Should I prune this mulberry?

naikii(9a / 8b)February 6, 2013

Hi guys, I am interested on some expert input on a mulberry I have, in particular, should I remove the top bud to increase side growth and limit its height.

I bought it from a local hardware/plant store (Bunnings) and it had been kind of hidden up the back of a bunch of plants and had grown quite tall and spindly. Here is a pic shortly after I purchased.

I had it in a pot for a month or so, where it did not really do anything, so I planted it into the ground. Now, about 2 months later, it has seen some quick growth, but as it grows the top gets heavier and heavier and is causing quite a bend.

I donâÂÂt have much in the way of stakes (I am going to buy some next week) but I had managed to straighten it using three strings you can see, but as it has grown larger still they have become inadequate.

Since its recent growth spurt it has started to form some lower branches, and what I would like to do is take the top off it, perhaps down to the height of the first branch. I would like to encourage these lower branch growths, and for the main stem to thicken up. I am also worried that since it has put on about a foot in height, it might keep reaching for the stars and become too tall eventually.

Anyhow here is a pic of the tree today, I am interested in people opinions.

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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

Oh, I forgot...what type of mulberry do you have there?

    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 7:50PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5


welcome to GW ...

look at your first post above.. next to your name.. see NONE ... go to your members page.. and change that to something that indicates Australia ... makes it easy for us ...

next.. please.. go buy an 8 foot bamboo stake ... push it into the ground about 3 inches from your tree ... get some old nylons and cut one inch bands across the leg ... put one around the trunk thru itself.. and one on the stake.. thru itself.. then tie them together ... and BIND that main trunk to the stake .. [2 meters.. whatever.. lol ... so you can push it a half meter into the ground ]... i would push it in.. on the opposite side of the major bend ... the right in your pic ... and pull it straight toward the stake ... [i dont have time right now to edit this into logical sense.. hope you can figure it out]

like a broken arm.. we are basically going to splint it straight ... until it thickens enough to hold itself up ...

then BURN the string.. so you are never tempted to do this again.. lol ...

you are going into fall soon arent you.. once its bare.. snap a pic.. and we can guide you on some pruning ... for next spring ...

as fall progresses.. it will be storing energy.. so canopy reduction might not be the best to do at this time ...


    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 8:02PM
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naikii(9a / 8b)

Oops, yes sorry, I have Australia under my profile members page, but I should I should have filled that spot in the thread title!

I am in Canberra, which has an average of about 30oC in summer and up to 35-36 on normal hot days, but can hit up to 42, as it has done this year! Winter usually down to about -5oC usually about averaging lows of about -3, with extreme frost to -6 once or twice a year and as low as about -9 (rarely).

Autumn start in about a month.

It's a black mulberry.

As you can tell I am fairly new to staking trees! Im pretty ashamed right now at the shoddy job! With your stocking recommendation, do you mean that I should tie it around the tree and the stake, or slip it over like a sock, somehow threading all the leaves and branches through...

    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 8:17PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

As you can tell I am fairly new to staking trees!

===>>> we knew.. lol ...

slip it over like a sock, somehow threading all the leaves and branches through...

==>>>oh man.. you are killing me.. lol ... but hey!!! ... we all started there.. dont mind me ...

see link ...

cut one inch pieces across a leg.. to get little nylon bands ... and the reason i want you to use this is.. you can NOT crush the bark/tree .. and it will rot off before it ever hurts the tree .. easy to work with.. should be able to get them free ... etc ...

just be careful pushing that stake in .. that close to the tree.. if you hit major resistance.. like a root [gotta be guessing.. unless you can see underground like superman [like brandon??] ... and if you do.. move over a few inches ... and try again ... how easy this is is all about your soil ...

i have mulberry all over my yard.. thx to the birds.. they are NOT easy to kill ... IMHO ... so just get it done ...

a splinting type stake job is at this link ... but i dont think you will need the guy wires/string .. since we have gone over the top a bit with the large tall stake.. presuming you can get it in the ground securely [but if you cant.. then we will need something .. in my sand.. a stake is easily pushed to 6 to 8 to 12 inches.. and will be hold any smaller tree for years.. if you have hard clay.. i just dont know] ... on this pic.. i want you to look at the splint.. and the green plastic ties.. and substitute the nylons.. :

perhaps this might help.. there is a difference between staking so the root ball will stay firm in the hole [sorta like what you had in mind] .. as compared to a splint stake to train a trunk upright ... make any sense??? .. ah.. the broken arm again.. the bone is splinted.. and the arm is immobilized with the sling.. you were staking toward immobilizing the root system.. i am suggesting splinting the trunk ...

i suspect other will chime in.. and try to do a better job with the words ... or mock me endlessly.. i know what i would do.. i just feel like i am struggling to put it into words ...

good luck


Here is a link that might be useful: link.. i did NOT read this whole article.. just skip down to #8 ... NZ.. go figure.. lol ... and use a slip knot on the tree.. and a slip knot on the stake.. and then tie in mid air ...

