Not many gardeners have the soil and climate to raise both mulberries and blueberries. And for those that do, choosing which of these tasty purple treats to plant is a question of which nutritional factors are most important to you.
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Meet the Mulberry
The mulberry is a fast-growing tree that can grow 40 to 60 feet (20 to 30 meters) tall in moist climates, and about 20 feet (6 meters) tall even in drought-prone, hot-summer locations. Mulberries prefer loamy, slightly acidic soils, but they will grow even in caliche and alkaline clay soils. They are resistant to cold, heat, drought, and floods.
Mulberries were first cultivated for their leaves, for feeding silkworms. Mulberry leaves also appear as an ingredient in many traditional Chinese herbal medicines. Mulberries usually are either male or female, but you can buy young trees with both sexes grafted onto their branches. Male mulberry flowers are the only plant to achieve a speed of nearly 400 miles per hour (640 km per hour), storing their energy to launch their pollen into the air at half the speed of sound.
Native mulberries usually have reddish, purple fruit, although there are domesticated varieties with white and pink berries. Mulberries are sweet but bland, with none of the tartness associated with blueberries.
Get to Know Blueberries
Gardeners who don’t live in cool-summer, moist climates and who don’t have well-drained, acidic soil find blueberries to be very fussy plants. Blueberries require a combination of constant moisture and good drainage. They won’t grow at all in alkaline or even neutral soils, and they are sensitive to excessive sun.
Blueberries are shrubs, not trees. Lowbush blueberries, that grow well in parts of Canada, lie prostrate on the ground and reach a height of just 4 inches (10 cm). They produce tiny fruit. Highbush blueberries that grow in the eastern United States and in Andes Mountains locations in South America reach a height of up to 13 feet (4 meters), and produce much larger fruit.
Blueberries have a unique relationship to the soil. They depend on fungi to deliver nutrients to their roots from the acidic (4.2 to 5.0 pH) soil around them. These fungi form a dense network as much as 100 feet (30 meters) away from the plant if they are not disturbed, never plowed under, never trod upon. They thrive in raised beds.
Blueberries have a very different connection to the life of the soil compared to mulberries. Bacteria, which aren’t affected by cultivation or being stepped on, provide nutrients to mulberries. This makes blueberries a better choice for quiet areas of your garden and mulberries OK where children play and other gardening activities take place.
Which Are More Nutritious, Mulberries or Blueberries?
It’s not really fair to say that mulberries are more nutritious than blueberries or that blueberries are more nutritious than mulberries. The two fruits offer different important nutrients in abundance.
Mulberries are a great source of vitamin C. A handful of ripe mulberries provides about half of an adult’s daily requirement of the vitamin. (More precisely, 100 grams of berries contains 44 percent of the adult RDI of vitamin C, per the United States Department of Agriculture.)
Mulberries are also a good source of iron. That same 100 grams of mulberries contains about 1/10 the amount of iron in a serving of liver without being, well, liver. They have about a quarter of the iron you would get from a serving of oysters. Mulberries won’t cure iron-deficiency anemia, but they help maintain normal iron levels without contributing to iron overload.
Blueberries don’t contain a lot of vitamins and minerals. They only have about one-quarter as much vitamin C as mulberries, and the only mineral they have in any noteworthy amount is manganese. A serving of blueberries contains about 14 percent of the daily RDI of manganese.
What blueberries do contain is important phytochemicals. They are an excellent source of quercetin. This plant chemical is so useful in maintaining human health that for a time it was recognized as vitamin P.
Quercetin has a chemical structure very similar to a common antihistamine called cromolyn sodium, but it doesn’t have the side effect of causing drowsiness. There is good evidence that people who consume plant foods that contain quercetin, like blueberries, have fewer allergies and less pain from chronic inflammatory diseases. That doesn’t make quercetin or blueberries a medicine, but they are certainly supportive of normal health.
Both blueberries and mulberries contain a group of red and purple pigments known as anthocyanins. These pigments support vascular health. Again, their effect is not so strong that they would be classified as medicinal, but they are part of a truly healthy diet.
Mulberries vs Blueberries: How to Make the Choice for Your Garden
Related: Are Mulberries Safe for Dogs?
So, how do you choose between mulberries vs blueberries for your home garden?
Mulberries are the better choice for your garden if:
- You have plenty of space. Mulberries need 25 to 30 feet (8 to 10 meters) of their own in all directions.
- You live in a location that has occasional summer droughts. Mulberries stand up to dry, hot conditions well, although they don’t tolerate prolonged standing water.
- You have alkaline soil. Mulberries tolerate acidic soils, but they prefer neutral or alkaline soils.
- You don’t need to plant your mulberry tree near a driveway, sidewalk, or stone walking path in your garden. Mulberry fruit stains badly, and would have to be power washed off concrete.
Mulberry limbs are brittle. They tend to break off in high winds, carrying their fruit with them. This makes a mulberry tree a good choice to plant next to a chicken run, offering your chickens an additional nutritious treat when limbs fall.
A single mulberry tree can produce up to 10 bushels (350 liters) of fruit, more than enough for you, your neighbors, your chickens, and passing birds. Mulberries come in over a two- to four-week season in the late summer, giving you plenty of time to gather enough mulberries for your personal use. You can freeze any extra mulberries you have.
Plant white mulberries if you prefer sweet mulberries to eat fresh, or black or red mulberries if you plan to use them in tarts, pies, jellies, and jams.
Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners offers a guide to planting and growing your own mulberries.
Blueberries are a better choice for your garden if:
- You have unusually acidic soil, with a pH as low as 4.2 up to 5.0.
- Your area never has summer droughts, or you can provide your blueberries with dependable drip irrigation.
- You want to plant enough berries to support wildlife, like birds, butterflies, squirrels, and animals that feed on the animals that feed on blueberries, like garter snakes.
- You have the time to pick blueberries every day and sort them for appropriate uses. Some blueberries are best eaten fresh. Some can be dried for “raisins.” Others are very tart and best kept for special purposes, like making juices, wine, and verjuices.
A single mature blueberry plant usually produces 5 to 7 pints (2 or 3 kilos) of berries every year. A variety known as the rabbiteye blueberry may produce up to 15 pints (6 kilos) of blueberries in a single season. If you have a great