prune a mulberry tree

Asked March 2, 2018, 4:50 PM EST

How much do I prune my mulberry tree?? Some of last years branches trailed to the ground. I already trimmed them off a bit. Should I take most of branches off? Should I prune off branches shooting straight to sky?? It's a crazy tree, totally growing weirdly but we love it and it produces very well.

Benton County Oregon

3 Responses

I grew up in Kansas City, Missouri and have fond memories of climbing up into an old Mulberry Tree with friends, sitting on a big branch, and eating (and throwing) delicious Mulberries. Then to prove how brave we were, we would jump 7 or 8 feet down from the branch. That was almost 70 years ago. Wonder if those trees are still there? I loved those old trees.

There are several different types (cultivars) of mulberry. I am guessing that your tree is a white Mulberry (Morus alba), my answer is so based.

One of the function of pruning is to train the tree to conform to what you want it to be. With that in mind, how I would prune your tree may be way different than what you want in your tree. What I am about to tell you is what I see your tree needs as I would want the tree to be when I am finished pruning. It is also a vision I have of what I want the tree to be in the future and then plan my cuts to train the tree to reach that goal.

As your tree is it will continue to curve with the top weighing down the small trunk. If you look at the very tip of the central lead of the trunk, it appears it is trying to grow vertical and is pointing straight up. Some of the branches that you are saying are growing straight up would be horizontal branches/limbs if the trunk were not deformed.

The first thing I would focus on is to train the main trunk to grow vertical. This would be a combination of major pruning and re-staking to slowly straighten the remaining trunk. You will not be able to straighten the tree with the amount of weight now found at the top of the trunk. It may take several years to accomplish but no time like now to start by removing a lot of weight from the top. This will mean losing some of the berry production for this year.

The first part of pruning on any tree is to remove all damaged or dead branches and limbs throughout the tree. Mulberries do not heal easily and cuts should not be made on limbs or branches that are 2” or more in diameter, the wound may not heal.

Next I would top the tree at or near the vertical branch near the middle of the photo (it appears to be just below the fork at the top of the main trunk. An option would be to shorten all of the growth at the top of the tree.

I would re-stake the tree using 9’ T-Posts, driven 2’ into the ground, about 2’ from the tree trunk (one post should be on the predominant wind direction from the tree, and the second post directly downwind). The tree should then be tied to the upwind post with plastic staking chain tightened to support and train the tree into a vertical position. As the tree straightens that chain should continue to be tightened, and the downwind chain should be loosened. This process will take time.

If you want the tree to maintain its current look the answer is much easier. Cut out all dead and damaged growth. Thin the growth at the top. Shorten the growth that are touching the ground. You might also think of making a frame to hold up the trunk and limbs when heavy with fruit.

Thank you for submitting this timely question to “Ask an Expert”. Thanks for bringing back some pleasant memories from long ago.

Thank you for your excellent advice. My husband says he will make me a frame for support. Do you know anyone in the area that I can HIRE to do the work you recommended??? The yard work is pretty much my job and I would gladly pay someone to fix my tree. Thank you.

We are not able to make recommendations of commercial companies or products. I can tell you that a couple of the larger local nurseries provide landscaping, that include tree pruning and spraying. I am sure that if you make a couple of phone calls to the largest nurseries you will find the service you require.

Make sure that whoever you hire is bonded and licensed to do the work.

Good luck.