In our garden, we only use organic techniques for pest control. One method that’s often shared in neem oil. What’s neem oil though and is it safe to use?
Updated June 30, 2023
Although I really don’t like to have to get rid of insects that wreak havoc in the garden, they can unfortunately make their way into the garden. We’re in the process of amending the soil in our garden, which takes quite a long time. I’ve been reading that the more unhealthy your soil is, the more issues with insects you’ll have. We haven’t gotten to that point where we’re pest free yet, so I’m constantly trying to find ways to help manage them, and introducing preventative measures so they don’t have to be used.
Why is it important to manage the insect population in your garden?
By not managing pest insects in the garden, they can quickly overrun your plants. Infestations in the garden aren’t fun. The key is to keep them under control. You’ve spent a lot of time and effort growing your plants after all.
A commonly talked about organic treatment is neem oil. In this post, I’ll discuss what neem oil is, whether it’s safe or not to use, and what my experience has been using it.
This post is all about ‘is neem oil safe for vegetables’.
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Table of Contents
What is Neem Oil and What is Neem Oil Good For?
Neem oil is a natural occurring pesticide that comes from neem seeds. These seeds come from a tree known as neem trees, which are a popular cultivar in tropical climates. Azadirachtin is the main active ingredient found in the pesticide that is responsible for repelling and killing pests. This ingredient is extracted from the oil, and the left over from the extraction is called clarified hydrophobic neem oil. Azadirachtin interferes with an insect’s hormone system, making it more difficult for it to grow and lay its eggs. Essentially it prohibits normal growth and development and kills off insects at all stages (eggs, larvae, nymphs, and adults).
Neem oil has been used for centuries to protect crops and plants from pests. Modern uses of neem oil include treating fungal infections in humans, as a natural insecticide, and as a natural fertilizer. Neem oil can be found in concentrates like garden sprays, or it can be purchased in seed form where the seeds are cold-pressed to make neem oil. It can be used to repel aphids, mealybugs, scale, whiteflies, as well as many other pests in the garden. It can also be used to treat different fungi, mildew, and rust.
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Neem Oil Spray: Is Neem Oil Safe to Use?
Are there any precautions or considerations to keep in mind when using neem oil?
Neem only is generally safe to use if used correctly. It’s a biodegradable and safe product that has no ill effects on mammals or birds, making it an ideal choice for organic gardening. Since it is an effective natural pesticide and fungicide, exercise caution when using it.
Always read the label before use and follow the directions for best results.
In terms of safety, there are a few things to be aware of:
- Avoid inhaling the mist when spraying the neem oil, or allow it to come in contact with your eyes and skin. Although parts of neem oil can be used in everyday products like cosmetics, the active ingredient Azadirachtin, can be an irritant.
- There is mixed information about whether neem oil is harmful to bees or not. So if you’re going to use neem oil, pay special attention to where it’s applied. Avoid spraying flowers on plants.
- Neem oil is considered safe for plants, birds, and mammals.
- It should be noted that neem oil can be toxic to aquatic animals and it is important to not use it in areas where runoff might enter bodies of water.
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How to Apply Neem Oil to Plants
As with any type of oil or anything applied to a plant, apply either early in the morning or in the late evening. Since neem oil is an oil it can cause plants to burn, so applying in the middle of the day is not recommended. The middle of the day is when the sun is the strongest and when it’s the hottest. Apply to a small section of the plant first to see what its reaction is.
Do You Spray Neem Oil on Soil or Leaves?
There are two ways to apply neem oil: a foliar spray and soil drench.
A foliar spray is applied directly to the plant leaves throughout the growing seasons.
A soil drench is the application of neem oil to the soil. The neem oil is then absorbed through the soil, up through the root system of the plant and distributed. This application provides a systemic solution throughout the entire plant that affects plants when insects suck on the plant. They ingest the effects of the neem oil.
Neem oil will have to be applied on a repeated basis if it’s used as preventative care.
Where to Buy Neem Oil
Neem oil is widely available from numerous vendors. It can be purchased at a local nursery, box store, or on Amazon.
What Plants Not to Use Neem Oil On
Although neem oil is a great tool in the garden, however, there are plants that you should not use on.
Herbs are one set of plants that you shouldn’t use neem oil on. Delicate or wispy plants such as peas and arugula should not be sprayed with it. These types of plants are delicate and it can cause the plant to burn.
Overall caution needs to be used with neem oil. Improper mixing of the neem oil prior to using it can damage a plant.
When is Neem Oil NOT Useful
I haven’t found that neem oil is useful when there’s a complete infestation of a plant. When my rosemary plant had an aphid infestation, I sprayed down the plant with water, as well as conducted several treatments of neem oil. However, I was not able to get rid of the infestation.
The plant was most likely already unhealthy from two back-to-back heavy snowfall winters and the continually wet ground may have affected its overall health. Because of this, it was highly susceptible to bugs which ultimately led to the infestation.
- What are some common myths or misconceptions about neem oil?
Myth # 1 Neem oil kills all insects indiscriminately.
