Master Gardener: Red Mulberry trees are bird magnets | Lifestyles


Red Mulberry (Morus rubra) is best known for its abundant, sweet, but messy fruit that is released by birds, animals, and people.

Hardy in zones 4 to 8, it is native to the eastern half of the United States. It can be found growing in bottomlands, rich woods, and along the edges of woods. It’s a moderate sized tree reaching 30 to 50 feet tall with a 40-foot spread.

The tree form is upright, spreading to rounded. Foliage turns yellow in the fall. Trees can live up to 125 years.

The flowers of mulberry trees aren’t very showy. They are a pale green and the flower clusters form a catkin as they hang from the tree.

A late spring frost can kill the flower buds.

Mulberry trees are typically dioecious. This means that an individual tree will have either female or male flowers.

Trees with only male flowers will never bear fruit. If your tree has female flowers, it will fruit, but only if there is a male tree nearby to provide pollen.

Some mulberry trees are monoecious, they have both male and female flowers, so they will bear fruit.

Mulberry flowers are cross-pollinated by the wind. It can take up to 10 years for trees to produce fruit.

Fruit starts to ripen in mid-June. The one-inch fruits resembles a blackberry and is made up of drupes.

Unripe fruit is pale green and red.

Eating unripe fruit has been reported to cause stomach aches. As berries mature, they turn darker in color to nearly black.

Berries do not all mature at once. Ripe berries are sweet but very easily crushed.

Once picked the fruit does not store long, even refrigerated. Eat them fresh or freeze them for later.

Mulberry fruit are not commercially sold because they ship poorly and have a short shelf life.

Fruits can be used for jam, jelly, and wine. They also make excellent pies.

Mulberry trees are relatively easy to grow. The red mulberry grows best in full sun to part shade.

Trees planted in part shade will not produce fruit as prolifically as those in full sun. It prefers soils that are rich, moist, and well-drained.

It will not do well in poor soils. Red mulberry trees are drought and air pollution tolerant.

As with any tree, consider the mature size when picking a spot to plant it.

Mulberry trees don’t need much maintenance in the way of pruning. Prune out any damaged or crossing limbs when the tree is dormant.

Leaves and twigs will ooze a milky sap when damaged or cut, another reason to prune during dormancy.

Once established the red mulberry is fairly drought resistant. To help establish a good root system, water your tree regularly and deeply after planting.

Trees need two to three gallons a week during the first season. Don’t ignore them after that, it can take several years for the tree to establish a good root system.

Keeping the soil moist around the tree is also good for fruit production. Extended dry weather can result in reduced fruit production or early fruit drop.

While not necessary, applying a slow release 10-10-10 fertilizer in the spring can help increase berry yields.

It’s a good idea to protect the trunk of any newly planted young tree with a metal fence of chicken wire or hardware cloth for several years. Give the tree room to grow, don’t put the fencing right up against the trunk.

This will help protect trees from hungry rabbits, and deer who love to rub antlers on trees or take a bite. The trees should be big enough after three or four years to resist damage.

Disease problems that mulberries might have include bacterial blights and fungal leaf spots. Remove diseased areas as you see them.

You might also find the white mulberry (Morus alba) which is native to China and has become naturalized in the US In some areas they are considered to be invasive, and they can hybridize with red mulberry.

The white mulberry was originally imported to feed silkworms for the fledgling silk industry in colonial times. While the silk industry ultimately failed, the white mulberries thrived.

The white mulberry fruits are more oval in shape, are white when immature and darken as they ripen.

Black mulberry trees (Morus nigra) are native to Asia and are not commonly found in North America. They feature large berries that are dark purple when ripe.

Trees get to be around 40 feet tall.

A downside to all mulberry trees is the very messy fruit which falls to the ground when ripe and stains anything it comes in contact with. If you decide to grow one don’t plant it near sidewalks, driveways, patios, etc.

Dropped fruit can also stain the bottom of shoes and be brought indoors. Passing birds might also drop fruit or brightly colored droppings.

If you object to messy plants, this tree is not for your home landscape. Mulberry trees are also known for producing many seedlings which can also be a nuisance.

However, if you are landscaping to attract birds to your yard, red mulberry is a must. Fruit eating birds such as robins, cedar wax wings and catbirds love the fruit.

Other birds that will appreciate the fruit include orioles, mockingbirds, bluebirds, cardinals, finches, red bellied woodpecker, rose breasted grossbeak and scarlet tanagers — a mulberry tree is a bird magnet.

You might even get some fruit for yourself, but don’t bet on it.

Have a gardening question? Master Gardener volunteers are in the office Monday through Friday, from 10 am to noon. You can stop in at our CCE office at 420 East Main St. in Batavia, call (585) 343-3040, ext. 127, or e-mail them at geneseemg@hotmail.com.

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