Mulberry tree or black mulberry (Morus nigra) is a handsome deciduous tree renowned for its delicious summer fruits. This tree also looks good from spring to autumn, with large heart-shaped green leaves, ridged and flaking bark, and an attractive, gnarled shape.
Mulberry fruit has a distinctive, delicious flavour similar to a blackberry but more intense. However it’s rarely available to buy commercially as it doesn’t travel or keep well, so usually the only way to enjoy mulberries is to grow your own. Only one tree is needed to produce fruit as mulberries are self-fertile, bearing male and female flowers on the same tree.
How to grow a mulberry tree
Grow mulberry trees in good, fertile soil. Plant in early spring, stake while young and keep watered during dry spells for the first two to three years until well established. Harvest the mulberries as soon as they’re ripe.
Identifying mulberry tree
Mulberry trees tend to form a gnarled, twisted shape even at a fairly young age. The leaves are heart-shaped, slightly serrated at the edges, and hairy on the reverse. Flowers appear in summer – female flowers are green and borne in clusters while the male flowers resemble small catkins. In appearance the berries look rather like loganberries or elongated raspberries and are bright red when immature, becoming dark red to almost black when ripe and ready to eat.
Size: height and spread
Mulberry trees are relatively slow growing but long-lived, gradually reaching a height and spread of 8-10m. The new compact-growing variety ‘Charlotte Russe’ is much smaller, at under two metres in height.
Value for wildlife
The tiny flowers are attractive to bees and other pollinating insects, and birds love the fruit. The gnarled bark serves as shelter for a variety of insects including hibernating queen wasps.
Where to plant a mulberry tree
Native to temperate Asia and North America, mulberries fruit best in warmer areas of the UK. Site in full sun sheltered from wind and grow in good, deep soil that’s fertile and rich in organic matter, but free draining. Avoid low-lying sites or enclosed spots where the air circulation is poor – mulberries are prone to mildew which is more likely to occur in such conditions.
How to plant a mulberry tree
Plant your mulberry tree in spring, but ensure you keep it watered during the rest of the growing season, until established.
Dig a planting hole sufficiently wide for the roots to be spread out. Ensure the top of the root ball is at soil level by placing a cane across the top of the planting hole. Backfill the soil around the roots, firm in well, water in, and mulch the soil surface with compost or chipped bark to improve moisture retention and discourage weed growth. Support the tree with a short stake angled at 45 degrees and secured to the trunk using a tree tie.
To plant a compact-growing mulberry tree in a pot, choose a large, heavy container with a minimum size of 20 litres, and plant using a soil-based potting compost mixed with a quarter by volume of coarse grit or perlite.
How to care for a mulberry tree
During the first full growing season, keep the tree watered during dry spells, watering thoroughly once every few days to encourage deep roots to develop. Keep the ground around the base clear of grass and weeds for at least a one-metre circle to avoid competition for water and nutrients.
How to prune a mulberry tree
Mulberry trees naturally develop an attractive shape and need very little pruning apart from removing any dead stems. Indeed, mulberry is best pruned as little as possible. Only remove dead, damaged, or crossing branches, in early winter.
Pests and diseases
Mulberries suffer from very few pests and diseases. Mildew may appear as a white coating on the leaves, and is more liable to occur where air movement is poor.
Mulberry fruit is delicious, with a taste that many say is superior to that of all other berries – an unusual and appealing combination of sweet and sharp. Use mulberries in the same way as raspberries or blackberries: simply eat fresh, use in cakes or desserts, sprinkle onto breakfast cereal or use to make jam. The fruit is ripe and ready to harvest when dark red to almost black in colour. Harvest by picking berries by hand if within reach, or with a large tree, spread a sheet underneath and gently shake the tree to encourage the fruit to fall. The juice of mulberry fruit does readily stain clothes, so wearing old clothes when harvesting is recommended.
Advice on buying mulberries
- Buy mulberries either as bare-rooted or container-grown trees
- Bare-rooted trees are grown in nursery fields and can only be transplanted while dormant, so the planting season is limited to the November-March period. They are usually cheaper, easier to transport and grown without plastic pots.
- Buy container grown trees all year round. Compact-growing ‘Charlotte Russe’ is usually available only in a container, although in a variety of sizes (and prices to match)
Where to buy mulberry trees
Mulberry varieties to grow
Mulberry ‘Charlotte Ruse’ – a compact variety that can be grown in pots, ‘Charlotte Ruse’ fruits on both new and old wood.
Mulberry ‘Wellington’ – a spreading, medium-sized tree, better suited to larger gardens.