One of the most versatile tree crops, mulberries (Morus spp.) have delicious, blackberrylike fruit suitable for eating fresh, making into pies and jellies or turning into wine. They also have the advantage of ripening over an extended period, making the harvest more manageable for home gardeners. The three commonly grown mulberry species have an extended harvest season from June until September.
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Deciduous trees with heart-shaped leaves, mulberries grow throughout most of the continental United States. Tree size ranges from 30-foot black mulberries to 80-foot white mulberries. The inconspicuous spring flowers appear on catkins, similar to those on birch trees. The blackberrylike fruit isn't really a berry but is instead a collection of tiny, seed-bearing structures called drupes. The fruits are sweet and delicious, but messy. Always plant mulberries away from sidewalks, houses and driveways.
Hardy only in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 and warmer, black mulberries (M. nigra) are the least cold-tolerant of the Morus species grown in the United States. Black mulberries are found primarily on the West Coast, although in Europe they have been cultivated for their fruit for centuries. Black mulberries are large and sweet, ripening late in the summer, in August and September.
Found throughout the eastern United States, red mulberries (M. rubra) are our only native mulberry species. Red mulberry fruit ripens to dark red and is very sweet and juicy, with a tartness that persists even in pies and jellies. Red mulberries ripen over an extended period in June and July. These trees are hardy in zones 5 through 9.
White mulberries (M. alba) get their name from their bud color, not the fruit, which varies in color from white to lavender to black. White mulberries are native to China and were introduced into the United States in the 19th century in a failed attempt to start a silk industry here. White mulberry fruit is sweet but lacks the distinctive tartness of other mulberry species. The fruit has a long harvest season in June and July. White mulberries are hardy in zones 4 through 8 or 9, depending on cultivar.
Unlike many types of fruit, mulberries have a prolonged harvest period of six to eight weeks. White and red mulberries ripen first, in June and July. Black mulberries ripen in late summer, in August and September.