Yeah, I grew up singing that song. Did you? Brings back memories doesn’t it? I also remember my older sister, when she was a teenager, sitting up in this great big tree eating mulberries. Wait! That’s not a bush! Where did they get this bush thing from? I got to thinking one day. A stand of sugar maples is called a “sugar bush”. Maybe a group of mulberry trees is a mulberry bush! Well I never found a reference to that, but I did discover that not all mulberry trees are created equal. There are many different varieties of mulberry. Two that are native to the US are the red mulberry and the Texas mulberry. And one, the white mulberry, was imported from China in hopes of starting the silk trade on this side of the pond. But the silk production never took off. What did take off was the mulberry tree. And of these three varieties the Texas mulberry is…wait for it….a bush! Ah Ha! It turns out Mulberries come in different sizes and colors. But all of them have fruit that is absolutely yummy!
Mulberries are a deciduous tree (looses it’s leaves in the winter) and can live 75 years or more. The red mulberry reaches a mature height of over 60′, the white over 40′ and the Texas 6′-12′. I’ve also heard of a black mulberry, but all I know about it is that it is primarily grown in Europe and Asia. I have had experience growing the red mulberry so it is the one I will mostly be writing about here. However, the different mulberries are quite similar.
Mulberries produce their first flowers even before they put out their new leaves in the spring. They really look like green caterpillars. They continue to put out leaves and more flowers for 6-8 weeks. Here in Florida we also get a second smaller crop in the fall. These flowers are pollinated by wind and the flowers start to plump up and change from green to white to red to very dark almost black, with a blood red juice. You will never see these in the grocery store as they are a very delicate fruit. In fact you cannot pick them without getting the red juice all over your fingers and clothing and anything else it gets on. And it will stain. The fruit ripens over an extended period of time so you can enjoy these for quite a while as opposed to having to pick them all at once and having to figure out what to do with them. Which is such a wonderful problem to have as these are my absolute favorite fruit to eat.
There are a few things to consider when deciding where to put your mulberry tree. First, the red mulberry is a fast growing tree that is very large. And it gets about as wide as it does tall. So unless you plan on major pruning, this tree needs a big patch of lawn. It likes full sun so you don’t want it too close to other trees or too close to your house. You also do not want to plant it near sidewalks or patios as the berries drop and leave red stains that can be tracked into your house. Not Good! It will attract wildlife as the berries drop or even before they drop. I look out and see my tree shimmy and shake as the squirrels and birds jump from limb to limb. But if you have the space do plant one of these. It makes a wonderful shade tree with its large leaves. And the wonderful fruit really out shines all the negatives of the mess.
The Mulberry tree grows in zone 7 or above. It tolerates drought and poor soil, but will produce better with irrigation and a nice deep loam as it likes to stretch out its extensive root system to support that big tree. It also needs to be well drained as standing in water will cause root rot. Unlike some fruit trees it will produce fruit when it is very young and continue to increase yields for many years. If it gets too dry the fruit will drop. Your tree should be fed a 5-8-5 fertilizer 3 times a year. The extra potassium will help increase blossoming. No pruning is necessary unless you wish to limit its size. If you do prune, do so when the tree is dormant. But remember, heavy pruning will reduce the fruit that year.
They say it will grow from the seed, but I have yet found a seed in my fruit. And there are no “volunteers” around my tree. But they do grow quite well from cuttings. Cut a fresh twig. Dip it in rooting hormone and put it in fresh, damp potting soil. Keep it moist for a couple of months and when new leaves start to come out on it you know the roots are growing too.
The wood is soft as all fast growing trees are. But it is still a good wood to use as fence posts because they do not rot quickly in the ground. You can also inoculate them to grow mushrooms.
You will have to share your mulberries. This fruit is a favorite of squirrels and birds.The only other pest I have had with this tree is in the late summer the caterpillars will eat the leaves. It happens just before the natural leaf drop and never effects the spring crop. Few diseases afflict the mulberry. Here in fungus and disease land my mulberry grows like a weed.
Mulberries are a favorite food of chickens and ducks. This would be a great tree to plant in a poultry yard as they can eat the fruit as it drops. The leaves are also good to feed to the poultry and also to goats. Such a big tree has leaves to spare. And the prunings make a good fodder.
Are they good for you? Absolutely! Mulberries are high in antioxidants, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Iron, Fiber, Riboflavin, Magnesium & Potassium. Pick them when ripe as they do not ripen off from the tree. When you pick them there is a little green stem attached. It is very soft, but does not come off from the fruit. You can put the fruit in your mouth and bite it off. But most people just eat it stem and all. It is very good that way.
Unwashed berries will keep 3-4 days in the refrigerator. If you wish to save up enough to make something with them, you can put them into a zippered plastic bag until you have the amount you need for your recipe. What recipes you ask?
Cake – Put a generous layer of mulberries in the bottom of your cake pan and pour your mixed cake batter over it. Bake as usual. It may take a little longer due to the extra liquid. This is an invention of my Sister Donna and is really a treat.
Syrup – Add a little water in a sauce pan with the mulberries, heat until the juice cooks out of them. Pour and mash through a strainer to remove the stems. Then mix with an equal amount of maple syrup. Cook down to desired consistency. Use warm or store in the refrigerator. You can also can this. Use it on pancakes or salmon. Maybe add it to a glass of iced tea. MMMM that sounds good right now. Let your imagination go wild with this one. Another great recipe from my sister. She’s an awesome cook.
Add them to a fruit salad, top ice cream, make wine or my personal favorite, just eat them straight off the tree!
Now plant your own and enjoy! And have a Ducky Day!
What have you made with mulberry? I’d love to know how you have used yours.