The red mulberry (Morus rubra) is one of the least demanding fruit trees you can choose for your garden. It is a medium-sized tree that produces an abundance of edible fruit with very little attention from you. Red mulberry is hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zone 5 through 9 in eastern North America. Although it is a little more delicate than some other mulberry species, the red mulberry is adaptable and sturdy.
The natural range of the red mulberry includes Eastern North America from Canada south to Florida and Texas. This tree thrives in woodlands and moist, shaded spots. It's often found in ravines and along streams and rivers. Although it develops best in sheltered locations, it can grow almost anywhere there's enough moisture, including open floodplains, pastures and fence rows. In its native habitat, the red mulberry is not especially susceptible to pests or diseases, making it a good, no-fuss garden option.
Red mulberry is not particular about soil; its seeds are dispersed by the birds that consume its fruit, and they can sprout almost anywhere. The tree does well in moist, well-drained soils, but it will tolerate sandy and clay soils. It does best in nutrient-rich soil, however, and is not as adaptable to soils lacking in organic matter as some other mulberry species. The tree's adaptability and popularity with birds means you'll probably find seedlings volunteering in your yard whether you want them or not.
The red mulberry's thirst is not extreme. Despite its liking for creek banks, it can grow in the open if the soil is not especially dry. Species such as the Texas mulberry (Morus microphylla), are more drought tolerant than the red mulberry. Compared to such species, the red mulberry's water requirements are high.
Red mulberry is at home in forests, river-bank thickets and other sheltered areas, so it does well in locations that are partly, or even significantly, shaded by larger trees and other vegetation. Its sunlight preferences are not finicky; red mulberry is reasonably tolerant of heat, and can do well in locations that receive full sun.
The red mulberry is a good ornamental species because it grows quickly almost anywhere, but its real selling point is its fruit. All those berries attract a wide variety of bird species, along with squirrels and other small mammals. Most humans find the fruit tasty, too. The berries were used as a food source by Native Americans, and they work well in jams, jellies and pies.