A new age of organic farming and gardening evolved to minimize conventional practices. Neem oil, a centuries-old measure for controlling pests, is one such remedy with many other beneficial uses.
The 20th century ushered in an era of the widespread practice of spraying essential food crops with chemical pesticides on farms throughout the world. The initial benefits to agriculture were successful but over time threw up some serious environmental concerns.
Threats to wildlife, domestic pets, birds, and fish as well as soil contamination affecting foodstuffs for human consumption led back to seeking natural solutions.
What Is Neem Oil?
It is an organic vegetable oil processed from the seeds, fruit, and bark of the evergreen Neem tree (Azadirachta indica) originating from the Indian subcontinent.
It is now cultivated in tropical climates throughout the world. Neem has a brown or yellow color and a distinctive bitter taste and garlicky smell which naturally repels many pests.
If ingested, the various compounds will disrupt the life cycle of unwanted insects and destroy them.
What Are Its Uses?
Neem oil is a natural fungicide as well as an insecticide and is used in a wide variety of garden and home products. Its anti-bacterial and antioxidant properties are utilized for controlling multiple pests and diseases.
The main benefits and uses for plants include:
- The treatment of fungal and bacterial diseases such as mildews, black spot, leaf spot, Anthracnose, blights, rusts, wilts, mold, and more.
- Used regularly throughout the year, the oil can control a multitude of pests in crops and plants. See the heading below on pest control.
Benefits For Gardeners
Neem oil is often the natural pesticide of choice for the organic gardener. It is known to control a great number of pests by contact and by breaking the lifecycle of destructive insects.
Farmers use it in the same way to protect food crops. This beneficial oil has also been employed in limiting large swarms of mosquitoes and locusts.
Additionally, the nutrient-filled dry residue from crushed kernels of the Neem has widespread use as a compound of organic fertilizer.
How Does It Control Pests?
Neem oil is effective against many types of destructive bugs and can be applied in several ways.
Firstly, the antifungal and antibacterial qualities can help to keep the garden ‘clean’ by eliminating mold and fungi. Regular spraying and swabbing around the house and garden will deter many critters.
Secondly, a spray solution around plants and directly on leaves will kill pests by inhibiting their feeding. It also acts by affecting their hormone system thereby reducing the number and survival of their eggs.
Thirdly, the smell and taste are repugnant to most harmful critters and will repel them.
Some insect pests that it works against include:
- Leaf-footed bugs
- Aphids (greenflies)
- Spider mites
- Some beetles
- Tarnished plant bug
- Squash bugs
Studies indicate that as many as 70 compounds can be found in the oil, the principal one being Azadirachtin. This complex element is an antifeedant and is toxic to pests but does not have anti-fungal properties on its own.
The compound is added to soaps plus essential oils and other components obtained from the Neem tree capable of eliminating bugs and fungal diseases.
Is Neem Oil Toxic?
Extensive tests have shown a very low level of toxicity in humans or animals. Some slight toxicity has been shown in fish and therefore should not be used near ponds, rivers, and waterbeds.
Further tests and the long historical use of Neem has not shown any cancer-inducing properties.
It can be used right throughout the growing season, up until the day of harvest if you don’t mind the possible bitter aftertaste.
Neem oil is a natural alternative to chemical insecticides.
It is an eco-friendly product only controlling pests that feed by sucking or chewing on plants but allowing pollinators to continue their work. These include moths, butterflies, and beetles as well as birds and two species of ecological superstars — bats and bees.
Spiders and ladybugs who deal so effectively with flies and aphids are also unaffected by Neem unless sprayed directly to them.
How To Use
Although generally non-toxic, care should be taken when using. Some irritation may occur on sensitive skin or in the eyes and it should not be ingested.
A homemade solution can be made by mixing 5 ml of the oil with 2 ml of organic liquid soap in 1 liter of water. However, getting the balance right in every instance can be tricky so buying one of the ready-made sprays may be your best bet.
For solutions spread on soil around edible plants, several days interval is recommended before picking as the bitter taste may be absorbed by the food.
Light protective clothing is also advisable and spraying should be avoided near pregnant women, young children, and pets.
It dissipates in the air after a few days, more quickly in warm conditions, and applications need to be repeated at regular intervals.
Spraying in spring can target the eggs and larvae of pests.
What Types Are Available?
Various sprays and liquid concentrates are sold online, at gardening stores, and other retail outlets. A point to note though is that in some countries, the use of Neem oil is restricted and regional laws need to be checked out.
Various mixes are offered along with pure concentrated cold-pressed oil for which only water must be added. Cold-pressed oil is 100% natural, unrefined, and free of chemicals and additives.
Powders and granules can also be used for various gardening and agricultural purposes.
What Other Benefits Are There?
- Applications can nourish the soil by reducing harmful nematodes but leaving earthworms unaffected.
- Sprays leave foliage glossy and healthy.
- Indoor plants as well as fruit and vegetables in the garden can benefit from Neem without damaging the balance of the ecosystem.
- It also works great for enclosed spaces like a greenhouse.
What Plants Is It NOT Good For?
Generally, it is safe for use on all plants; however, different concentrations can have different effects. High doses can burn plant leaves. When buying, read the label carefully as it will list any restrictions.
Pets And Animals
Nutritional and grooming products for pets often contain nourishing Neem oil. Farmers have experimented with using the product in animal feed and even in place of antibiotics.
Almost every part of the Neem tree is used today in the manufacture of products for agriculture, gardening, and health. The benefits of Neem oil are wide but especially so for the organic gardener.