What is neem oil and how does it work? How should you use it in your garden? Here are some answers…
Any organic gardener will tell you that one of the biggest challenges of maintaining a thriving organic garden is pest control. Gardening organically aims to avoid the potentially harmful side effects of chemical pesticides, which evidence shows may harm both our own bodies and the natural ecosystem. But simply doing nothing and letting nature take its course doesn’t always work either when faced with an onslaught of destructive pests – at least not if you want to be able to enjoy the fruits (and veggies) of your labors.
Fortunately, there are dozens of natural pesticides and other methods for preventing the proliferation of harmful insects in your garden. However, it’s definitely worth noting that not all insects are harmful; in fact, some can be very beneficial, helping to enrich the soil, pollinate your crops for a better yield, or even control harmful insects. Your garden should not be a bug-free place! When bad bugs attack, however, one possible solution is neem oil.
What Is Neem Oil?
Neem oil is extracted from the seed of the Azadirachta Indica tree. It can be used as a natural pesticide, as well as many other purposes, including as a moisturizer for dry skin, an eczema fighter, and an acne wash! It’s worth noting that you don’t usually want to use the same substance you put on your plants on your skin; personal care products with neem are usually made with a lower concentration. However, if you are buying 100% pure neem oil, you may be able to dilute and use the same product for various applications besides just in the garden.
How Does It Work for Pest Control?
When you spray neem on a plant, or on the soil around the base of a plant, the plant absorbs the oil through its leaves and roots, then spreads the oil to its vascular system. From there, the neem extract travels to every part of the plant. When an insect feeds on the plant, they ingest the active ingredient, Azadirachtin, and die. Azadirachtin also helps to stop the reproductive cycle of various insects.
Neem oil is especially helpful against mites and other small sucking and biting insects that can be harmful to your garden such as aphids. There is also a neem oil fungicide available that can help prevent root rot and mildew from ravaging your plants. Because neem oil biodegrades quickly when applied directly to the plant, it is generally not harmful to bees or most other beneficial insects, either. However, it is always a good idea to try to avoid spraying any type of pesticide – even natural ones – when beneficial insects are most active.
How Is It Applied?
Neem oil is applied either on the soil around the base of the plant or sprayed directly on the plant itself. The reason for applying it at the base of the plant is that it is most effective when absorbed via soil; the oil lasts up to 22 days in soil, but only for 45 minutes when applied directly to the plant where it is exposed to sunlight. Furthermore, too much neem oil can sometimes burn sensitive leaves, making a soil soak a safer bet.
It’s always best to test neem on your garden prior to applying it on a wide scale. Apply your neem oil spray to a small area – just a few leaves, for example, and wait 24 hours. If there is any damage to the applied area, that plant cannot tolerate the spray – at least in that concentration. Most plants will be completely fine, but it’s better to be safe than sorry!
What Kind Should I Use?
There are quite a few brands of natural neem-based pesticides available on the market. In general, you should look for one that is pure 100% neem oil. The only ingredient listed on the bottle should be neem or Azadirachta oil. Some companies will mix harmful pesticides in with the neem, so be sure to check the ingredients prior to purchasing.
Some gardeners insist you should only use oil from cold-pressed neem, which preserves the active ingredient, Azadirachtin. However, we have had good results in our garden using 100% neem oil that did not specify whether it was cold-pressed or not.
Neem Bliss is made from 100% cold-pressed organic neem oil. This concentrate can be mixed with water and applied to the soil or onto your plants. The concentrate is also multi-purpose; although it’s sold as a natural pesticide, a couple of drops of the pure neem concentrate can also be added to your lotion or shampoo for silkier skin and shinier hair.
Verdana Cold-Pressed Neem Oil is also made from 100% cold-pressed neem with no extra ingredients. Like Neem Bliss, this can also be added to shampoos or lotions. It’s even safe for pets.
The Bottom Line:
With all the work you put into your garden, you don’t want mites, aphids, and other harmful insects reaping all the benefits! Neem oil is an effective method of natural pest control that can help keep your garden safe and healthy, without harming beneficial insects or disrupting the natural ecosystem.