Pruning a mulberry tree

Mulberry

No summer goes by in the Ross family household without mulberry jam, mulberry pie, and swirled mulberry icecream. Fancy the menu? Take Linda’s tips on growing the hero ingredient.

As a child I mapped the spot of each mulberry tree in my neighbourhood so on summer afternoons on the way home from school we could help ourselves to the fruit overhanging the fence. (Most were eaten: only some ended up as stains on school uniforms – the telltale signs of a mulberry fight!) No doubt this experience is a factor in my belief that after-school mulberries are an integral part of an Australian childhood. Beyond supporting the children of your neighbourhood though, your own mulberry gives you what you can’t easily buy. Mulberries are juicy, soft and fragile. They don’t transport well so commercial growers are few and the delicious rewards of the mulberry are saved for gardeners.

Photo – Malivan_Iuliia/.com

Position

A mulberry (Morus nigra) is a deciduous, self-fertile tree growing from 5-20m. Width can extend from a well-pruned 3m to a neglected 10m! Mulberries love growing in full sun. With their glossy, heart-shaped green leaves and pendulous branches they make a good shade tree, and are a good choice on the western side of the house where they will help cool things down over summer. After a while the tree develops a lovely gnarled trunk.

Growing

Mulberries are vigorous, easy to grow and hardy. They grow anywhere but in the tropics and do best in moist and fertile soil. Like most fruit trees they prefer a new planting area to be improved with a wheelbarrow of cow manure, or compost or soil conditioner, with a handful of blood and bone. Stake a new tree for the first year to prevent wind damage. Water regularly for the first few years, and feed the tree late in winter with blood and bone. Mulberries ripen over an extended period of time so you can enjoy the fruit for a month or so.

Pruning

We prune our mulberry very hard every winter to keep it contained, and to ensure that the fruit is reachable without a ladder. You might like a bit more tree than us, but nevertheless trim out weak growth. Follow the winter prune with a feed and water.

A light prune after the harvest in summer is also advised.

If you don’t need the shade that mulberries offer, but you fancy the fruit, you can grow a mulberry as a shrub. In winter, cut down the leader to about 1.35-1.7m, just above some strong side-shoots. Use these side shoots to develop a framework of 8-10 branches, as for bush apples. You’re aiming for an open, vase-shaped shrub. This way the fruit is on the outer v-shaped branches, and you don’t need to lean into the centre of the tree to harvest.

Varieties

Black English mulberry is the common black variety with strong flavour and messy juice.

Hick’s Fancy is a slightly smaller tree with dark red berries.

White Shahtoot (Morus macroura) has 10cm-long fruit with a sweet honey flavour.

White mulberry (Morus alba ‘Pendula’) is only grown as an ornamental, not for fruit.

Tips

– Net trees during fruiting to prevent birds devouring the crop.

– Mulch trees in spring with cow manure to feed and maintain root moisture.

– Wear gloves and old clothes when harvesting to avoid staining.

– Oops, forgot the gloves? Try rubbing stained fingers with an unripe mulberry to remove the colour.

Text: Linda Ross

Mulberry Trimming – Learn When And How To Prune A Mulberry Tree

Mulberry (Morus spp.) trees are fast-growing, deciduous trees known for their variable leaf shapes, their delicious berries, and the terrible stains those berries can make if they hit the sidewalk rather than someone’s mouth. Some have red fruit while others produce tasty purple or white fruit. A fruitless cultivar exists for those not interested in those yummy, messy berries. Mulberry trees can reach 30’-70’ depending on the species. They are fantastic shade trees. Due to their quick growth, pruning mulberry trees is often necessary.

Mulberry Trimming

Proper mulberry tree pruning techniques depend on your landscape goals. If you want to create a shady spot that provides food and shelter for birds as well as biomass for your compost bin, only cut out small, dead, diseased, crossed-over and oddly oriented branches. In this case, mulberry trimming can be done every two to three years.

If your primary goal is fruit production for human consumption, then mulberry trimming should be done every year to control size and to keep most of the fruit within easy reach. Note that mulberries bloom and fruit on the previous year’s growth, so extensive pruning will

reduce fruit production.

Pruning mulberry trees that are too large for their space is often executed via a technique called pollarding. With pollarding, all the smaller branches are removed annually to a selected area on larger scaffold branches. I don’t like to recommend pollarding because it is mostly done wrong. When the pollard form of mulberry tree pruning is done incorrectly, it can leave a tree that is unsafe, ugly and prone to disease.

