January 2019 – Crop of the Month
Mulberry – Scientific Name: Morus rubra
Written by: Kirby Fry
Winter is upon us here in Central Texas and most of our favorite nurseries are now getting in their bare root, fruit tree stock. These trees are cultivated and grown in loose sandy soils on larger farms and then removed from that soil and shipped out to our local plant nurseries with no soil around their roots and no containers. At the local nurseries they are “banked” in a pile of sand until they are purchased and taken home by customers. They are usually then wrapped in wet paper and kept out of direct sunlight until they are planted in the ground.
Not having to grow out these fruit trees at the nurseries themselves lowers their cost, usually by half, but the time window of their availability is narrow (from early January to late February) and often you need to order these trees in October to secure them because when they arrive at the nurseries they sell out quickly or in many cases have already been pre-sold. Many tree farms will direct ship to your home as well. So get your orders in early, or be ready to act quickly and buy them up as soon as they arrive at a local nursery.
This winter we will be featuring three fruit trees that are available as bare root stock – mulberry, apple, and peach. Grape, blackberry, and asparagus are also available as root stock this time of year. So get your gardening game on!
– Planting Tips –
Let’s begin with the mulberry tree. It produces a small reddish purple ¾” to 1 ¼” long fruit. If you enjoy watching birds, mulberries are a real treat. When the trees are fruiting in the spring there is no need to go out bird watching because all of the local birds will be coming to your mulberry trees. Every spring I get to observe the latest families of wood pecker and tufted titmouse pass through my small mulberry orchard almost on an hourly basis for several weeks.
There is a variety of mulberry tree, Morus rubra, which is native to the Eastern United States. Many mulberry varieties can become invasive because birds love them so much and spread their seeds, so in this blog we will stick with a variety that is native. Mulberries are very fast growing for the first 10 or 15 years of their life and then slow down as they mature. They may serve as an effective means of erosion control, and wind break. Most mulberries grow to a height of about 30 feet, but the native red mulberry in the right conditions can get up to 70 feet tall, though I’ve never seen one this tall.
They prefer rich well drained soil and full sun, but will thrive in partly shaded areas as well. Mulberry trees should be planted no closer than 15 feet apart. Choose a location for your mulberries that is well away from sidewalks and driveways, as this fruit tree makes a lot of fruit and attracts many birds and can be quite messy below its canopy. Like most fruit trees, when we plant them, the hole we dig should be at least twice the size of the root ball. Since we are talking about bare root stock, there is no container nor any other soil that we need to address.
A slow release organic fertilizer and minerals should be put into the hole before the tree is set down into it. I like Bio-tone’s plant starter mix that has a mycorrhiza fungal inoculate in it as well as organic fertilizers. I also like to add ag lime (Ca), pelletized Sulfur (S), green sand (K, Mg), soft rock phosphate (P), and trace minerals. This mix of fertilizer and minerals should also be added to and stirred into the soil that is going back into the hole, as well as put into the bottom of the hole before planting.
Mulberries require minimal pruning, but pruning should start when the tree is small and the branches are less than 2 inches in diameter. Pruning is used to establish a set of main lateral branches and prevent the crossing and rubbing of branches, to manage the tree’s height and make harvesting easier.
The mulberry tree is extremely tough and does exceptionally well in our climate requiring very little watering and pest management. An annual mulching of the ground beneath the tree’s canopy might be all you ever need to do to keep this tree thriving.
Visit your local nursery this week and check out their incoming supply of bare root fruit trees!