At last, red fingers: mulberries – Plus competition (UK)

Most of the fruit trees in the garden have been planted for three or four years. I am not an impatient man but I am expecting them to make an effort now and show me that they are indeed fruit trees. The apples are trying hard, harder than the plums or pears, although the lack of fruit is not all their fault – frost and birds saw to that. A nice surprise has been the first fruits on the mulberry.

I have always loved black mulberries (Morus nigra) since I first tasted them at the nursery that I worked at in my teens. I am not sure why it was planted there but it is often called the wisest tree because the leaves never expand in spring until after the last frost. It is a useful tree to have in a nursery, to show when it is safe to put out tender plants. * Morus nigra has long been cultivated in Europe and although thought to be Asian in origin its exact home is not known. It is also thought that all forms in cultivation are identical even though clonal names are often given to them. Trees produce male and female flowers so one tree will produce fruit. The fruits are delicious. They are acidic, very acidic if not ripe, with a really complex flavour. Nothing else is quite as tasty, and I am not a lover of acid fruits. You have to pick them every day because they will drop off when overripe, a reason they are often planted as lawn trees so you can pick the fallen fruits off the grass. Birds will eat them and the fruit, and droppings, stain. It is impossible to pick the fruits without getting red fingers.

I noticed flowers in early summer and wondered if there would be ripe fruits. There are only a dozen or so but that is not bad for a tree that has been planted for three years. Mulberries are often thought to be old, longlived trees but they are actually often much younger than initially thought and assume a gnarled, ancient look when quite young. They are also interesting because of the variable nature of the leaves which can be simply heart-shaped or deeply and erratically lobed. The flowers are not showy, but catkin-like and the leaves turn yellow in autumn but are not especially showy.

It is not the mulberry that is traditionally the food plant of silkmoth caterpillars, which is Morus alba. James the first tried to establish a silk industry in the British Isles and it is alleged that it was he that introduced Morus nigra, by mistake.

It needs a sunny spot, ideally in warm, well drained soil. Mine is rather exposed, the soil is wet in winter and yet it is doing OK. If you want an interesting, charming tree that will give you a crop of fruit you can’t buy in the shops, then you can do a lot worse than plant a mulberry. Unless you park a white car under it.

I have also got, at present in a pot, a Mojoberry, which is a hybrid mulberry that is supposed to crop freely, even as a young plant. Mine has only been with me a year so it is too early to judge. Reports of the fruit taste vary and I am not sure it will be a winner, but I will report when I know more.

*Things do not always go to plan and last year, with an exceptionally hard, late frost, the mulberry got caught and all the new shoots burned off. I went over the whole plant and trimmed back all the shoots to two buds. The tree grew away well and probably benefited by becoming more bushy.

Win 3 fruit trees

For readers in the UK, Suttons are giving away a collection of patio fruit trees. You can win a cherry, pear and apple tree. There is a black cherry ‘Sylvia’, apple ‘Golden Delicious’ and pear ‘Conference’. In case you have not tasted one off the tree, ‘Golden Delicious’ grown at home is a lot better than those sold in shops because they can be allowed to ripen and you realise how they get their name!

Just click on this link to enter. Entries close Sept 5 2022.

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3 Comments on “At last, red fingers: mulberries – Plus competition (UK)”

  1. Paddy Tobin
    August 20, 2022 at 1:20 pm #

    You bring back childhood memories with the mulberry. There was a huge tree in the grounds of my primary school and we used scoff the fruit as we left the school at lunchtime and afternoons as it was by the side exit. Your comment on Golden Delicious echoes the experience with so many home-grown fruits as they are so vastly superior to those on offer in the shops. Our two year old granddaughter bears testimony as she spends ages picking and eating when she comes here.

    • thebikinggardener
      August 20, 2022 at 2:53 pm #

      I am glad I am not the only one who relishes mulberries and has eaten a ‘Golden Delicious’ that didn’t taste like a white turnip.

  2. tonytomeo
    August 21, 2022 at 1:19 am #

    You know, although the Santa Clara Valley used to be famous for fruits and nuts (of different sorts), the red mulberries were not an agricultural commodity. A few random red mulberry trees lived on the perimeters of some of the orchards though, to distract birds from other fruits. Cultivars were selected to ripen at about the same time as the fruit to be protected. (Early sorts lived with the cherry orchards, and later sorts lived with the peach orchards, for examples.) The mulberry trees were not maintained, and eventually got quite shabby. They did their job though.

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