How to Prune a Mulberry Tree

If you are wondering how to prune a mulberry tree, start with sharp, clean tools. Do not struggle while cutting through a branch. If this happens, your tool is too small. Use a hand pruner for cuts under 6” and loppers for cuts 1” to 2”. You can also use a good saw for cuts 1” and larger. Try not to cut branches larger than 2” in diameter. Mulberry trimming should not be done on large branches unless you accept the fact that large wounds don’t heal very quickly and leave open the door for pests and disease and heart rot.

Pruning trees in pollard form should be started when the tree is quite young and the scaffold branches have grown to the height you wish for in the canopy. Always cut the smaller branches back to their base on the scaffold. A round callused knob will form over the years. Always cut to the knob but not into it. Do not leave a stub that is more than ½” at the knob. Do some research on pollarding before you cut the tree. If you inherit a large tree that was pollarded in the past but not maintained properly over the years, hire a certified arborist to get it back into shape.

When to Prune Mulberries

Mulberry tree pruning is easiest when the tree is dormant. You can see the structure of the tree without it being obscured by leaves. Don’t prune when the weather is very cold. When the temperature is under 50 F. (10 C.), it is harder for the tree to seal off its wounds.

A good time for mulberry trimming is in spring prior to the buds turning green.

What Is A Weeping Mulberry: Learn About Weeping Mulberry Tree Care

The weeping mulberry is also known by its botanical name of Morus alba. At one time it was used to feed valuable silkworms, which love to munch on mulberry leaves, but that is no longer the case. So what is a weeping mulberry? The following article contains information on planting and growing a weeping mulberry.

What is a Weeping Mulberry?

Native to China, the mulberry was introduced to provide food for the thriving silkworm trade. Because the tree is unfussy and will tolerate almost any soil and even a fair amount of neglect, it soon became naturalized and considered to be more of a weed.

Today’s new cultivars, from the weeping varieties to hybrid dwarf varieties to fruitless types have brought the tree back into vogue again. This fast-growing tree (up to 10 feet or 3 m. a season) is hardy in USDA zones 5-8.

The weeping mulberry has a unique twisted shape and multiple weeping branches and is very ornamental. Some types will attain a height of 15 feet (4.5 m.) and a spread of between 8-15 feet (2.5-4.5 m.). The leaves of the tree are undivided or lobed, dark green and 2-7 inches (5-20 cm.) long.

About Growing Weeping Mulberry Trees

There are two major types to choose from when planting a weeping mulberry tree.

Weeping Mulberry Fruit

With regards to mulberry fruit, are weeping mulberry berries edible? Yes, indeed. Weeping mulberry fruit is sweet and succulent. They can be made into desserts, jams, or jellies, although it is so addictive eaten fresh it might be hard to pick enough for those goodies before eating them all.

Berries can be black, yet not fully ripe. Wait until they are at full size and then give them a few more days when they will be at peak sweetness. To pick the fruit, surround the tree with a tarp or old sheet and then knock the branches or trunk of the tree. This should be sufficient to loosen any ripe berries, which can then be collected from the tarp. Don’t delay picking the berries or the birds will beat you to it.

Weeping Mulberry Tree Care

As mentioned, weeping mulberries are tolerant of the conditions they are growing in. They should be planted in well-drained soil in full to partial sun. For the first few years, it will need to be on a regular watering schedule but, once established, the tree becomes fairly drought tolerant.

If you wish to retard the vigorous growth of a weeping mulberry, cut its summer growth back by half in July. This will keep the tree a shorter height but encourage it to bush out, which also makes it easier to pick berries.

Be aware that the tree can be extremely messy due to dropping fruit. Mulberries also have strong surface roots that, when planted near a sidewalk or drive, may undermine the surface. Lawn mowing can also be a challenge due to the surface roots.

Weeping mulberries have little to no pest or disease issues so continued weeping mulberry tree care is minimal.

Should mulberry trees be radically cut back? | The Sacramento Bee

This fruitless mulberry tree in Orangevale has been properly pruned – and is quite large. “Pollarding” reduces the branches to knobby stubs, but keeps these large shade trees much smaller. Samuel Seydel

In a discussion with neighbors about the practice of cutting mulberry trees back to nubs in the winter, I maintained that this was an unhealthy practice. They seemed unconvinced. Subsequently, I found that such trimming was called “pollarding,” and is a very old European method of stimulating small tree growth to use as fire wood. I still would never cut a tree back to that extreme; however, I’m curious to know why so many continue to do so, and if it causes problems for the tree.

