purplish-black, sweet & slightly tart
Harvest timeJune-early September (depending on region & variety)
Fall foliageBright golden-yellow

Appearance

The red mulberry is a medium-sized tree with a relatively short trunk and a dense rounded canopy, making it a desirable shade tree.

This native species displays sets of small unshowy flowers and prolific clusters of fruit in late summer.

Tree Shape

Trees have a low-growing, broad crown consisting of multiple short spreading branches. The trunk is short and wide, often with a twisted, crooked structure, and can grow to 2 feet in diameter.

Leaves

The dark-green simple leaves range from heart-shaped to unlobed or deeply lobed with a sandpaper-like texture on the upper surface and a softer, hairy surface on the underside.

They measure 3 to 5 inches long and feature pointed tips and toothed edges.

A close look at the leaves of a red mulberry tree.

Bark

Once established, mulberry tree bark is typically dark brown to gray with a furrowed finely ridged texture.

Seasonal Beauty

The red mulberry foliage begins matte dark green in spring and summer before taking on bright yellow tones in the fall.

The flowers, hanging in small tubular (catkin) clusters, change from light green to pale yellow throughout the season but can also be red.

Adding to the color display, the unripe fruit drupes start life a light green in early spring before giving way to red and dark purple-black shades as they mature, lending inviting, warm tones to your property in early fall.

As winter approaches, fallen leaves reveal the tree’s twisted, gnarled trunk and spreading bare branches — cutting an attractive silhouette in the winter landscape!

The bark, once smooth and light gray to pale orange, becomes a dark brown to gray color developing deep fissures and scaly patches.

Growth Rate & Mature Size

These trees have a fairly moderate growth rate, achieving up to 2 feet in growth per year and can reach a mature height of up to 30-50 feet tall on average with a spread of 30-40 feet, so this is not a very small tree.

Flowers

The green to red hanging flower clusters appear around April and typically continue to bloom for a month but may last up to two. The blooms are non-fragrant, though the foliage has a spicy, earthy scent when crushed.

According to Iowa State University, “Red mulberry flowers can be both monoecious (male and female flowers on the same plant) or dioecious (male and female flowers on separate plants).”

Red Mulberry Fruit

Red mulberry fruit resembles blackberries or raspberries with their oblong shape and 1 to 1½ inch length. They are white, greenish, and red when immature before developing a dark purple to black color as they ripen.

Thanks to their juicy and sweet to slightly tart taste, the delicious fruit can be eaten raw right off the tree at maturity or used in pies, jams, jellies, and various baking and beverage recipes.

Fall Foliage

The fall season sees the dulled dark-green leaves change to pale yellow before transforming to bright golden tones with pale yellow undersides, creating a beautiful color contrast just as the ripening mulberry fruit is turning darker!

Life Expectancy

With excellent care, you can expect to have your red mulberry tree around for up to 50 years.

Branches of a red mulberry tree loaded with red berries.

Red Mulberry Tree Growing Conditions

To appreciate its ornamental beauty throughout the seasons and enjoy a bountiful harvest of delicious mulberry fruit, let’s first take a look at the basic needs of the native red mulberry tree from correct Grow Zones to ideal soil conditions.

Grow Zones and Hardiness

Red mulberry copes best in Grow Zones 3-8 but can tolerate a variety of temperatures across the US depending on the variety, even showing cold-hardiness to sub-zero temperatures of Zone 2.

This tree also has good drought and wind resistance and is tolerant to black walnut toxicity.

Sun Requirements

Trees will tolerate partial shade, but full sun (6 hours of direct daily light) is best if you want to enjoy the most abundant fruit production and showy flowers.

Soil Preferences

Red mulberry trees prefer to be planted in moist and well-draining soil with a neutral to alkaline pH. The North Carolina State Extension suggests clay or loamy (silt) mediums enriched with high amounts of organic matter.

Test your existing garden soil to check you’re in its ideal pH range, and amend the planting area as needed with compost or well-rotted manure.

Red Mulberry Tree Maintenance and Care

If you hope to enjoy your red mulberry tree for many decades, it helps to know how to keep it happy in the long term.

