Mulberry Trimming – Learn When And How To Prune A Mulberry Tree
Mulberry (Morus spp.) trees are fast-growing, deciduous trees known for their variable leaf shapes, their delicious berries, and the terrible stains those berries can make if they hit the sidewalk rather than someone’s mouth. Some have red fruit while others produce tasty purple or white fruit. A fruitless cultivar exists for those not interested in those yummy, messy berries. Mulberry trees can reach 30-70 feet tall (9-21 m.) depending on the species. Due to their quick growth, pruning mulberry trees is often necessary.
Proper mulberry tree pruning techniques depend on your landscape goals. If you want to create a shady spot that provides food and shelter for birds as well as biomass for your compost bin, only cut out small, dead, diseased, crossed-over and oddly oriented branches. In this case, mulberry trimming can be done every two to three years.
If your primary goal is fruit production for human consumption, then mulberry trimming should be done every year to control size and to keep most of the fruit within easy reach. Note that mulberries bloom and fruit on the previous year’s growth, so extensive pruning will reduce fruit production.
Pruning mulberry trees that are too large for their space is often executed via a technique called pollarding. With pollarding, all the smaller branches are removed annually to a selected area on larger scaffold branches. I don’t like to recommend pollarding because it is most often done wrong. When the pollard form of mulberry tree pruning is done incorrectly, it can leave a tree that is unsafe, ugly and prone to disease.
How to Prune a Mulberry Tree
If you are wondering how to prune a mulberry tree, start with sharp, clean tools. Do not struggle while cutting through a branch. If this happens, your tool is too small. Use a hand pruner for cuts under 6 inches (15 cm.) and loppers for cuts 1 to 2 inches (3-5 cm.). You can also use a good saw for cuts 1 inch (3 cm.) and larger. Try not to cut branches larger than 2 inches (3 cm.) in diameter. Mulberry trimming should not be done on large branches unless you accept the fact that large wounds don’t heal very quickly and leave open the door for pests and disease and heart rot.
Pruning trees in pollard form should be started when the tree is quite young and the scaffold branches have grown to the height you wish for in the canopy. Always cut the smaller branches back to their base on the scaffold. A round callused knob will form over the years. Always cut to the knob but not into it. Do not leave a stub that is more than ½ inch (1 cm.) at the knob. Do some research on pollarding before you cut the tree. If you inherit a large tree that was pollarded in the past but not maintained properly over the years, hire a certified arborist to get it back into shape.
When to Prune Mulberries
Mulberry tree pruning is easiest when the tree is dormant. You can see the structure of the tree without it being obscured by leaves. Don’t prune when the weather is very cold. When the temperature is under 50 F. (10 C.), it is harder for the tree to seal off its wounds.
A good time for mulberry trimming is in spring prior to the buds turning green.
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Mulberry tree, a great tree for shade in the summer
The mulberry tree is a beautiful tree, both for the leaves themselves and for the cool shade they dispense in summer.
Essential mulberry tree facts
Name – Morus
Family – Moraceae (mulberry family)
Soil – ordinary, well drained
Height – 16 to 50 feet (5 to 15 meters)
Climate – rather warm
Exposure – full sun
Foliage – deciduous
Flowering – June to September
A very easy tree to grow, it will in time become one of the most beautiful trees of your garden.
Fruitless mulberry trees are incredibly fast-growing trees. A mature tree left unpruned can grow 30 to 50 feet tall and quickly take over a small landscape space. Pollarding allows you to restrict the tree's size so it only grows as tall and wide as the growth of its new shoots. Landscapers similarly use this technique for other fast-growing trees, including willows and crepe myrtles. This is an extreme pruning method that requires a lot of work and must be repeated in order to maintain the desired shape.
You should cut back a fruitless mulberry within the first three years of its life to begin training it in this formal shape. The pollarding method follows the same pruning schedule as other pruning methods. The best time to pollard fruitless mulberries is in late fall or early winter when the deciduous tree is dormant because the cuts are less shocking to the trees. Fall pollarding also helps to ensure full growth during the active growing stage in spring and summer. In some climates, you can also pollard a tree early in late winter or very early spring before leaf buds form. Pruning after leaf buds form seriously restricts plant growth.
Tips on Pruning a Fruitless Mulberry Tree
Fruitless mulberry grows at a very fast rate and provides shade with its dense crown. Hence, it makes an excellent cultivar for growing in streets, public places and home garden. As compared to the fruit bearing mulberry, the fruitless variety is less messy. You don’t need to clean up the fallen fruits every time during the peak season. Also, it is adapted to drought condition and grows luxuriantly in several types of soil. You can also maintain it within the desired height range to suit your landscape design.