Paula Herrington, Lodi

Pollarding is indeed a style of pruning, according to UC Cooperative Extension master gardeners. The main limbs of a young tree are drastically cut back to short lengths and each dormant season those branch stubs are again cut back to one or two buds. Over time, branch ends become large and knobby. The tree has a compact, leafy dome during the growing season but is somewhat grotesque during the dormant season.

Why use pollarding? Mulberry trees grow very big, very fast. Left unpruned, a mature mulberry can reach 30 to 50 feet tall and just as wide. Pollarding limits its size to the length of new shoots, in effect dwarfing this big shade tree. In our area, landscapers also use the pollarding method on crape myrtles and willows.

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Trees pruned in this method can be expensive to maintain and result in weak growth in the tree canopy. Trees with weaker wood may become hazardous; they drop branches.

Major horticulture associations, including the Sacramento Tree Foundation and The Royal Horticulture Society, recommend selecting a tree that is appropriate for the space in the first place rather than pollarding.

We recently bought a house at the elbow of the street, so we have a really nice-sized backyard, but a very pinched front yard that gets sun almost all day long. We envisioned planting a palm tree in our front yard before we moved into our home. After doing research, we know we do not want a Mexican fan palm because we only have a one-story house so we don’t want this tall skinny tree dwarfing the home. I was told dwarf or pygmy date palms are hard to grow in our cold winters and we’d have to cover it. Windmill palms have fuzzy trunks that we don’t like, and the Pindo palm looks messy and I don’t really like the trunk. What we like is how the Mexican fan palm looks before it begins to shoot up tall and skinny. We like the Pineapple palms, but the top span is so wide, we’d probably infringe on our neighbor’s yard. Is there anything we can get that won’t be too hard to grow, too tall and skinny, or too wide?

Lydia Ajay, Elk Grove

According to UC master gardener Annie Kempees, one palm that may be small enough for what you are looking for and one that will likely survive the winter frosts in the Sacramento Valley is the Brahea armata; its common name is Mexican blue palm. Because this palm is slow growing, it remains appropriately in scale with smaller buildings, but it will eventually develop a fairly massive trunk up to 18 inches in diameter.

Sometimes called blue hester palm, the Mexican blue palm is native to Baja California, loves full sun and can take the cold. It’s hardy down to 15 degrees. At maturity, it will reach about 30 feet tall with a spread of 12 to 25 feet, but it takes a long time to get that big. The trunk is thicker at the base and eventually turns gray. But it’s the blue-green, silvery foliage that makes this palm so stunning and so “blue.”

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prune a mulberry tree

I grew up in Kansas City, Missouri and have fond memories of climbing up into an old Mulberry Tree with friends, sitting on a big branch, and eating (and throwing) delicious Mulberries. Then to prove how brave we were, we would jump 7 or 8 feet down from the branch. That was almost 70 years ago. Wonder if those trees are still there? I loved those old trees.

There are several different types (cultivars) of mulberry. I am guessing that your tree is a white Mulberry (Morus alba), my answer is so based.

One of the function of pruning is to train the tree to conform to what you want it to be. With that in mind, how I would prune your tree may be way different than what you want in your tree. What I am about to tell you is what I see your tree needs as I would want the tree to be when I am finished pruning. It is also a vision I have of what I want the tree to be in the future and then plan my cuts to train the tree to reach that goal.

As your tree is it will continue to curve with the top weighing down the small trunk. If you look at the very tip of the central lead of the trunk, it appears it is trying to grow vertical and is pointing straight up. Some of the branches that you are saying are growing straight up would be horizontal branches/limbs if the trunk were not deformed.

The first thing I would focus on is to train the main trunk to grow vertical. This would be a combination of major pruning and re-staking to slowly straighten the remaining trunk. You will not be able to straighten the tree with the amount of weight now found at the top of the trunk. It may take several years to accomplish but no time like now to start by removing a lot of weight from the top. This will mean losing some of the berry production for this year.

The first part of pruning on any tree is to remove all damaged or dead branches and limbs throughout the tree. Mulberries do not heal easily and cuts should not be made on limbs or branches that are 2” or more in diameter, the wound may not heal.

Next I would top the tree at or near the vertical branch near the middle of the photo (it appears to be just below the fork at the top of the main trunk. An option would be to shorten all of the growth at the top of the tree.

