Mulberry trees are as ornamental as they are fruitful. The mulberry was once considered the "king of the tree crops." But its weedy invasiveness and soft fruit caused it to fall out of favor.
Mulberry flowers are small and inconspicuous. The fruits are numerous and resemble slender blackberries. They do not ripen all at once, but when they are ready they drop from the tree. They can be gathered by covering the ground with a sheet or canvas and shaking the tree. The fruits are used for jelly, wine, and desserts. The fruits also attract birds in large numbers and can be messy, making the tree unsuitable for public spaces. Plant mulberries to draw birds away from the fruit crops.
Mulberries are generally hardy in Zones 4 or 5 to 8. They perform best in full sun and good soils—but will tolerate part shade—and do surprisingly well on a wide range of adverse soil conditions, including thin, gravely soil; rocky slopes; dry, wet, or alkaline soils; and other difficult areas. This makes them well adapted for erosion control. They are easy to transplant and salt tolerant and produce fruit reliably in frost pockets and exposed areas.
Three species are commonly grown in the Northeast:
Black mulberries (M. nigra) produce the most flavorful fruit but are only adapted to the mildest parts of New York State (Zone 6 and warmer). They are native to western Asia.
Plant mulberries to draw birds away from other fruit crops.
Red mulberries (M. rubra) are hardier than black mulberries and may grow to become very large trees. These North American natives prefer deep, rich soils and are usually found on bottom lands and along streams. Young trees are not as hardy as older ones. Superior red mulberry selections include Hicks Everbearing, Johnson, Stubbs, Townsend, Illinois Everbearing, and Travis.
White mulberries (M. alba) are the most widely grown in New York State. Many cultivars have been selected for their foliage for silkworms (this species was originally imported from China to feed silkworms); several also have excellent fruit. New American is considered the best, but Trowbridge, Thorburn, and Victoria are very good. There is little cultivar development today. Seedlings are very variable in performance.
See also California Rare Fruit Growers at www.crfg.org/pubs/ff/ mulberry.html
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