Mulberries (Morus) belong to the oldest cultivated plants of mankind. The Greeks once worshipped the fruits as food for the gods, while the Romans regarded the trees as the seat of wisdom. A few veterans can still be found in historic gardens with a little luck, otherwise the fruit, which was popular until the 17th century and belongs to the mulberry family (Moraceae), is only cultivated in Southern Europe. For some years now, mulberries have been in demand again in the United States and are returning to their original place as easy-care and decorative house trees.
Altogether, approximately twelve types belong to the genus mulberries, of which the best known are the black mulberry (Morus nigra) and the white mulberry (Morus alba). The white mulberry (Morus alba) is harder to freeze than the black mulberry and also thrives outside the vineyards. In Napoleonic times, when silkworm rearing reached its peak in Europe, the White Mulberry was planted mainly for its leaves, which served as food for the silkworms. The black mulberry (Morus nigra) grows as a large tree preferably in wine-growing areas and is to be found in our regions more rarely than the white mulberry.
Appearance and growth
The white mulberry grows between five and eight metres high and grows as a single-stem or multi-stem tree. However, it can also be used as a hedge. White mulberries have a dull green bark, the branches are thin and finely hairy. The leaves are heart-shaped to ovoidly pointed, the petiole about two centimetres long and furrowed. The leaf blades reach a length of about ten centimetres and are toothed at the edge. The black mulberry is a compact tree with a broad crown, which can grow up to ten metres high. The crown is broadly arched. In contrast to the white species, the heart-shaped leaves of the black mulberry are rough on the upper side, glossy dark green and fluffy and light underneath. Both species grow slowly and sprout in May. Depending on the type and variety, the appearance of the fruit varies, resembling that of the blackberry: White mulberries are white to reddish yellow, more rarely red or black. Black mulberries are purple to purple-black.
Since the trees have a low frost hardness, they need a sunny and protected place in the garden. Mulberries thrive best on moist, nutrient-rich soils, but not too heavy. However, they still grow satisfactorily even on drier ground.
Plant the mulberry in need of warmth best in spring. Choose a place away from paved areas or garden paths, as the fruits of the mulberry tree will colour strongly. The planting hole should be excavated generously and the soil loosened well. You can immerse the root ball in water before inserting it. Plant the root ball so deep that the top of the root ball is about level with the ground. After planting, it is necessary to press the soil around the bale and water the mulberry tree well. Larger specimens need a support pole for at least three years so that they do not tip over during storms.
Mulberries are easy to clean. You can mulch the tree slices in spring with some compost (1 to 2 litres per square metre). Young trees should be painted white in autumn or alternatively wrapped around the trunk with a reed mat or jute strip, otherwise frost cracks may appear.
Education and editing
The cut is limited to thinning out the crown by removing shoots that are too dense or growing inwards in spring. With grafted trees, it is advisable to regularly cut off the shoots below the grafted area.
Mulberries are self-fertile. As with all fruit trees, cross-pollination increases the fruit set, but even single mulberries produce a lot of fruit under good site conditions.
Harvesting and recycling
Only after about five to seven years do the trees bear mulberries. While the fruits of the white mulberry ripen from the end of June, the black mulberry lasts until mid-July. The fruits must be easily detached from the branch, then they have the ideal degree of ripeness and can be harvested continuously. The easiest way to harvest the perishable fruits is to place a tarpaulin or net under the trees and shake them. Mulberries contain a lot of sugar but hardly any acid and therefore taste a bit dull raw. The white mulberries are usually less aromatic than the black ones and their taste is reminiscent of raisins. Black mulberries taste sweet-sour and spicy and refine muesli, desserts and sweet pastries as fresh or dried fruits. Mulberries are also suitable for making jams or syrups. The fruits can be kept in the refrigerator for a maximum of one to two days, after which they become very soft and runny. They should therefore be consumed as quickly as possible after harvesting.
Young trees need a thick layer of mulch from foliage in the root area during the first years of standing, which is stabilised with fir twigs. You should also protect the logs from frost cracking as described above.
There are numerous ornamental forms of the white mulberry, such as the hanging form ‘Pendula’. However, this hardly bears fruit. Recommended fruit varieties from Morus alba are:
Geraldi Dwarf’ (Morus alba): dwarf form with about 2 metres growth height; high-yielding; up to 5 centimetres long black-red fruits; also suitable for tub culture
Illinois Everbearing: a hybrid variety of Morus alba and Morus rubra; about 5 metres high; relatively frost hardy and rich-bearing; about 2 cm long, almost seedless fruit with firm flesh; considered one of the best fruit varieties in the USA.
Collier’: compact hybrid mulberry from France; large black fruits; considered one of the varieties with the best aroma.
Mathilde’s Dream’ (Morus nigra): black mulberry fruit; large black-red and very juicy fruits with blackberry-like aroma.
In general, mulberries can be propagated via seeds. However, trees grown from seeds take up to ten years to bear fruit. The fruit varieties are often propagated by grafting on seedlings of the white mulberry, but the grafting trees are not considered very long-lived. For this reason one should try to get root true specimens. These originate partly from tissue culture, but also partly from offshoots. Even hobby gardeners who have a true to root fruit variety with shoots close to the ground in their garden are able to lay them down. Simply bend an elastic shoot as long as possible to the ground and cover it with humus-rich soil in the middle. Additionally you should fix it with a tent hook on the ground. If the soil is kept evenly moist, the branch will form roots here during the season. You can separate it from the mother plant next spring and transplant it.
Diseases and pests
Neither plant diseases nor pests are known about mulberries. In rare cases, the trees are attacked by powdery mildew, which does not cause major damage.
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I am Don Burke, one of the authors at My Garden Guide. I am a horticulturist that cultivates, grows, and cares for plants, ranging from shrubs and fruits to flowers. I do it in my own garden and in my nursery. I show you how to take care of your garden and how to perform garden landscaping in an easy way, step by step.I am originally from Sydney and I wrote in local magazines. Later on, I have decided, more than two decades ago, to create my own blog. My area of specialization is related to orchid care, succulent care, and the study of the substrate and the soil. Therefore, you will see many articles dedicated to these disciplines. I also provide advice about how to improve the landscape design of your garden.