I would re-stake the tree using 9’ T-Posts, driven 2’ into the ground, about 2’ from the tree trunk (one post should be on the predominant wind direction from the tree, and the second post directly downwind). The tree should then be tied to the upwind post with plastic staking chain tightened to support and train the tree into a vertical position. As the tree straightens that chain should continue to be tightened, and the downwind chain should be loosened. This process will take time.

If you want the tree to maintain its current look the answer is much easier. Cut out all dead and damaged growth. Thin the growth at the top. Shorten the growth that are touching the ground. You might also think of making a frame to hold up the trunk and limbs when heavy with fruit.

https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=MOAL

Thank you for submitting this timely question to “Ask an Expert”. Thanks for bringing back some pleasant memories from long ago.

Maintenance Pruning Mulberry Trees

Karen asks about maintenance pruning mulberry trees:

“Hi David, Love your site!

I inherited my mom’s place in Citrus County Fl. She let her mulberry grow out of control and fruit really, so when I moved in August 2016, I wanted to salvage the tree if I could. Read that I could severely prune it to a height that I could reach and I did…holding my breath! The article said that severe pruning like that might delay fruiting for a season…BUT no! GOD had other plans. It fruited the most delicious and abundant (enough for me) crop I have ever had the privilege to eat!

So now this year I am wondering when to lob off the skinny branches. In July was I supposed to “pollard” to six leaves…I didn’t look up what that means…but I didn’t know to do it. It actually tried to put out fruit this week …weakly. But as you can see I cut the main trunk to leave the branches I could reach. And just now tied down 4 more limbs to reach next year… I know I should not prune limbs that are real low. But when to prune the ones that are reaching to heaven; like what happened to the original tree…very quickly became a giant!

I read some of your articles on the subject and want to grow a whole lot more trees!”

What a mess! Trees do what they want, don’t they? I’ve pruned back fruit trees before and been rather horrified by the insane amount of re-growth.

Fortunately, mulberries are very forgiving.

Check these out:

Those trees were chainsawed to the ground multiple times, then they came back and fruited.

Unlike many fruit trees which will skip making fruit after a pruning, mulberries are often stimulated to make fruit after a pruning. New growth regularly arrives with new berries.

Here’s my advice for Karen’s mulberry tree pruning problems.

Pruning Mulberry Trees: Wait Until Dormancy and Assess

Mulberry trees go to sleep in the winter and drop their leaves. The form of a tree without leaves is much easier to assess than one laden with leaves.

Once you see how all the branches are growing, it’s easier to picture a better shape you can shoot for.

Then, Cut and Bend

In North Florida I usually did my pruning in January/early February before my fruit trees awakened from their winter dormancy.

I would pick an uneven number of branches to save, then cut the rest. Cut weak branches, super-skinny branches and crossing branches to open up the space somewhat. Leave perhaps 5-7 decent branches behind to spread out and become the new canopy.

With peaches, you’d normally leave 3, but mulberries will bear a lot of fruit and each branch is a potential source of berries.

Once I have my new leaders, I bend them sideways and tie cinderblocks to them to “festoon” them. I noted the cinderblock in one of your photos and wondered if you were already pursuing this tack. Here’s a mulberry I pruned and tied in this fashion: And a peach tree I festooned similarly:

I like those long sideways branches. They produce more fruit than branches that head straight up, plus they are easier to pick.

Eventually, the branches harden up at the angle they are bent, and then you can remove the cinderblocks—or you can pull them farther down and re-tie. I would take a few of your big branches and bend them out away from the large sideways branches you already have growing. That should add some balance to the shape.

Know that the tree will send up new shoots straight off the top of the bent branches. You can prune some of those, bend them, or just ignore them as you wish. Mulberries can be shaped up at any point during the year, though I leave severe pruning for winter.

Don’t worry too much—it’s hard to make a mulberry unproductive.

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David The Good is a Grow Network Change Maker, a gardening expert, and the author of five books you can find on Amazon: Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting, Grow or Die: The Good Guide to Survival Gardening, Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening, Create Your Own Florida Food Forest, and Push the Zone: The Good Guide to Growing Tropical Plants Beyond the Tropics. Find fresh gardening inspiration at his website TheSurvivalGardener.com and be sure to follow his popular YouTube channel.

The mulberry tree is a beautiful tree, both for the leaves themselves and for the cool shade they dispense in summer.

Essential mulberry tree facts

Name – Morus
Family – Moraceae (mulberry family)
Soil – ordinary, well drained

Height – 16 to 50 feet (5 to 15 meters)
Climate – rather warm
Exposure – full sun

Foliage – deciduous
Flowering – June to September

A very easy tree to grow, it will in time become one of the most beautiful trees of your garden.

