Pruning fruitless mulberry
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Issue: January 27, 2001


Pruning fruitless mulberry

Question:

Help! How and when do we prune a mature fruitless mulberry tree? It looks like the former owner pruned all year's growth back each year. Please tell us what to do!

Answer:

You can prune your fruitless mulberry now. Any time in the dormant season when the leaves are off the tree is a good time to prune deciduous trees, including the mulberry. You should complete your pruning before the buds begin to expand enough to show color. This occurs just before the buds finally open. Because the previous owners have pollarded or pseudo-pollarded the tree, you will have to continue the practice of removing the new growth every one-to-two years. It is not good to let the tree grow more than two years without removing the new growth. When you prune these new branches, do it thoroughly, leaving only the slightest bit of the branch when you prune. The tree should have formed a "knuckle" where the new branches are produced each year. This swollen area should be left, but the branches which grew from it should be removed. This type of pruning is commonly done but is not a good practice from the perspective of maintaining a healthy tree. The mulberry happens to be quite tolerant and grows well for many years under this type of pruning. Many people use this type of pruning to keep the tree small. It is much wiser to plant a tree which does not grow as large. Such a tree may be more expensive initially, but the reduced maintenance expense will make it a better deal in the long run.

Pruning in this manner is often thought of as a European style of pruning. Pollarding, training the tree from the beginning to a certain height and then removing each year's new growth, is common in some European cities. In this case, true pollarding, the branches are never more than two years old when they are cut. This pruning practice was developed hundreds of years ago in Europe when basket weavers pruned long, supple branches from trees annually to collect weaving wood.

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Curtis W. Smith, Ph.D., is an Extension Horticulture Specialist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator.

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