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Share to PinterestGo Natural and Use Neem Oil on Pesky Plant Pests

Go Natural and Use Neem Oil on Pesky Plant Pests

By Sara Anderson
Share to PinterestGo Natural and Use Neem Oil on Pesky Plant Pests

Have you ever started watering or tending your plants only to find bugs on the undersides of leaves or spots that don't look quite right? It's alarming, and you instantly seek to restore balance. Increasingly, people are switching from synthetic chemicals to less harsh and dangerous organic fixes. Neem oil is an affordable and eco-friendly option to manage many pests and pathogens. Using it properly can be a boon to your garden and beloved house plants.


What is neem oil?

In the Indian subcontinent, multipurpose neem, also known as Indian lilac, has been a trusted medicine for centuries. A natural health and beauty remedy, neem is a highly effective and biodegradable pesticide too. Its oil is derived from the seeds of neem trees native to South Asia and is triply useful as a miticide, fungicide, and insecticide.

Share to PinterestNeem oil in bottle and Neem leaf in mortar and pestle
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How does neem oil work?

The active ingredients in neem oil, such as azadirachtin, repel unwanted critters. When pests feed on treated plants and ingest the oil, its components mimic their hormones and affect their ability to mature and lay eggs. The consequences are lethal.

In addition, applying neem oil products directly to soft-bodied insects suffocates them.

Share to PinterestMedicinal neem leaves with fruits
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Which pests and pathogens respond best to neem oil?

Neem oil is versatile. It can kill aphids, Japanese beetles, caterpillars, leafhoppers, mealybugs, thrips, and whiteflies, to name a few. It is also effective against fungal diseases like anthracnose, black spot, powdery mildew, and scab because it stops new spores from germinating. Squash bugs have hard bodies and are unaffected by neem oil.

Share to PinterestJapanese beetles destroying leaves
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Neem oil safety

You and your pets shouldn't have safety issues with diluted neem oil. Still, take care to follow instructions and limit exposure to prevent skin irritation. If you've applied neem oil to veggies, wash them before eating them.

Neem products don't pose a hazard to birds, mammals, and plants, but they are toxic to aquatic animals including fish. Beneficial bugs such as pollinators that don't consume the plant's leaves should be fine.

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How do neem products differ?

Formulas vary. Besides granules and powders, you get a range of 'ready to use' products conveniently packaged in spray bottles and containing various essential oils. And you can buy concentrates that require dilution and tend not to cost as much. Use neem oil neat, and you risk damaging your plants. You'll also find neem cakes on the market. These products act as a protective fertilizer, and plants end up with built-in defense mechanisms that can save commercial crops, for example, from infestations.

Share to PinterestOrganic Neem (Azadirachta indica) cake
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First steps

Use a plant app or do online research to identify the problem at hand and figure out how to address it. Gather your materials and set aside time to make and apply your solution. You only have about eight hours before diluted neem oil begins to break down and changes consistency.

Share to Pinterestkeeping a check on plants using a mobile app
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How to make a neem oil solution

If your neem oil doesn't come with directions, use the following method to create your DIY solution.

For home use, you'll need the following:

  • 1 or 2 tablespoons of pure, cold-pressed neem oil
  • A couple of teaspoons of dish detergent
  • 1 gallon of warm water
  • A foliar spray bottle

Oil and water usually don't mix without help from an emulsifying agent like mild dish soap. First, mix the dish soap and lukewarm water with a vigorous bottle shake. Then remove the lid, add the oil in small increments and shake again.

Are you treating a lot of plants? Use a pump sprayer instead.

Share to PinterestHand holding an amber spray bottle
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How to apply your mixture

Before you do anything else, test your solution on a small section of your plant. Wait a day, and if there's no damage, you can turn your attention to the other parts of the plant. In this context, neem only works as long as it's wet, so apply your solution liberally. Remember to spray underneath leaves and on stems and the soil too.

Sudden downpours will wash away the neem on your freshly treated outdoor plants, so be sure to reapply the solution when the skies clear. It will take at least a few days before you start seeing changes.

Share to Pinterestspraying solution in plant
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The best time to use neem oil

You can use neem oil indoors or outdoors but be aware that plant leaves exposed to intense, direct sunlight can burn if your neem mixture is potent. For optimal results, apply neem to your outdoor plants in the evening and push treated indoor plants out of the way of bright sunlight. You can use neem oil at any point during the growing season because it is deadly at all stages of a pest's lifecycle. Apply every fortnight for preventive maintenance, and in the event of an infestation, spray your plant once a week.

Share to PinterestKira McDermid
Zbynek Pospisil / Getty Images


The bottom line

Neem oil is handy if you're looking for a safe alternative to harsh chemical pesticides. It tackles a wide array of pests and pathogens, and it's inexpensive and easy to use no matter the season. Go ahead and stir up a proactive batch, and your plants may yet live to see another day.

Share to PinterestNeem oil in bottle green leaf and neem fruit on wooden bowl on table
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