Mulberry treesMulberries are large trees with ornamental appeal. They produce abundant small fruits rather like blackberries.
How to choose Mulberry trees
Mulberries are large ornamental trees, related to figs. There are several species, Morus nigra, also known as the Black Mulberry is the main fruting species best-known in the UK. Morus alba, the White Mulberry, also produces edible fruits but is primarily grown for its ornamental value. White Mulberries are also used in silk production - silkworms feed on their leaves, which have a much finer texture than the leaves of the Black Mulberry. Morus rubra, the Red Mulberry, is native to North America and often hybridises with the white mulberry. These hybrids tend to produce larger fruits than the black mulberry species, and generally come into bearing at a younger age.
Mulberries are best-suited to larger gardens as they grow slowly into large trees of about 6m-10m height and spread. If planting several trees, allow about 10m / 30ft between trees. However more dwarfing varieties are being introduced.
The fruits resemble raspberries or unripe blackberries, and have a tangy sweet-sharp taste. They are usually red or black (and the fruit colour is not determined by the species).
Mulberries can be eaten fresh or used for cooking. Mulberries are so delicate that they are not usually available for sale, so if you like mulberries you will need to grow your own. The fruits do not keep, so the best way to preserve them is to freeze them or cook with them.
The fruit is borne throughout the canopy of the tree, generally out of reach from the ground - the usual method of picking is by shaking the branches when the fruit is ripe in late August. However you may need to net the tree (or some of the branches) as the fruits are popular with birds.
Mulberries are easy to grow (if you have the space), usually unaffected by diseases, and self-fertile.
Pruning is not usually necessary and best avoided.
All the mulberries we supply are self-fertile, or "monoecious", with male flowers which can be pollinated from other pollen on the same tree. However older mulberry trees can ocasionally become "dioecious". In other words they change sex - the flowers switch from male to female. They will still produce fruit, but only if another mulberry with male flowers is nearby. The cause for this switch is not known, but is thought to be a response to a sudden change in the local environment.
Mulberries are slow-growing and can be grown in large pots or planters for a decade or more, although trees grown this way may eventually need to be planted in open ground.
There is a long tradition of growing black mulberry trees in the UK, especially in the London area. In the early 17th century King James 1st actively encouraged the planting of black mulberry trees in London in an effort to start an English silk industry - although as previously noted, black mulberries are not suitable for silkworms. There is some debate as to whether King James and his advisors knew that sikworms preferred to eat the leaves of the white mulberry species, but either through ignorance or because they found that white mulberries were not suited to the English climate (which was much colder then than it is now) the vast majority of mulberry trees planted at this time were the black mulberry species. As a result silk production never took off in London, but left a legacy of black mulberry trees throughout the capital, and since these are long-lived trees many stil survive. For more details of mulberry trees in London, see this article on the Spitalfields blog.