Neem (Azadirachta indica) is particularly favored by gardeners for its oil. That’s because neem oil makes a safe, effective herbicide.
When it comes to oil, neem plants are rather promising. Probably no other plant yields as many exploitable by-products and benefits.
The neem tree is indigenous to South Asia, and goes by many names; limba, nim, kohomba, Indian lilac, and margosa.
Let’s look at some of its many uses as well as how to grow and care for a neem plant.
How to Grow and Care for a Neem Tree
If you are interested in growing neem trees in the United States, there are two easy ways to go about it. You can choose to start with neem seeds or a young plant.
Even though the neem tree grows best in arid, hot climates, it can be grown in a pot. You can move the pot indoors when temperatures fall below 35 degrees Fahrenheit.
Alternatively, it can be grown outdoors in the southern United States. The Azadirachta indica neem tree adapts to a wide range of soil conditions and climates well.
We recommend starting out with a tree as it is the easiest option, but starting from seed is also possible. You can also plant the trees using saplings, tissue culture, or root suckers.
Whether you decide to grow the plant from seed or cuttings, one thing is certain. Keep the temperature at twenty degrees celsius as it works best for them.
Growing Neem Tree from Seed or Plant
It’s easy to prepare neem seeds for planting as there’s not much to be done. When the fruit falls from the tree the pulp can be removed by rubbing it against a coarse surface when it is wet.
The seeds are then washed with water to bring out clean, white seeds. In countries like Senegal and Togo, the clean-up process is done by birds. They eat the sugary pulp and later spit out the seeds.
As the seeds are short-lived and only viable for 10-12 days, they should be fresh and used as early as possible.
Be sure to use a good quality potting mix when you put your seeds in a pot. Cover them with an inch of the mix and keep the pot warm and wet. It takes one to three weeks for them to germinate.
Once they germinate and your tree is growing well, apply a balanced fertilizer. Don’t overwater the neem tree and check that the soil feels dry before you water it again.
If you find it easier to start with a plant, put it in a large container with a drainage hole and add in a good potting mix.
Give your neem tree lots of indirect sunlight at first. However, you should avoid prolonged periods in the sun until your tree shows signs of new growth.
Young neem trees can be planted in the garden by digging holes that are larger than the root system and then mixing in compost (one shovelful). Ensure the hole is filled in after the neem tree has been set and then pat down the soil around the trunk.
Neem Tree Care
Young neem trees benefit from regular moisture and should be watered once every week. Neem trees don’t do well in poorly drained soil and don’t tolerate wet feet so be sure not to overwater them.
The soil should be allowed to dry between every watering session.
Be sure to feed the tree with good quality fertilizer, diluted fish emulsion, or a dilute solution of water-soluble fertilizer. Do this at least once every month in spring and summer.
Cut back your neem tree in spring followed by a smaller trimming towards the end of summer. A healthy neem tree responds well to being cut back by producing lots of new shoots.
If your aim is to harvest your neem leaves for home remedies, you can do so without worrying about the cut back. Just remember that your tree will need a lot of feeding to make up for those leaves.
When it comes to pests and diseases of neem trees, be on the lookout for scale insects. The oriental yellow scale (Aspidiotus orientalis) and the neem scale (Palvinaria maxima) can cause considerable damage to your tree.
What are the Uses of Neem Plants?
Neem has proven to be valuable to both farm and city dwellers throughout subtropics and dry tropics. It is a versatile tree with various uses for:
- Urban regreening
- Fuelwood production
- Cosmetic purposes
Furthermore, nearly all parts of the plant are useful in one way or another. The entire neem tree possesses antifungal, antiviral, and antiseptic properties.
The leaves, bark, and seed can be used to make medicine. The fruit, root, and flower are used less frequently, but also serve important purposes. Here’s how using neem can add benefits for personal use as well as your garden.
Neem oil comes from the seeds which are dried, roasted, crushed then pressed to extract the oil. Organic gardeners are familiar with neem oil in the United States. That’s because it is highly effective against numerous pests including:
- Fungus gnats
Neem oil can also be used as a natural insect repellent and fungicide against sooty mold, powdery mildew, and black soot. People also use neem oil in soap, lotion, shampoo, and other skincare products.
A neem tree in your garden or yard is a great idea as it has a sweet aroma that is widely appreciated (by honeybees too). Neem oil also has calming effects that one can also appreciate through the aroma of its flowers.
Bark and Twigs
Although the bark isn’t widely used, it has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. These make it a beneficial natural treatment for gum disease.
In the past, chewing the twigs proved to be effective for oral hygiene.
Moreover, the bark also has a sticky resin that is often used as glue.
The main compound found in a neem leaf is azadirachtin which acts as an antifeedant, repels pests, and disrupts insects growth and reproduction. The leaf of neem can also be used as fodder, mulch, and green manure in your yard.
When used as a paste, neem leaves work as a skin treatment primarily for warts, fungus, or chickenpox. Neem leaves also have anti-viral glycosides and compounds which help manage blood sugar levels.
After neem oil is extracted from seeds, the pulpy substance residue is referred to as “cake”. It can also be used as mulch and fertilizer to discourage diseases such as rust and mildew. If you have livestock in your yard, you can also use neem ‘cake’ as livestock fodder.
Neem trees grow fast and tolerate drought-prone soil as well as poor growing conditions. This makes them perfect to grow in frost-free regions to be used as a source of clean-burning firewood. You can use neem trees in your yard as fuelwood or to make good charcoal.
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Featured image: flickr.com