Among the different types of weeping trees that exist, what makes the weeping mulberry so special is the fact that it is widely cultivated throughout the world to feed silkworms, which in turn are used for the production of silk. Also, this tree has made its mark in the plant kingdom for having the most rapid speed of pollen release. Yes, it fires pollen at almost half the speed of sound!
The adjective 'weeping' is prefixed to the name of this mulberry tree because the branches grow upwards and then droop down after expanding sideways. However, it is more commonly known by its scientific name―Morus alba. There are two subspecies of this tree: Morus alba 'Chaparral' (male tree) and Morus alba 'Pendula' (female tree). The former does not grow fruits and is used as an ornamental tree, with its height ranging from 10 to 15 feet. On the other hand, the female cultivar is grown for its fruits, and can vary from anywhere between 6 to 8 feet in height. The color of the fruits differs from region to region, ranging from deep purple to white to pink.
How to Care for a Weeping Mulberry
Taking care of a weeping mulberry tree needs adequate knowledge about its growth needs, pruning requirements, possible threats, and more. It is easier to grow as compared to other trees due to its hardy nature. It is hardy in USDA Zones 5 through 8.
- Morus alba needs a lot of sunlight to grow. Therefore, this tree should be planted where there is minimal shade. Sunlight and water are what it needs the most during the initial phase of its life. Yes, it can be a very thirsty tree initially, needing to be watered once every week in its first year. However, as it matures, it develops the ability to withstand drought.
- This tree is adaptable to almost all kinds of soils, except wet soil. Also, it should not be planted in an area where there is poor drainage.
- Once fully grown, this tree can become quite large, both in terms of its height and width―it can grow as tall as 15 feet, and the spread can also cover pretty much the same area. Therefore, it is crucial that you do not plant it on the sidewalk, or too close to the house.
- According to the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), you need to dig a bushel-sized hole while planting the tree. It is advisable to spread the roots as well. After covering the lower roots, it is suggested to mix the remaining soil with 4 to 8 quarts of compost and fill the hole. Tamp it well.
- As mentioned earlier, water is crucial during the growing stage. While planting the tree, water when the hole is half filled with soil, and also when it is fully filled. This is essential to settle the soil properly and avoid the formation of air pockets.
- Before you water the tree after filling the hole completely with soil, ensure that you make a bowl-like border of soil around the tree, with a rim. This will help in holding the water around the tree and so that it can quench its thirst.
- Pruning is quite essential to ensure that the tree takes an appealing shape and stature. If you want to alter the shape of a weeping mulberry tree, then it is best to prune it when it's fairly young.
- Many owners prefer the tree to have a thick, dense crown. For this purpose, it is advised to cut the branches growing towards the lower side, using thinning cuts. This stimulates upward growth of the branches.
- On the other hand, for those who prefer this tree's 'weeping look', it is advised to prune the upward-growing branches by heading them back, so that they can have a nice dramatic appearance as they grow.
- For branches that are growing long enough, having difficulty in holding their own weight, pruning is essential. This should be done to avoid cracks and potential diseases in these branches.
- It is also essential to cut off the dried, dead, and diseased branches and leaves. If at all, there are branches crossing and rubbing against each other creating wounds on the bark, they should be cut off.
- While pruning can be done at almost any time of the year, some sources state that it should not be done during mid summer, in case of a female tree. This is essential to allow the tree to develop fruit buds. Pruning old, dead stems should be done in winter, during its dormant state.
- It is advisable to disinfect the pruning shears so as to avoid the risk of infections. This can be done by using a household disinfectant, or cleaning the tool with a mixture of equal parts of rubbing alcohol and water. A solution of one part bleach to three parts water is also effective for this purpose.
- Once the tree has formed a desirable shape, pruning requirements minimize. However, pruning it once a year is essential to promote growth and fruition.
- The female tree can bear a lot of fruits and make the area quite messy. Therefore, plant this tree in a place where the 'mess' isn't a problem. Otherwise, opt for the male variety.
- A weeping mulberry doesn't need a lot of fertilizers once it is all grown. However, this is applicable if it is getting adequate nutrition from the soil. During the first three years, it is advisable to feed the tree with an all-purpose tree fertilizer every year, during early spring.
- As mentioned earlier, mulching is done while planting the tree. However, Garden Guides suggests to "Add more mulch to maintain the thickness each year in spring or fall to keep the area around the tree free of weeds."
- The fruits should be allowed to ripen to get their complete sweet-yet-bland flavor. To harvest, place a sheet under the shade of the tree and shake the branches.
- The roots of the tree can spread to a large area. Therefore, even though the tree has a width of about 15 feet, it is advised to keep a gap of about 25 to 30 feet while planting it.
Morus alba is among those trees that are beneficial to their growers in more than one way. Not only does it look magnificent with its drooping branches, its fruits can also make for some delightful treats. Make jams, syrups, and more with the mulberry and spend the sunny days of summer under its dense shade. Don't be surprised if you find a lot of birds accompanying you, because they too love the fruits of this tree.