    Bookmark   February 7, 2013 at 8:06AM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

If it were mine, I'm 99% sure (-1% because I'm not there looking at it) I'd remove the ties, remove the stake, and prune to encourage a little stockier tree. It seems to me that straightening, staking, and retying is a lot of trouble that has no apparent payoff. The tree's lanky enough already, and staking/tying it up will only encourage more lankiness.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2013 at 5:52PM
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naikii(9a / 8b)

Thanks Brandon and Ken,

I too feel it is very lanky, and doesnt really need to grow up any further right now, and since it has put out 4-5 branches taking the top off will do nothing but encourage these to grow at a reduced height. In the future I assume the tree will continue upward growth even when the top bud is removed?

Tonight I will take a few more shots and put them up for a final decision

    Bookmark   February 7, 2013 at 7:16PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

Yes, the tree will continue to grow upwards (and re-establish a leader) if headed back, but at a slower rate. Much energy will be redirected towards other growth if apical dominance is interrupted.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2013 at 10:46PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

there aint nothin thats going to slow down.. or stop ... this weed tree ... lol ...

i bet.. if you google your tree.. you will find out that they have many.. many leaders ...

i predict.. that someday.. you will regret planting this thing .. lol .. purple poop stained siding.. cars.. driveways.. rugs in the house if you have dogs or children ... etc ...

there is a big downside to mulberry ... and if you have a small yard .. it might not be pretty ...

i fondly remember.. my 3 years old .. walking in the house... his entire face smeared .. arms to his elbows.. and from the bottom of his feet to his knees .. including his shorts ... covered in mulberry.. and i ask him.. HAVE YOU BEEN EATING MULBERRY.. and the little chucker looks me straight in the eye and says ... NO ... at 10.. he is still lying to me..

    Bookmark   February 8, 2013 at 12:06PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

Maybe he didn't swallow. LOL

    Bookmark   February 8, 2013 at 6:49PM
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naikii(9a / 8b)

:D thats a funny story, when I was a kid I had a mulberry in the backyard too, and probably told similar fibs..

I think somehow that mulberries in Aus are different, I havent seen a wild mulberry ever growing, despite being many around my town... I read so many reports in the US about how they start to grow everywhere, and it seems so strange!

Where I grew up there was a huge mulberry tree in the backyard of the house across the road, my dad took a cutting of it when he first moved in, and no wild mulberries were ever seen in about 15 years at the house :)

Maybe others in Aus will come here and prove me wrong!

    Bookmark   February 11, 2013 at 6:16AM
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naikii(9a / 8b)

Ok I am back! I considered the options and decided we are only two weeks out of Autumn, and it wont be much after that before our first frost, and so I can wait until its dormant to decide to prune or not.

I went down to the hardware store and picked up a long stake and some tree ties... When I took the string off, I could see where it was digging into the bark! I am glad I didnt leave that in place!

Anyway, how does this look? I didnt wrestle it exactly straight, but hopefully it should develop some of its own strength to stand in the future.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2013 at 6:13PM
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onafixedincome(z8-9 CA)

Looks pretty good--I actually love mulberry trees, so perhaps I can chip in an opinion here.. ;)

This fall, I would suggest taking a good look at the framework of the tree. Mulberries tend to develop leaders just about anywhere in the tree, but when/if these leaders droop down, they can split the branches or trunk--so you want to make sure that you encourage a basic frame that will over time give you a nice wide tree that can take that sort of stress. Some people opt to whack everything off back to the main trunk(s), but I'm more of a 'natural look' sort of person.

So...Unless you want low branches for climbing, I'd nip off the lower side shoots to the height you want the side branches to begin. I always use tree sealant with my mulberries, as it helps prevent excessive bleeding of sap and seems to help keep bugs and rot out.

Once you figure out the height of the first branches, look very closely at the way the current trunk and side spurs are positioned. I would not hesitate to do my best to straighten that main trunk NOW, while it's still thin and relatively flexible. An ACE bandage (nice stretchy thing that won't hurt the tree as long as you take it off next spring) can help to bring that trunk closer to the stake you use for a 'splint' and get it straighter. Tie as frequently along the trunk as needed, don't be too shy. Mulberries are TOUGH! but can be a bit brittle, so gently but firmly tie it as needed.

The idea here is to wind up with a tree that doesn't lean to start with--a curve as it comes out of the ground is manageable but not desirable. Just do your best and over the years, a lot will fix itself. :)

Now...look at the top portion that used to lie over sideways. As time passes in growth phase, that is going to change direction according to how you tied it and how the light hits it. Again, I would not hesitate to straighten it out as much as I could now....the side buds for branches will develop from the bases of the leaves as soon as it gets reoriented.