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This weeping mulberry tree calls for basic growth requirements, such as growing in moist soil, maintaining slight soil acidity (pH 6-6.5), exposure to partial or full sunlight and occasional trimming. Pruning is usually done once in every year or two years. For growing in a home garden, ensure that you trim it once in a year. Otherwise, the branches will overgrow and pruning after two years will become a challenging job. Detailed instructions for how to trim a fruitless mulberry tree are discussed below.
Correct timing is crucial for cutting the branches of any tree. This especially holds true for mulberry, since it has the tendency to ooze more sap than other cultivars. So, when to prune a fruitless mulberry tree? The best time for pruning this deciduous tree is spring for a young tree, and late fall or early winter for an older tree. During this period, it remains dormant and less active. As a consequence, there is less risks for bleeding.
Pruning a Young Mulberry
For a young tree, most gardeners prefer cutting off the top portion along with its main branches. This technique known as pollarding allows seasonal growth of branches to about 10 feet and more during the growth season (spring). Besides this, shaping a young tree can be achieved with the help of crown reduction method. In this pruning technique, you are expected to keep the leader and lateral branches at uniform length.
Pruning an Older Mulberry
Pruning an old fruitless mulberry tree is proceeded to keep it strong and disease free. If you have been following pollarding technique, then you need to continue the same. The two thumb rules for pruning a older mulberry tree are retaining 2/3 of the original foliage which otherwise will weaken the tree, and making sure that the trimmed branches are distributed uniformly along the tree height.
If you remove excess branches from the bottom portion leaving more in the top crown, it will appear unsightly, which you don’t want at any cost. As far as pruning a fruitless mulberry tree is concerned, mark the weak branches first and prune them close to the trunk, but above their knuckles (or collars). Any outward growing branch can be cut down in the same way. After removing the twigs, use pruning tars over the cut surfaces to minimize disease and pest infestations.
In a nutshell, removing the tree branches is a part of fruitless mulberry tree maintenance guidelines. This not only helps in shaping the crown, but also adds vigor to the tree. However, both fruitless and fruiting mulberry tree varieties are very sensitive to pruning and injuries. Hence, reducing cuts as much as possible is the objective to restore normal growth and vigor of this ornamental tree.
No summer goes by in the Ross family household without mulberry jam, mulberry pie, and swirled mulberry icecream. Fancy the menu? Take Linda’s tips on growing the hero ingredient.
As a child I mapped the spot of each mulberry tree in my neighbourhood so on summer afternoons on the way home from school we could help ourselves to the fruit overhanging the fence. (Most were eaten: only some ended up as stains on school uniforms – the telltale signs of a mulberry fight!) No doubt this experience is a factor in my belief that after-school mulberries are an integral part of an Australian childhood. Beyond supporting the children of your neighbourhood though, your own mulberry gives you what you can’t easily buy. Mulberries are juicy, soft and fragile. They don’t transport well so commercial growers are few and the delicious rewards of the mulberry are saved for gardeners.
Photo - Malivan_Iuliia/Shutterstock.com
A mulberry (Morus nigra) is a deciduous, self-fertile tree growing from 5-20m. Width can extend from a well-pruned 3m to a neglected 10m! Mulberries love growing in full sun. With their glossy, heart-shaped green leaves and pendulous branches they make a good shade tree, and are a good choice on the western side of the house where they will help cool things down over summer. After a while the tree develops a lovely gnarled trunk.
Mulberries are vigorous, easy to grow and hardy. They grow anywhere but in the tropics and do best in moist and fertile soil. Like most fruit trees they prefer a new planting area to be improved with a wheelbarrow of cow manure, or compost or soil conditioner, with a handful of blood and bone. Stake a new tree for the first year to prevent wind damage. Water regularly for the first few years, and feed the tree late in winter with blood and bone. Mulberries ripen over an extended period of time so you can enjoy the fruit for a month or so.
We prune our mulberry very hard every winter to keep it contained, and to ensure that the fruit is reachable without a ladder. You might like a bit more tree than us, but nevertheless trim out weak growth. Follow the winter prune with a feed and water.
A light prune after the harvest in summer is also advised.
If you don’t need the shade that mulberries offer, but you fancy the fruit, you can grow a mulberry as a shrub. In winter, cut down the leader to about 1.35-1.7m, just above some strong side-shoots. Use these side shoots to develop a framework of 8-10 branches, as for bush apples. You’re aiming for an open, vase-shaped shrub. This way the fruit is on the outer v-shaped branches, and you don’t need to lean into the centre of the tree to harvest.
