The mulberry’s fruits look like blackberries but range in color from deep black to red to lavender to pure white. Their flavor ranges from strictly sweet to tangy sweet. Many "wild" mulberries actually aren’t fully native, but are “half-breeds”—the result of a cross between our native red mulberry (Morus rubra) and the Chinese white mulberry (M. alba), which was introduced in the 19th century for the silkworm industry. Although some female trees need a male pollinator, many cultivars set fruit without pollination.
If given full sun and well-drained soil, mulberry trees are practically carefree. Provide plenty of growing space, however, because mature mulberry trees can reach 30 feet or more in both height and spread. Also try to find a site away from walkways and driveways so that the ripe fruits don’t stain them or your shoes!
Plant container-grown stock any time the ground isn’t frozen, or set out bareroot plants in spring or fall, while they are dormant. Space plants 10 to 30 feet apart. Mulberries are easy to care for: no need to prune, and you can handle dieback by simply cutting off infected portions.
Birds like the red mulberry’s acidic red fruits, but you’re more likely to enjoy the sweeter hybrids. The most widely available cultivar, ‘Illinois Everbearing’, grows well throughout most of North America and bears large, tasty, nearly seedless fruits throughout the summer. And like most mulberry varieties, it needs no cross-pollination. Although birds may eat lots of your mulberries, mature trees generally produce enough fruit for you and the birds.
Mulberries ripen over the course of several weeks. To harvest mulberries in quantity, spread a clean sheet under the tree and shake the branches. Ripe fruits do not keep well fresh, but they can be dried. For cooking, pick the fruit when it is slightly underripe.
Photo: (cc) Isabel Eyre/Flickr
Keep Reading: Regional Guide for Native Trees