This winter, just nip off the buds you don't need to form your framework, then let it grow another year and repeat as needed. I trim mine fairly often--I feed the leaves to my rabbits and chow down on the berries myself :) --and some shaping will come about that way as you go.

A hint on cleanup--if you make a framework for a sheet or tarp under the tree's lowest branches, the berries can be directed into a bucket with a few taps on the material. :)

Good luck, hope it helps!

    Bookmark   February 17, 2013 at 2:49AM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

"I'd nip off the lower side shoots to the height you want the side branches to begin."

Especially at this point in the tree's young age, that would be the opposite of what you'd want to do to encourage the tree to develop a strong trunk. Nipping off the lower side shoots would make the tree grow taller and lankier without good lower trunk caliper.

"I always use tree sealant..."

Tree sealant is generally considered harmful in most circumstances. If you do a search of this forum, you can see that tree sealant is often referred to as snake-oil or worse. It inhibits the tree's natural abilities to cover over wounds and, in many cases, actually encourages rot.

"As time passes in growth phase, that is going to change direction according to how you tied it and how the light hits it."

Allowing the trunk to move naturally with wind makes the trunk stronger. Strapping it to a stake encourages spindly growth. Also, trunks growing away from stakes is a well-known occurrence. When the stake blocks light from the stake-side of the trunk, the cells of the trunk develop in a way so that the trunk actually wants to bend more in the direction away from the stake (similar to the way plants at the edge of a woods grow away from shade of the woods).

"I feed the leaves to my rabbits"

I'm not sure if this would make much difference, but it seems like, if anything, this would encourage rabbits to eat the tree. Damage to trees from rabbits is a problem we often see posted here in this forum.

Much of the advise I see in this particular thread is opposed to the generally accepted advise seen everywhere else.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2013 at 1:15PM
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onafixedincome(z8-9 CA)

Interesting, she said, chewing thoughtfully on the foot handed to her by brandon :) :) :)

I'm no pro--I just love mulberry trees--and it's interesting to see/hear all the different opinions. My post is just 'What I Would Do' in the same situation/were it my tree, so as with most opinion-based advice, mileage may vary--and that's cool by me. :)

As for encouraging rabbits to eat the tree--they're in cages, so it's not a problem. I'm currently trying to get a study started on which types of mulberry are most palatable and productive for fodder in coppicing circumstances, so learning more about how various pruning methods is great! :)

(Please go comment on the 'DEEP treepot' topic--I need your input!)

    Bookmark   February 17, 2013 at 3:00PM
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naikii(9a / 8b)

Thanks all for your continued opinions.

I considered taking some of the top off now, so that it would encourage thickening of the bottom and development of lower branches straight away, however right now the main stem is so flexible that almost any weight on top would still cause it to bend, unless I topped more than half the tree. The tree has grown in such a way that almost all the leaves and branches are in the top 50% of the stem, and I fear that if I take that much off, right before really cool weather kicks in it might be too much stress for it to handle, our first frosts can come in as little as a month.

Once the tree goes dormant in the winter I will take off I think about the top 30-40% and remove the stake. Hopefully in spring some of the lower buds will break and it wont be so top heavy and will be able to support itself.

Brandon, if you are really sure that topping it now is the right move, I will do so, but I fear that removing the stake and ties now the tree will still have a pronounced bend unless I take it all the way back to perhaps near the bottom branch. Also, in your opinion will leaving it staked and unpruned until winter actually cause any damage? Tonight I can nip off the very top bud or two to stop it growing any taller until thenâ¦

    Bookmark   February 17, 2013 at 7:30PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

If it were mine, I know I would eventually cut it back. However, without being there, I can't tell you exactly where to cut it. That's going to have to ultimately be your decision. I probably wouldn't cut it back drastically (more than about 1/3 of the trunk's height) all at once.

I keep forgetting that you are in the southern hemisphere, and that keeps throwing me for a loop. You shouldn't prune it back hard right now, because, like you said, that could cause problems with winter just around the corner. If I were you, I probably would leave it staked for now. Do make sure the trunk is not being rubbed by the stake and that the trunk is not up against the stake. Your next best window for considerable amounts of pruning will be this coming winter (probably best during late winter).

I frequently use pantyhose to allow some movement when staking trees. ACE bandages might work too, but I've never used them and don't know how they'd hold up outside.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2013 at 8:09PM
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naikii(9a / 8b)

Thanks for your reply again. The material it is staked with now is from a hardware store for trees, it is stretchy and allows for some movement with the wind. It kind of feels like the stretchy material my Mrs bikini top is made from lol.

Ill double check once I get home tonight that its not rubbing on any part of the tree.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2013 at 8:29PM
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helenh(z6 SW MO)

If your tree is a black mulberry, it isn't a weed tree.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 7:18PM
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