By Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer
The neem tree has caught the attention of gardeners in recent years for the benefits of its oil, a safe and effective herbicide. This versatile plant has many other uses too. For additional neem tree information, this article will help.
These natural and DIY pesticides are effective at helping to rid your crops of harmful critters, but safe enough to keep from poisoning you and your family.
There's nothing like having a home garden to make you begin to appreciate the trials and tribulations of the farmers who grow our food. Between weather, weeds, and insects, not to mention the challenges of soil fertility, it can be an incredibly humbling experience to try to put food on the table with a home garden - especially when adhering to organic protocols that don't rely on quick, yet potentially harmful, solutions, such as herbicides, pesticides, and conventional fertilizers. We've written previously about homemade herbicides, which can help you get a handle on noxious or invasive weeds without as much labor as hand-weeding. This time around, we're taking aim at insect pests, which have the potential to turn your formerly lush garden into their own insect all-you-can-eat buffet.
When it comes to keeping your crops healthy in the face of massive quantities of plant-munching insects, there are a number of approaches that can help turn the tide in favor of your own harvests. And while removing insects by hand is one time-tested method, it can also be incredibly challenging to do so, or can be too little too late. Another, far less time-intensive method of knocking back insect populations is by applying natural or homemade insecticides, which can reduce their numbers or eliminate them all together. Not all insects are harmful, so applying insecticides indiscriminately, especially harsh pesticides that affect even the beneficial insects, can have a detrimental effect on your local garden ecosystem.
[N.B.: Just because these are "natural" or homemade insecticides, that doesn't imply that they couldn't harm your soil, your garden, or your person. An insecticide, which is a pesticide, is defined as "any chemical used to prevent, destroy, repel, or mitigate pests," and as such, they have the potential to be "harmful to people, animals, or the environment," so before going all out with any pesticide or insecticide, be sure to do your homework and choose the most effective, least harmful (to you and your garden) option.]
When taken by mouth: Neem bark extract is POSSIBLY SAFE for most adults when taken by mouth, short-term. Doses of up to 60 mg daily for up to 10 weeks have been safely used in humans. Neem is POSSIBLY UNSAFE when taken by mouth in large doses or for long periods of time. It might harm the kidneys and liver.
When applied to the skin: Neem leaf extract gel is POSSIBLY SAFE when applied inside the mouth for up to 6 weeks. Neem oil or cream is POSSIBLY SAFE when applied to the skin for up to 2 weeks.
Neem Twigs & BarkIf you were born in India, you would have seen people chew away at a neem twig. For many years now, a neem twig is what people used as a make-do toothbrush. It fights germs, maintains the alkaline levels in your saliva, keeps bacteria at bay, treats swollen gums and also gives you whiter teeth. The twig also shreds into threads, almost like bristles that also destroy and prevent plaque.Neem OilNeem oil that's extracted from neem seeds is rich in medicinal properties which are what makes it a great ingredient in cosmetics and other beauty products: soaps, hair oil, hand wash, soap etc. It can treat a bunch of skin diseases and is known to be an excellent mosquito repellent. You can mix it with coconut oil and apply it over your body as well. It is believed that in India, small children are fed neem oil as a type of cure-all. Besides being such a great Ayurvedic healer, neem oil can be used to protect other plants. It can also be used in creams, soaps and other cosmetic products. Here are some great uses of neem oil you may have missed:1. Say no to blackheads: Take 2-3 drops of neem oil, dilute it with water and apply this mix on your blackheads. Apply this regularly to get rid of blackheads and prevent them from coming back.
2. Anti-ageing: Neem oil is extremely nourishing and can be added to your face packs. It also helps ageing skin, any kind of skin irritation and itching.
3. For great hair: Take some neem oil and rub it into the scalp, leave it in for a while and wash. Neem oil can strengthen your hair, prevent hair fall and treat dandruff.
Neem grows easily from seed. If you can get hold of seeds, that is.
Just put your neem seeds in a pot with a very good quality potting mix, cover them with an inch of the mix, and keep that pot moist and warm. Neem seeds should germinate within one to three weeks.
The cooler the temperature, the longer the seed will take to germinate.
Why is a good quality mix so important when neem is such a hardy tree that will grow well even in the poorest soil?
Because if you grow a neem tree outside it can develop a huge root system. Its tap root will reach far, far down to mine the deep layers of soil for nutrients, and lateral roots will spread wide and far to go foraging for more.
A pot is not a natural environment for such a vigorous tree. It is very restricting, so you have to look after your neem house plant a lot better and give it more care. Make sure you use a good quality, free draining potting mix.
Once the seed has germinated and the tree is growing fertilize it regularly with a complete and balanced fertilizer. Adjust the amount to the size of the tree and the time of the year. Use more when it is actively growing, cut back or stop fertilizing in winter.
As a guideline, while the tree is actively growing, I would suggest weekly watering or spraying with dilute fish emulsion (use about half of what the package says), and a monthly application of a balanced solid organic fertilizer.
Your neem house plant will initially grow only slowly, but once it is a year old it should take off, provided you look after it well enough.
Looking after a neem house plant is not difficult. Water it regularly, but don't overwater. Make sure the soil feels dry before you water it again.
Overwatering is probably the biggest risk for your neem tree. They really can't stand wet feet and can get problems with fungi and root rot.
If you are watering enough but the leaves are wilting try misting them regularly. That's a good thing to do anyway and most house plants will appreciate this kind of attention, especially in times when you are heating your house. Heating makes air very dry, which is not good for plants.
Wet feet is about the only problem these hardy trees can have. Because of their unique insect repelling qualities neem trees don't have any problems with sucking or otherwise damaging insects. People actually grow them in the hope to repel pests and protect other house plants.
Personally I doubt that just growing a neem tree nearby would work if you already have a problem, but at least insects like scale and spider mites will leave your neem tree alone. And you can use your neem tree to make natural sprays against the insect pests.
The most important thing for a neem tree is warmth and lots of sunlight. The more of both it gets, the faster it will grow. However, it will only ever grow as big as the pot allows it to. So the best size pot to use is the biggest you can find and move around. (Pots with wheels would obviously be ideal.)
Why move it around? Because in summer your neem tree will be happiest outside, but in cooler weather it prefers a big, sunny window.
In theory you could of course keep it inside all the time, but it will grow a lot less if you do, and not be as healthy and vigorous. They really do need all the sunlight they can get.
A happy, vigorous neem tree can be pruned without hurting it. They respond very well to being cut back by putting out lots of new shoots. So if you want to harvest your own neem leaves for home remedies you can. Just remember that a tree that grows many new leaves needs a lot of feeding.
The best time to cut a neem tree back is spring, and then give it another smaller trimming in late summer.
In winter your neem tree will probably stop growing altogether. Like most tropical plants they need a minimum day length to grow. If you want to keep harvesting it you can keep it growing by
It's unlikely that you will harvest many seeds. Neem plants just do not fruit well in pots. But hey, you never know your luck.