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Growing Mulberry: Morus

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Moraceae, the Mulberry family, includes Jackfruit, Figs, Osage Orange, and Morus, the Mulberry genus, with 17 accepted species. Many mulberry hybrids exist, making identification difficult.
The name of the species does not indicate the color of the fruit, but rather the color of the leaf buds. For example, nearly all white mulberry cultivars have black or purple berries.


Form: Tree. Some cultivars grow as a shrub.
Lifespan: 500 to 1000 years for Morus nigra: black mulberry; 100-250 years for Morus alba: white mulberry; 100-250 years for Morus macroura; and 75 years for Morus rubra: red mulberry.
Leaf retention: Deciduous.
Growth rate: Rapid for most species, but temperature dependent. Morus nigra has a slow growth rate.
Mature Size: 10-50' high and 10-30' wide, depending on cultivar.
Flowers: Separate male and female green catkins, which can be present on the same tree or different trees, depending on cultivar. Male flowers produce excessive amounts of allergy-causing pollen.
Bloom: Spring.
Self-fruitful: Most cultivars sold at nurseries are female-only and set seedless fruit without pollination. A few cultivars are self-pollinating or require a second plant as a pollenizer. These produce seedy fruit.
Years before fruiting: 2-3 from cuttings or if grafted, 10 years if grown from seed.
Fruit: The "berry" is an aggregate fruit, with many small round fruits clustered together. Dropped fruit will stain sidewalks and carpets, although a few cultivars are stainless. Its flavor depends on its ripeness, the cultivar, and the soil, sunlight, and climate where the tree is grown. In general, the best seedless mulberry varieties are often preferred over blackberries.
Months for fruit to ripen: 2-3. Berries ripen a few at a time on some cultivars. For several cultivars, the fruit is ripe when it changes from shiny black to dull black. Berries will continue to ripen to black if picked when red.
Morus alba fruit can be harvested by shaking the branches and letting the fruit fall onto a tarp on the ground. Morus nigra fruit are difficult to pick because they do not release from the stem, so clippers are needed when harvesting. In the kitchen, scissors are used to remove any remaining stem parts from the berries.
Storage after harvest: Unwashed berries will keep two days in a refrigerated, closed container. Freezing, eating the same day, or baking immediately is recommended. They can also be dried. Fresh mulberry fruit is too perishable to ship and is not carried in stores.
Leaves: Green, serrated edges, variable shape, turn yellow in fall. Often leafs out later than other plants in the spring.
Stems: No thorns. Milky sap contains latex.
Roots: Aggressive, extensive, lateral roots are no more than 2' deep, extending beyond the tree's drip line. Smaller, vertical sinker roots grow from the laterals. Keep these trees away from sidewalks, driveways, foundations and septic systems to avoid damage from roots.
Cultivars of Note:
Morus alba: 'Beautiful Day' / 'White Fruiting' Self-fruitful, non-staining, white colored berries to 1", mild and sweet, said to taste like mild honey or white peach. Grows to 30' high. Birds are less attracted to white fruit.
Morus alba: 'Dwarf Everbearing' Self fruitful, strongly red-staining, black, berries to 0.75", produces berries over a long period, grows 6-8' high. Often mistaken as Morus nigra.
Morus alba or hybrid: 'Weeping Mulberry' / 'Pendula' Not self-fruitful, staining, reddish-black, poor-tasting fruit if pollinated. An ornamental that grows 8-15' high and wide.
Morus hybrid: 'Shangri La' Self fruitful, staining, black fruit to 1.5", grows 25' high, USDA 6-10. A popular cultivar because of its flavor.
Morus macroura: 'Pakistan' Self fruitful, non-staining, up to 4" long, reddish-black fruits, raspberry flavor, less juicy. Grows 25-30' high, USDA 8b-10, branches hardy to 25°F. One of the most popular cultivars because of its excellent flavor and general lack of problems.
Morus nigra: 'Black Beauty' Self-fruitful, strongly staining, juicy black berries to 1.25". Very slow growing to 10-12' high as a shrub. Can be pruned to be a hedge. Morus nigra cultivars in general have an excellent flavor, and handle dry conditions and alkaline soil well.
Morus nigra: 'Persian' Self fruitful, strongly staining, black fruit to 1.25", slowly grows 30' high.
Wildlife: Attracts birds and squirrels. Bird netting or holographic bird scare tape can be used to protect fruit. Bird droppings of most varieties will stain.
Toxic / Danger: Milky sap is a skin irritant. Unripe fruit will cause an upset stomach.
Origin: East Asia for Morus alba; Southern Asia to the Himalayas for Morus macroura; Western Asia for Morus nigra; Eastern North America for Morus rubra.

Cultivation and Uses

USDA hardiness zones: 5-11, depending on cultivar.
Chill hours: 150-500.
Heat tolerant: Yes.
Sun: Full sun.
Drought tolerant: Somewhat.
Water after becoming established: At least monthly during drought, but weekly when fruiting if fruit is to be harvested. Water at the drip line.
Soil: Well drained, tolerant otherwise. Acidic to neutral soils are preferred. Alkaline soils may slow growth.
Fertilize: Organic fertilizer can be used once a year mid-winter but is not usually necessary.
Mulch: Organic mulch kept at least one foot from the trunk.
Spacing: Distance between trees should be at least 10'.
Planting: Dwarf cultivars can be grown in containers. Plant away from a house to avoid root damage to foundations and, if berries are staining, carpet stains from fallen fruit. Also plant away from a septic system as the roots can clog pipes quickly.
Pruning and weeding: Prune only in the winter when trees are dormant. Mulberry sap is a skin irritant and it flows slower at that time. Mulberries do not need to be pruned unless they develop crossing branches in the middle, which is more likely to happen with Morus alba. Prune no more than 25% to avoid sending the tree into shock. If you wish to keep a tree at a desired height, start pruning when the tree is young. Mulberries bloom partly on spurs of old wood, but mostly on new wood, so pruning does not eliminate the entire crop.
Remove all vegetation growing under the canopy of the tree to avoid competition for nutrients.
Litter: Fruit if not harvested, leaves late fall or winter.
Propagation: Hardwood cuttings taken in January, and seed developed in the presence of male and female flowers. Morus nigra is more difficult to start from cuttings than other mulberry species and cannot hybridize with other species because it has 308, instead of 28, chromosomes in its genome. It will usually graft to other mulberry species. Seeds do not always breed true.
Uses: Fruit, ornamental, shade, bird garden (with non-staining berries).


Dark-colored mulberries can be used as a substitute berry in blackberry recipes and wine. Mulberry jams and jellies are favorites. White mulberries pair well with apples and pears and can be used in most recipes needing a mild-flavored berry.
Some counties and cities erroneously ban all mulberry trees as pollen producers. However, self-fruiting, non-pollen-producing female trees are allowed in many.

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Morus macroura: Packistan Mulberry fruit
Morus macroura 'Pakistan' mulberry fruit

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