Photo - Malivan_Iuliia/Shutterstock.com
Black English mulberry is the common black variety with strong flavour and messy juice.
Hick’s Fancy is a slightly smaller tree with dark red berries.
White Shahtoot (Morus macroura) has 10cm-long fruit with a sweet honey flavour.
White mulberry (Morus alba ‘Pendula’) is only grown as an ornamental, not for fruit.
- Net trees during fruiting to prevent birds devouring the crop.
- Mulch trees in spring with cow manure to feed and maintain root moisture.
- Wear gloves and old clothes when harvesting to avoid staining.
- Oops, forgot the gloves? Try rubbing stained fingers with an unripe mulberry to remove the colour.
Issue: January 27, 2001
Help! How and when do we prune a mature fruitless mulberry tree? It looks like the former owner pruned all year's growth back each year. Please tell us what to do!
You can prune your fruitless mulberry now. Any time in the dormant season when the leaves are off the tree is a good time to prune deciduous trees, including the mulberry. You should complete your pruning before the buds begin to expand enough to show color. This occurs just before the buds finally open. Because the previous owners have pollarded or pseudo-pollarded the tree, you will have to continue the practice of removing the new growth every one-to-two years. It is not good to let the tree grow more than two years without removing the new growth. When you prune these new branches, do it thoroughly, leaving only the slightest bit of the branch when you prune. The tree should have formed a "knuckle" where the new branches are produced each year. This swollen area should be left, but the branches which grew from it should be removed. This type of pruning is commonly done but is not a good practice from the perspective of maintaining a healthy tree. The mulberry happens to be quite tolerant and grows well for many years under this type of pruning. Many people use this type of pruning to keep the tree small. It is much wiser to plant a tree which does not grow as large. Such a tree may be more expensive initially, but the reduced maintenance expense will make it a better deal in the long run.
Pruning in this manner is often thought of as a European style of pruning. Pollarding, training the tree from the beginning to a certain height and then removing each year's new growth, is common in some European cities. In this case, true pollarding, the branches are never more than two years old when they are cut. This pruning practice was developed hundreds of years ago in Europe when basket weavers pruned long, supple branches from trees annually to collect weaving wood.
Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email: [email protected], office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.
For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at Desert Blooms and the NMSU Horticulture Publications page.
Send gardening questions to Southwest Yard and Garden - Attn: Dr. Marisa Thompson at [email protected], or at the Desert Blooms Facebook.
Please copy your County Extension Agent and indicate your county of residence when you submit your question!
When and Why to Prune Your Mulberry
Many a good gardener or farmer finds themselves intimidated by the idea of pruning trees. But pruning is a necessary step for healthy trees, especially for trees that produce fruit, like the mulberry. Pruning doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult, though a good trim should require just five or six good cuts to be successful. Add in some basic precautions, and you’ll have your tree trimmed and tidy in no time!
When to Prune Your Mulberry
Your mulberry tree will show some signs that it’s ready to be pruned. These include:
- All the leaves have fallen off the tree.
- The tree has dead branches and twigs.
- Your plant is not growing straight, or branches are tangled.
- There are no signs of new growth.
While it’s best to wait until the tree has lost its leaves, don’t prune if the temperature drops below 50 degrees Fahrenheit cold weather makes it difficult for the tree to seal its wounds and heal.
One of the best times to prune your mulberry is in early spring, when the temperatures are warmer but no buds or green shoots have begun showing.
The Why of Pruning Makes a Difference
Your desired outcome for the project will determine how you prune, and how often.
Are you attempting to encourage a large, broad, tree to create shade, house birds (and even a squirrel or two), and even provide a place to house your compost bin? If so, you’ll only prune minimally (dead, broken, entangled, or distorted branches) and only every few years.
If your goal in pruning is to maximize fruit production, and keep the berries in easy reach, then you’ll prune annually, with an eye toward preserving the blooms and fruited areas of the previous season. Cut from the outside with an eye toward keeping berry growth in the lower portion of the plant where you can reach it.
A mulberry tree that is overgrowing its space may need a pollarding technique to control size, but it’s probably better to have this done professionally. Incorrect pruning to reduce the size of a tree can result in your tree being damaged and unattractive, or becoming susceptible to disease.
To encourage a large tree to give plenty of shade, you should prune every two to three years. Cut minimally, using a good, sharp, clean pair of pruning shears and tree loppers. Take off any branches or twigs that are dead or broken, remove bent and misdirected branches, and avoid cutting anything over two inches in diameter.