Let’s take a look at the care and maintenance essentials from the correct watering to trimming the branches and the right way to collect the tasty fruit!

Watering

A thorough weekly soak in the first year is important to help newly-planted trees settle and become established. Aim for about 1 inch of water per week and more during hot, dry periods.

Once established, water during dry periods, and test the soil moisture with your fingers to a depth of 2 inches. If it’s moist, you can hold off watering until it dries up again.

Fertilization

Red mulberry trees aren’t big feeders, but you can increase your fruit crop by providing a balanced 10-10-10 or similar slow-release fertilizer each spring. This one is excellent.

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For good general care, applying a 2-3 inch dressing of mulch around the base in early spring (compost, wood chips, etc.) will contribute to healthy growth by conserving moisture and releasing nutrients to the roots.

Pruning

Mulberry tree bark is fairly delicate and prone to bleeding sap when cut during the growing season, so reserve pruning for its dormant fall to winter period.

Around a month or so after leaf drop, cut back dead, damaged, or diseased branches as needed using sterile pruning tools, and trim crowded growth according to the tree’s natural shape.

You could also focus on cutting lower intrusive branches to free up space when it comes to harvesting.

Harvesting

It will take up to 2 to 3 years before your red mulberry tree begins to bear fruit. Depending on your growing region, fruit is normally ready for harvest between June and early September and will ripen over several weeks.

You’ll know it’s the right time to pick them when they have a deep dark-purple to black coloring. Ripe fruits should also have a sweet and slightly tart taste while underripe berries will taste watery and bland.

Expert horticulturist and author Stephen Albert placing a tarp under the tree and shaking the branches as the berries should fall readily.

Be careful what you wear though as mulberry fruit can easily stain hands and clothing!

Pests & Diseases

With poor care, red mulberry trees can be troubled by leaf beetles and other sap-sucking pests like mealy bugs and scale insects (leaving small round holes in leaf and flower surfaces).

You can hand-pick these bugs and knock them into a bucket of soapy water. A spray of neem oil solution on the foliage of young trees can be a good preventative.

As for diseases, this tree can be susceptible to rust, bacterial blight, mulberry ringspot virus, and powdery mildew under poor growing conditions.

Be sure to keep a well-ventilated canopy by pruning out crowded branches, and avoid overhead watering to prevent fungal growth on the foliage.

Landscape Uses & Wildlife Value

Due to their multi-season interest and spreading canopy, the red mulberry can make a beautiful shade tree or lawn centerpiece.

As the fruit can easily stain, it’s not advisable to plant them near sidewalks or driveways.

The large and abundant fruits will draw various songbird species to your garden as well as some hungry squirrels and raccoons.

Even though you will likely share a lot of the fruit with various birds and mammals, there should be plenty for you to enjoy as well, either preserved for later use, eaten raw, or made into pies and other baked goods or beverages.

Companion Plants

The following plants pair wonderfully with red mulberry as they help to deter common pests, improve soil quality, and invite extra pollinators!

Just be aware that the tree’s expansive canopy will shade nearby crops, so opt for shade-tolerant or shade-loving plants:

  • Strawberries
  • Marigold
  • Comfrey
  • Garlic
  • Chives
  • Onions
  • Nasturtiums
  • Thyme
  • Wildflowers
  • Yarrow
  • Dandelion

Where To Buy

Due to being overtaken and hybridized with the invasive white mulberry species, red mulberry trees are an uncommon find in nurseries, with many selling the ‘Everbearing’ mulberry variety instead (a hybrid of Morus rubra and Morus alba).

Check the following nurseries for red mulberry tree stock:

Final Thoughts

In summary, the red mulberry tree is relatively low in maintenance needs and is a hardy variety, producing a generous yield of juicy and sweet blackberry-like fruits.

It also has a dense canopy of attractive foliage — making it an ideal shade tree to have in your landscape.

As mulberry fruits can stain easily, it’s wise to consider your planting location carefully to avoid messing up your garden paths, driveways, or nearby sidewalks!

To keep your mulberry tree happy and disease free, be sure to prune damaged limbs as needed to keep the canopy well-ventilated and maintain moist soil conditions.

There are so many mulberry varieties to explore! Why stop now? Learn about these beautiful trees next: