Starting Mulberry Trees from Cuttings
I write you from New Port Richey, Florida, where my husband
and I have just purchased his childhood home. It needs many repairs and improvements, which my husband will tend to when he has the time, he has done everything from roofing to catching lobster in Maine. I on the other hand, have been focusing on the outside. The place which will be our garden some day. My father in law build the house 30 years ago, he had a garden and several fruit trees; among them mulberry trees. Two of them. One was struck by lightning and died. The other hangs across the driveway (not a good place for it). I want to start more trees (in better locations) but don’t know how to cut the tree and start others from those cuttings. The mulberry tree that’s left is quite tall now, I would like to cut it back, to a height where we can reach the fruit and use cuttings to plant more of those scrumptious berries. If you could guide me, our family would be forever grateful.
Congrats on the home purchase – it’s really cool that you’ve been able to hold on to a piece of family history. Sounds like your husband is a man’s man.
And… good questions. Mulberries are survivors. I’m actually surprised that a lightning strike killed one. Mulberries are really tough. In fact, when the nuclear apocalypse happens, they’ll be the only food left for the surviving cockroaches. (Which is good, because the roaches will probably need the energy to rebuild the banking system…)
How to Start Mulberry Cuttings
You’re in luck, Pamela. Mulberries are generally easy to start from cuttings, with two exceptions.
1. Don’t try to start mulberry cuttings from trees while they’re blooming or in fruit.
I found this out from Michael at the Edible Plant Project. The strike rate is really poor because they’ll try to fruit, rather than root. You’ll have much better luck if you try later in the year.
2. Some Mulberry Species Root Easily – Some Don’t
There are Pakistan long mulberry trees with beautiful long fruit – those are really hard to start from cuttings and need to be grafted instead. Red mulberries (Morus rubra) are tougher to root, as are black mulberries (Morus nigra). I’ve had white mulberries (Morus alba) root the easiest, but I’ve had luck with all three after enough attempts. Rooting mulberry cuttings isn’t always possible… but you lose nothing by attempting.
Now let’s get to it.
My method of rooting cuttings is moderately simple. I cut semi-hard wood twigs that are about 3/8″ to 1/2″ in diameter and 6-8″ long. (That’s new growth, but not so new it’s soft and green.) Chopping a branch into multiple lengths will work. I then dip the bottom end into rooting hormone and poke a few of them at a time into small pots filled with potting soil or seed starting mix, then water well so the soil is damp. Then, I put clear plastic 1-gal ziploc bags over the tops of the pots to make mini-greenhouses, and rubber band them in place. This keeps the moisture in. If the leaves and cutting dry out, it’s dead. These pots then sit in full shade until they root. Every few days, I’ll pull the bags off (being careful not to disturb the cuttings) to let some air in and check to make sure the soil is still moist. After a few weeks, they’ll start to root, and after about a month, you’re probably good to take the bags off for good. Just keep misting them occasionally with the hose until they (hopefully) take. Some cuttings may not make it – and some will mold. Don’t worry. Do a bunch and you’re bound to get some strikes. All of them may take – and in that case, share the bounty with friends.
When the cuttings seem good and established, I turn the pots over and separate the well-rooted baby trees into pots of their own. At this point, I also put them into half-sun. They need to get acclimated to sunlight for a while. Full sun can burn the new growth.
For a better strike rate on mulberry cuttings, start them under intermittent mist like a nursery would do it.
Green Deane shares an even easier method in his post on mulberries:
“Mulberries, in my case, Morus rubra (MOE-russ RUBE-ruh) are
full of life. One spring I trimmed my mulberry and used the branches for
stakes. They sprouted. Not one to get in nature’s way I dug them up,
gave them to a friend, and they are still growing.”
I’ve stuck some big 1″ diameter sticks in the dirt in my backyard to see if they would do the same for me – and it didn’t work.
Pruning Mulberry Trees
This is a little trickier. Because your tree is a large, older tree, the shock may kill it. But it also may not. I’d take a bunch of cuttings first, and when you have some good solid baby trees in pots, then I’d take a look at chopping their mother down to size.
I know you can severely prune mulberries without killing them. I was told by the owner of the mulberries below that his trees get cut to the GROUND every three years and they grow back and fruit without fail:
I don’t know if I’d be that crazy if I only had one tree, though.
If it’s in the wrong place, I might prune it heavily… if I had backup babies. If it were my tree, and I was willing to possibly lose it for the sake of science, I’d saw it off at about 4′ and let it grow from there. From what I’ve noted in my own trees, they recover remarkably well from injury, growing new bark around lacerations and pruning injuries. It’s safest to cut it back like that while dormant, just before the spring flush, however. When the sap is up and it’s poured its little woody heart into making a ton of leaves… and then you cut it… I just don’t know for sure if it will come back. The trees down south are relatively young and are used to regular shearing.
Don’t sue me if I’m wrong… but I’ll still bet you can pull it off. New mulberry trees grow and produce very quickly – if you have little ones for back-up, you won’t have to go long without eating their wonderful fruit. Take pictures and let me know if you have success with both your cuttings and the pruning!
And, if you fail on both, I’ll send you one of my own potted mulberries.