While there is no one perfect tree that will benefit every homesteader, the mulberry tree has a lot to offer. If you’re looking for a tree that grows quickly, is low-maintenance, and will feed you and your animals, then the mulberry tree is for you.
There are a few different mulberry tree varieties, but the two most common in North America are:
White mulberry (M. alba) was brought to North America from Asia by British colonisers and has since naturalised. White mulberry was originally used in China for raising silkworms and continues to be used to feed silkworms and livestock.
Red mulberry (M. rubra) is the native to North America so may be a better choice depending on your region. It has successfully hybridized with the white mulberry.
The name doesn’t indicate the colour of the fruit. All mulberry trees produce berries from light red to dark red.
Why You Should Grow A Mulberry Tree:
Easy to Grow, Little Maintenance
There aren’t many trees that are this easy to grow. Mulberry trees grow 10 feet each year, to a total of 50 to 70 feet. They live for 75 years.
They transplant easily and they’re super low maintenance, tolerating drought and road salt. You don’t need to prune them. Let them grow into massive, berry-producing trees. In fact, pruning should only be used sparingly to remove dead or overcrowded branches during winter dormancy, as they’re prone to bleeding from cuts.
They also provide effective windbreaks and their thick foliage provides shade and cools down your yard.
Highly Nutritious and Delicious Berries
Mulberry trees start producing berries early at 6 years of age and, with a long harvest period from June to September, are super prolific! You don’t need to worry about birds, insects, and animals eating your crop, as the mulberry tree will produce more than enough for all of you.
Harvesting is easy. Since berries fall from the tree when they’re ripe, all you need to do to harvest is to put tarps underneath.
Mulberry trees can be raised from seed or propagated from cuttings, but I recommend picking up a two-year-old tree from a local nursery. Most mulberries are female or male, so you need both to pollinate, but nurseries grow self-pollinating varieties. Plus you get a two-year head start on fruit production.
The berries have a sweet-tart flavour, kind of like grapefruit, and you can use them as a substitute for blackberries and raspberries.
They’re naturally high in pectin, so are great for making jam and jelly. You can also eat them fresh or dry them for the winter.
Even better, mulberries are rich in iron (a perfect supplement if you have low iron levels), Vitamin C, Vitamin K, calcium, magnesium, and other trace minerals. They’re high in fibre, so make an effective natural remedy for constipation.
They’re also high in antioxidants, and one study suggests that an isolated compound in mulberry juice can be used as a breast cancer treatment.
Since mulberry trees grow quickly when they’re young, they’re a great tree to coppice either for firewood or to build with.
The wood is durable and rot-resistant, and the tree’s long pliable branches are perfect for weaving into baskets, fences, and screens, or providing stakes in the garden. You could even learn the fine art of making basket traps to fish with.
The white mulberry tree was originally grown in China as the favourite food of silkworms, but they’re not the only ones who will enjoy the leaves. The leaves provide excellent winter fodder for ruminants like cattle, goats, and sheep. They have the same protein content as alfalfa, at 20% dry matter and 2005 study found that milk production increased in goats fed mulberry leaves.
Dry the leaves by leaving them in the sun for 3 to 5 days or turn them into silage by chopping the leaves in 2 or 3 cm long pieces, letting the leaves wilt in the sun, then adding 5% bran and 5% molasses. Store in plastic bags at room temperature for 56 days.
If you’ve ever eaten fresh mulberries and come away with stained hands, you know that mulberries provide an effective and natural dye. Just make sure you plant mulberry trees away from flagstones, concrete and other light surfaces unless you like red splatters.
Ways to Make Money From Mulberry Trees:
Looking to make some extra money from your homestead? Here are a few ways mulberry trees can help.
Mulberry trees produce a lot of berries over the season, and dried mulberries can sell for more than $10/lb in North America. You can also turn the berries into a jam.
Mulberry trees have durable, rot-resistant wood, which makes it desirable for any outdoor furniture. Indoors, the fine grain makes attractive interior finishes. You can use mulberry wood as a wood veneer to add beauty to other furniture pieces. The wood starts out bright yellow then fades to brown over the next few months. Just be warned: mulberry wood is unpredictable when treated with stains or finishes! The wood can warp or change into unexpected colors.
This could be especially profitable if you are raising sheep for wool and can spin that wool into yarn. Many knitters and crocheters will pay more for natural, organic, and hyper-local yarn.
As I mentioned above, you can propagate or graft from winter-hardy mulberry trees. Landrace plants, or plants that have adapted over the years to a particular location, are becoming more popular and more sought after. To do this, you’ll either want to find local “volunteers” (mulberry trees that grew without human intervention) or plant tons of seeds, select the best from the ones that survive, grow seeds from that tree, until you have a locally adapted tree.
While we tend to think of silkworms as local to Asia, there was a silkworm industry in the Eastern US, culminating in the Mulberry Craze of the 1830s. Production is labour-intensive and manufacturing requires skill mastery, but if you can find a market for locally-raised silk and you have a burning passion to raise silkworms, sericulture may be for you.
While mulberry trees come with some disadvantages, if you’re looking for one tree that can provide a windbreak and shade, feed you and your animals with highly nutritious food, provide wood for building outside or just to keep you warm, as well as provide a natural dye — then you may just want to plant yourself a mulberry tree.
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