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Mulberries
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Mulberries

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Care Of Mulberries

Watering, Fertilizing, And Pruning

The mulberry is a hardy tree that thrives throughout the United States, growing wild in the southern Appalachian forest region, and a number of varieties can survive temperatures as low as 20 degrees Fahrenheit when established. Aside from watering an established tree during dry spells and turning over the soil in spring and autumn where it is not grown on a lawn, it needs little care. Fertilization is not necessary on standard trees, although a thick mulch of compost or leaves around a tree wouldn’t hurt if and would keep the soil moist as well. As for pruning, standard trees need only be pruned of dead branches that are causing overcrowding. These should be removed or thinned out in the winter when the tree isn’t growing and cut flush to the trunk, the wounds covered with tree wound paint. The mulberry is a weak wooded tree and loses many branches to the wind or from kids climbing in it, but its fast growing habit compensates for this.

Cross Pollination

Mulberry trees purchased from a nursery do not need cross-pollination: that is, there will be male and female flowers on the same tree. But some trees, especially those gathered in the wild, will be dioecious, which means that only either male or female parts of the flower are on a single tree. Nothing can be done about this if the tree is a male except to plant a female tree about thirty feet from it. If the tree has just female parts, however, there are several solutions. There will likely be a male tree in the locality that will fertilize it, or, in the unlikely event that there isn’t one, a male tree can be planted. Or else simply cut sprays of male bloom from a tree a great distance away, put them in bottles filled with water tied to the female tree and let the insects do the rest.

Propagation

Mulberries are extremely easy to grow and you can save money propagating them rather than buying trees from a nursery. Either select a tree with tasty fruit growing in the wild or impose upon a neighbor who has a good named variety and try one of the following methods.

Seed Propagation - Wash seed from ripe berries in late summer and store it, thoroughly dried, in a cool place. Plant the seed in a cold frame in March, or out in the open ground where you want the tree to grow in late April or early May, whenever spring is there to stay in you area. Mulberry trees rarely fail to grow from seed, but there are two decided disadvantages that make the practice inadvisable: mulberries do not come true from seed and they take many years to bear fruit when grown in this way.

If you see a mulberry tree coming up from seed dropped by birds in an out-of-the-way place however, you might give it a chance and let it grow. Mulberries will sprout up almost anywhere - in the midst of privet bushes, against the foundation of houses, out of the cracks in concrete sidewalks, and even out of the roots of other trees. I have a favorite reaching for the sun on a forty-five-degree angle out of the roots of a pignut hickory. It must be about seven years old, though I first noticed it a few years ago, and it is beginning to bear small but tasty berries.
Small Cuttings - Well over 50 per cent of small cuttings taken from mulberry trees will root and produce trees identical in fruit and other characteristics. It is best to make cuttings in early autumn from the shoots of the current year’s growth, though the cuttings can be taken in early spring as well. Mulberry cuttings should be about 1 inch long and have a heel of 2-year-old wood about 3 inches long attached. Plant them in a shady pot with just two bud eyes showing above the ground. In a year roots will have formed and the cuttings can be transplanted to their permanent location.

Large Cuttings
- This is the quickest way to propagate a mulberry tree, though it is not as reliable as using small cuttings. However, even large mulberry branches will root if inserted deeply into the ground where you want the tree to grow. Tie the branch to tow stakes to keep it steady and upright and cover it with a tarpaulin or other protection for the winter. By the next autumn you should have a fruit-bearing mulberry tree or bush. Make four or five large cuttings this way to increase your chances of one rooting.

Ground Layering
- Another very easy method. In late summer, early autumn, or even spring, a strong young mulberry branch still growing on a mother tree is cut shallowly on its underside and bent down to the ground, where it is buried in a slit trench about 6 inches deep. The branch can be held from springing back out of place by anchoring it with a forked twig or a piece of sturdy wire. Make sure that the branch is bent down as flat as possible and that bout 3 inches of the tip protrudes above the surface of the ground. Then close the slit in the ground tightly over the bent branch with a stamp of the foot. The injured branch will root in a year or less and then can be cut from the mother plant and transplanted to its permanent location.

Air Layering - Here a young branch still on the parent plant is injured (slit or debarked) 10 to 12 inches form its tip. Make the wound about inch wide. Moist (not wet) sphagnum moss is then wrapped tightly around the wound, which can be sprinkled with rooting hormone, and a covering of polyethylene plastic is wrapped tightly around the moss, this taped or tied closed at both ends. Polyethylene plastic permits air to enter but confines humidity. It is very important that the tie on the plastic be tight, however, as any rain that enters will wet the moss too much and prevent rooting. Air layers made in the late spring will root by late fall and can then be severed form the mother plant and transplanted whenever you want them, or left on the plant until spring.

Grafting - In addition to propagating mulberry trees you can plant seed as previously noted to obtain sound native stock and graft cuttings from higher-yielding or larger-berried trees onto the stock. Usually this is a job for an experienced nursery man, but if you want to try, graft or shield-bud the stocks by the general methods outlined in any gardening encyclopedia.

Mulberry Harvesting

If you want to eat mulberries, you’ll have to stay ahead of the birds. Either pick the berries every day to forestall them, net the trees, or try hanging up aluminum reflectors and noise-making devices to scare them off. Netting mulberries is probably the best solution, but this is only practical on smaller trees. Larger trees produce so many berries over so long a period of time, though, that daily picking of the ripe fruit assures plenty for both you and the birds. Bush trees and dwarfs can, of course, be picked by hand, while an easy way to pick large trees without using a ladder is to spread a sheet under the branches and then give the tree a few gently shakes. This last method, used for centuries by Italian mulberry growers, shakes ripe berries to the ground while unripe ones remain clinging to the branches.

(Click here for some delicious Mulberry recipes)

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