We have put together the comprehensive what, why, and how of using neem oil to protect your houseplants.
Whether it is caring for houseplants or outdoor gardens, neem oil is the preferred choice of plant lovers. It is effective against insects, gentle on the plants, and safe for children or pets.
Not only is it used widely in many organic insecticides but can be easily prepared at home and applied conveniently.
Whether you are a veteran or a newbie in the world of greens, it is important to understand the what, why, and how to use neem oil on houseplants.
Neem or Azadirachta indica as it is scientifically known, is a quick growing tree that is native to India and South Asia.
Neem tree has been long revered in Indian culture for its medicinal and air purifying properties. Neem oil has been a popular ingredient in ayurvedic medicines, cosmetics, skin treatments, toothpaste, soaps, cleaning products, and insecticides due to its non-toxic nature.
Specifically for plants, neem oil is a very powerful and safe insecticide, both as a treatment and a preventive measure.
Neem Oil Extraction
Neem oil can be extracted from many parts of the tree like leaves, bark, fruit, and seeds. However the oil extracted from crushing the seeds or kernels is most potent against insects and pests.
Also, cold pressed and natural neem oil is most effective because heat in the extraction process can diminish the effectiveness of its active ingredient, azadirachtin. And commercially produced neem oils could potentially contain chemicals that might harm your plants.
For domestic use as insecticide you could even prepare neem oil with its leaves -
For the cold preparation, fill a dry glass jar halfway with washed and pat dried neem leaves. Fill the jar with coconut oil to cover the leaves. Cover that jar and store it at room temperature away from direct sunlight, for two weeks. Then open the jar and filter the neem infused oil into another container.
Alternatively for hot preparation, heat a generous amount of coconut oil in a pan. Grind or crush clean and dry neem leaves until you get a thick coarse paste. When the oil is clear, add this paste and continuously stir, and mix well over low flame. When the liquid turns green, switch off, let it cool, and strain the oil into a clean glass jar.
Finally, one of the simplest methods of neem oil extraction is by boiling the leaves in water. Immerse the neem leaves and stem in water in a pan and bring to a boil. Once it is boiling well, reduce the flame, cover the pot with a lid, and let it sit for five minutes, then turn off the heat. Once it cools down, squeeze the leaves to press out any excess oil and filter the neem oil infused water into a clean, dry container.
Why Neem Oil Is A Perfect Pesticide For Plants
Neem oil is one of the most natural, effective, affordable, and safe pesticides -
Neem oil is natural, bio degradable, and non-toxic. It won't lead to harmful residue in your home after use. So, it can be used safely around kids and pets.
It can be used as a spot treatment for bugs. Neem oil targets only the pests and insects that are feeding on the plant. It does not create a death zone around the plant which can kill other beneficial insects or earthworms.
You can use neem oil against a wide variety of plants ranging from decorative, fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, and herbs.
Neem oil can be used as a foliar spray during both growing season and dormant season to protect the plant against future bug attacks.
Neem oil is effective against more than 200 varieties of insects like mosquitoes, aphids, mites, mealybugs, white flies, caterpillars, and thrips.
Neem oil is also an effective fungicide and bactericide against common culprits like fire blight, black spot, rust, scab, leaf spot, root root, and tip blight.
Neem oil cakes are useful as both insecticide and fertilizer. They improve the nitrogen absorption in the soil. It also protects plant roots from white ants and soil dwelling roundworms.
One of the biggest advantages of Neem oil is that even with continuous use, the insects don't become resistant to it and it can be used throughout all growth stages of the plant.
How Neem Oil Works
Neem oil can be used as a powerful pest controller at all stages of pest development such as eggs, larvae, and adult.
When applied in soil, it is absorbed by the plant's vascular system, distributed through its tissues, and enters the insects when they feed on the foliage. When sprayed directly on the eggs and immature insects it coats their respiratory openings.
Neem's active chemical component, azadirachtin acts in a couple of different ways to destroy the insects at various stages of their life cycle:
When sprayed directly on immature insects, neem oil suffocates them by covering their bodies with oil and blocking the breathing holes.
When ingested by pests, Neem oil interferes with their regulatory signals to reduce or cease feeding. So eventually the insects will starve and die.
3. Hormone disruption
Neem oil disrupts the reproductive and growth signals by mimicking the insect's own hormones. As a result of this, it interrupts the mating behaviour of adult insects, prevents eggs from hatching and larvae from maturing.
4. Penetration prevention
Neem oil protects leaves against fungal infections by preventing their germination and penetration into leaf tissue. While it can not cure or prevent fungal disease, it can definitely help to limit the spread.
Using Neem Oil As An Insecticide
Neem oil is simple and safe to handle when used as an insecticide. Here are the pointers to make it most effective when you are using neem oil on your houseplants -
1. How to prepare neem oil insecticide
For making Neem oil insecticide, you need neem oil, water, and an emulsifier to bind them together, usually mild dish soap. Choose an organic neem oil that is 100% pure and preferably cold pressed.
First mix 1 litre of warm water and 1 to 2 ml of mild dish soap in a container, shake well so that the soap is dissolved. Mix 5 ml or 1 teaspoon of neem oil to this solution. Mix the spray in small batches as needed and use on the same day. If mixed and left for a long time it could get sloppy and not flow smoothly through the nozzle. Neem oil does have a strong smell, but it lasts only until the spray dries.
Although generally safe, if your plant is young, its foliage might get burnt if it can not tolerate the concentration of neem oil. So, always spray the mixture on a small spot or few leaves and leave for 24 hours. Alternatively you should rub a few affected leaves with cotton dipped in neem oil solution. If there is no damage, go ahead and spray the entire plant.
Spray the Neem oil mixture directly onto the plant and cover the stem, top of the leaves, and underside of leaves until they are dripping wet. Don't forget to also drench the soil around the roots. If needed, use protective gloves to avoid oil drips. Apply the mixture once a week until you get rid of the infestation.
If the plant is stressed because of nutrient imbalance, overwatering or drought, avoid spraying the solution onto a sick plant. While spraying, keep the plant in your sink or bathtub to avoid getting oil on your floor and furniture.
4. When to Apply
You should apply Neem oil mixture onto the foliage either early in the morning or late in the evening. At these times, the pests are usually dormant and not feeding on the leaves. Another caution is to avoid spraying it at midday when the sunlight and the heat can burn the sprayed leaves and damage the plant. Avoid using the solution in extreme temperatures - hot or cold.
5. As a preventive measure
Neem oil can also be used as a preventive measure against pest attacks as it is natural and non-toxic. Spray the neem oil and water solution once in a fortnight onto the plants and lightly drench the soil around the roots.
As plant lovers, we are always looking for safe and natural options for protecting our gardens from pests and insects.
Neem oil is not only effective in treating bug infestations, but also has a residual effect that helps in repelling future pest attacks. It is a natural, non-toxic plant protection option that can be used safely around children and pets.
Have you tried neem oil on your houseplants?
Was it effective, or did you notice any complication