Planting a mulberry tree

Mulberry must be planted in a mix of soil mix and garden soil in a sun-covered spot of the garden. Ideally, this spot is also well sheltered against strong winds.

  • It is recommended to plant your mulberry tree in fall, but planting in spring is still perfectly possible as long as you water well at the beginning.
  • Take care to protect roots from the cold in winter with mulch, especially at the beginning, because they’re vulnerable to freezing.

Pruning mulberry trees

Pruning isn’t necessary at all, all the more that its growth is quite slow…

Your mulberry tree will be most beautiful if you let it grow naturally. The shape it takes on if left unattended is often the shape that suits it best, it will be beautiful!

Mulberry tree species and varieties

There are three main types of mulberry, and each branches out into dozens of sub-varieties and hybrid cultivars.

White, Red and Black Mulberry… and more!

The most famed species are the following:

  • White mulberry – not related to fruit color! Soft young buds are whitish in color, which gives the name. Native to China and SouthEast Asia, now found across the planet. Grows rather shorter than the other mulberry types. Leaves are rarely all identical, ranging in shape from grapevine to only a single, oval shape.
  • Red mulberry – native to the SouthEast of the North American continent, encompassing everywhere from Texas to Florida to the lower Great Lakes. Currently losing its genetic uniqueness because it hybridizes easily with other non-native mulberry tree varieties.
  • Black mulberry – has been cultivated for centuries in the Middle East. Distinctive trait is the the underside of leaves is fuzzy or hairy (similar to downy mildew in appearance). Perhaps the only species with consistently black fruits.

Mulberry cultivars available in garden stores

These are other cultivars (clones) of species that also belong to the Morus family.

  • Morus australis and the closely related Morus kagayamae Koidz. (short for Koidzumi) – one of the hardiest mulberry varieties, surviving down to -30°F (-34°C). Often called the “plane mulberry” because its leaves and bearing resemble that of the plane tree.
  • Morus bombycis ‘Unryu’ – a small variety that doesn’t grow much taller than a dozen feet (three meters). It’s amazing branches twirl out like a corkscrew, much like those of the Kilmarnock willow.
  • Pakistan mulberry – a hybrid of the Black mulberry. Fruits are about 4 inches (10 cm) long, and tasty delicious!
  • Dwarf mulberry – Many cultivars and hybrids grow small enough to be perfect for container growing.
  • Fruitless mulberry – These are cultivars grown from a mulberry that is consistently male: it won’t bear any fruit. This makes it ideal for roadside settings and such, where people might slip and fall or ruin their clothes.

Learn more about mulberry trees

Surprising mulberry sexuality

Each mulberry tree can be either male or female. Male mulberry trees don’t produce any fruits whereas female trees bear fruits. There are also sterile cultivars that, of course, also don’t bear any fruit.

However, some mulberry species require cross-pollination to bear fruit. Check with your local garden store if purchasing a given variety.

Lastly, some species and varieties change gender in the course of their life. In addition, it may happen that a single tree will carry both male and female branches! Although it sounds odd, it also happens with other common shrubs and plants such as yew.

Delicious mulberry fruit

Mulberry fruits look similar to those of blackberry bush that often grow in our hinterland, and for sure they stain clothes just as much!

  • Mulberries are edible. They’re very juicy and sweet.
  • Red and Black are sweet, tangy and tasty, although White mulberry is sweet but doesn’t have a special taste.

Be careful! If you’ve purchased a female mulberry tree, avoid planting it near your terrace or deck. With all the falling fruit, you won’t be able to rest under the shade without staining your garden quilt! Better not try dressing a picnic table with your favorite nice tablecloth…

If you select a male mulberry specimen, you’ll be able to relax without any afterthought in under its deep green foliage, and the shade it will offer on hot summer days will feel more than welcome.

Diseases and parasites that frequently attack mulberry trees

  • Scale insects – Techniques and organic treatments to avoid them
  • Of course, caterpillars! After all, mulberry leaf is a favored fodder for silk worms! Learn all about natural caterpillar control.

Smart tip about the mulberry tree

Although it usually grows inland in warmer climates, a mulberry tree can also grow quite well in coastal areas as long as it is protected from strong winds.

Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Mulberry tree leaves by Jacqueline Macou under license
Grapevine leaf-shaped mulberry leaf by Ryan Hodnett under © CC BY-SA 2.0
Mulberry fruits by Vivan Evans under © CC BY-SA 2.0

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