Starting Mulberry Trees from Cuttings

EmptyLotParadise3

start mulberry trees from cuttingsI got this e-mail a few days ago – Pamela gave me permission to respond here:

“Dear David,

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.

-Pamela.”

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:

pruning mulberry trees

Pruning mulberry trees is easier than with most other fruit.

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.

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13 comments

  • > rooting hormone

    ? I usually just cut some willow sticks and stick them in the same cut-off plastic bottle as the trees I'm trying to propagate. The rate of success is probably around 1 out of 5 with mulberry. But it sounds like there is a more reliable way to do it … What's "rooting hormone"?

    Another question – we may have someone who will donate tractor time to make a bunch of swales on the BSF but that means that we'll need to plant tons and tons of N-fixers/pioners to hold the soil fast…. Any recommendations as to the species and sources for cutting/seeds/etc ? Must be able to take care of themselves after the establishment period. If animals can eat them that would be a bonus.

    Thanks, dude! I haven't commented much lately (lambing season!) but I'm reading (and so do some of the fellow Cat Herders here), so keep it up please!

  • I just noticed that I have a mulberry tree in the wooded lot next to my office. The berries forming were a dead giveaway.

    Is it too late in the year to attempt to take cuttings from it?

  • I am in Bermuda and desperate to save some cuttings from an old tree on a property I used to rent,
    which I fear will shortly be demolished. I have asked the landlord to save the mulberry tree, however
    I notice it has been severely pruned. I have tried with several cuttings, they start by shooting a bud
    which turns into a leaf and then they just give up. It is soul destroying, as I feel like they are my
    babies and I can’t stand it when they die on me! I was feeding them, but maybe I fed them too much
    so with this one I shall just water it, and then not too much, just every two days, but what am I doing
    wrong. It’s in a pot, in the shade, although the heat gets up in Bermuda, perhaps I should keep it inside.
    It’s not air conditioned.
    What do you think?

    • Definitely avoid feeding them. I’ve had them bud, leaf out and even fruit… and then die without making roots. Under mist is the best. You might also try putting a little “tent” of a plastic bag over the pot to keep the humidity high inside. Rooting hormone, if you can get it, may be good as well. I don’t know if keeping it inside or not will work. They seem to have different “take” rates at different times of the year as well. Good luck – I really hope you succeed!

  • I have had plenty success just leaving the cuttings until their roots are strong enough, then I pot in garden soil.

    • Thanks for the field report. It very much depends on the species. There are some which will root when jammed in the soil; however, all the mulberry trees I’ve attempted to root aren’t that easy.

      • Hi David, I have been trying to root mulberries and have not succeeded. How long does it take to root. I tried twice now with no success. I have tried about a dozen cuttings now. I did use root hormone as well. I have left them for a couple of months and nothing. I water and keep close eye still nothing. I am in central florida and I see them around but cant seem to get it done. I would be interested in purchasing maybe a couple from you if you are interested.

        • Rooting them under mist in a greenhouse is the only way I’ve had luck. I no longer have a nursery, though, or I’d make sure to get you some.

  • I found striking mulberry cuttings, very hit and miss for me. I’ve probably had a 1% success rate. I didn’t do misting though, or use rooting hormone. What has bumped my success rate up to 90% recently, was using the marcot method. Really easy. Google it. You basically strike the cutting, while it’s still attached to the tree.

  • After reading this I am encouraged to take many cuttings of the delicious mulberry trees around me. Specifically I want to propagate the white mulberry the birds planted in the fence line. Thank you for relieving me of the stress of building a mist system. Perhaps next year I can be fancy like that.

  • This is really great. I have a really nice mulberry tree on the back corner of out House. The tree produces really nice fruit (they’re rich purple berries, not the long varieties. I don’t know what species of mulberry this is so I can really say. We are now going into our winter. We are also located in zone 9a in Houston Texas. The tree has been there for years and is solid. However it has grown into our service drop and is now a potential for damage to our electrical system. So we will have to take it down soon. I love this tree and while it breaks my heart to have to destroy it, I was hoping to save a party of it and add it to a guild I was planning on building this Spring. I am glad that there is at least some option and if I lose the tree well that’s life or death (however you chose to see it).

    Cheers

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