While neem oil is known for its insecticidal properties, it doesn’t kill all insects. It primarily affects pests that feed on or come into direct contact with the treated plants. Beneficial insects like bees, ladybugs, and butterflies are generally unaffected by neem oil when used properly.
Myth #2 Neem oil provides instant results.
Neem oil is not a quick-fix solution. It works by affecting the feeding and reproductive systems of insects over time, leading to a decline in their population. It may take several applications and some patience before noticeable results are observed.
Myth # 3 Neem oil is toxic to humans.
Neem oil is generally considered safe for humans when used as directed. However, it is important to avoid ingesting neem oil and to keep it away from the eyes. Some individuals may experience skin irritation or allergies, so a patch test is recommended before widespread use.
Myth # 4 Neem oil can completely eradicate plant diseases.
Neem oil has antifungal and antibacterial properties that can help manage certain plant diseases, but it is not a guaranteed cure-all. Its effectiveness can vary depending on the type of disease and the stage of infection. Neem oil is often used as part of a pest management approach along with other cultural and control methods.
Myth # 5 Neem oil is a natural fertilizer.
Neem oil is primarily used as a pesticide or insect repellent, but it does not provide significant nutritional value to plants. It is important to continue using appropriate fertilizers and soil amendments to meet the nutrient requirements of your plants.
Myth # 6 Neem oil has an immediate impact on soil health.
Neem oil breaks down relatively quickly in the environment, and when used in recommended quantities, it generally has minimal long-term effects on soil health. However, excessive or improper use of neem oil can potentially disrupt the balance of beneficial microorganisms in the soil.
- Are there any alternative natural oils that can be used as substitutes for neem oil?
Yes, there are certainly plenty of essential oils that can be used as a substitute for neem oil. I’ve used essential oils in my garden before and had success in repelling pests like snails. In fact, I make a combo of various different oils that take care of a variety of pests. It’s a simple way to tailor them to meet your garden’s needs.
1. Peppermint oil: Peppermint oil is derived from the peppermint plant and has insect-repelling properties. It can be used as a natural alternative to neem oil for repelling common garden pests such as aphids, ants, and mosquitoes. Dilute a few drops of peppermint oil in water and spray it on plants or around the garden to deter pests.
2. Rosemary oil: Rosemary oil is another effective natural oil that can be used as a pest deterrent. It is particularly useful against insects like flies, mosquitoes, and cabbage loopers. Mix a few drops of rosemary oil with water and apply it to the affected plants or use it as a general spray in the garden.
3. Lemongrass oil: Lemongrass oil has a strong citrus scent that repels insects. It can be used as an alternative to neem oil for controlling pests such as fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes. Dilute a few drops of lemongrass oil in water and spray it on your plants or use it as a natural insect repellent for yourself.
4. Clove oil: Clove oil has insecticidal and antifungal properties, making it an effective natural alternative to neem oil. It can be used to control pests like aphids, ants, and termites. Dilute a few drops of clove oil in water and spray it on affected plants or use it as a surface treatment for areas prone to pest infestations.
5. Cedarwood oil: Cedarwood oil is known for its insect-repellent properties and is commonly used to repel moths, mosquitoes, and ants. It can be used as a natural substitute for neem oil in controlling garden pests. Mix a few drops of cedarwood oil with water and apply it to plants or use it as a spray around the garden.
6. Eucalyptus oil: Eucalyptus oil is a natural insect repellent that can be used as an alternative to neem oil. It is effective against pests like mosquitoes, flies, and ants. Dilute a few drops of eucalyptus oil in water and spray it on plants or use it as a personal insect repellent.
Remember to conduct a patch test before using any alternative oils on plants, as some plants may be more sensitive to certain oils. Additionally, always follow the recommended dilution ratios and application guidelines for each specific oil to ensure safe and effective use.
- How does neem oil compare to chemical pesticides in terms of effectiveness and safety?
When comparing neem oil to chemical pesticides, there are several factors to consider in terms of effectiveness and safety:
1. Spectrum of activity: Chemical pesticides often target specific pests or diseases, whereas neem oil has a broad spectrum of activity, affecting a wide range of pests including aphids, mites, whiteflies, and certain fungal and bacterial pathogens. However, the efficacy of neem oil can vary depending on the pest and the stage of its lifecycle.
2. Residual effects: Chemical pesticides may provide immediate and longer-lasting control of pests, whereas neem oil generally requires repeated applications for sustained effectiveness. Neem oil’s residual effects are usually shorter, requiring more frequent treatments, particularly in cases of heavy pest infestations.
3. Resistance management: Over time, pests can develop resistance to chemical pesticides, rendering them less effective. Neem oil, on the other hand, works through multiple modes of action, making it less likely for pests to develop resistance.
1. Human and environmental safety: Chemical pesticides often pose a greater risk to human health and the environment due to their synthetic composition. Neem oil, being derived from the neem tree, is considered a natural product and is generally considered safer for humans, beneficial insects, and the overall ecosystem when used as directed. However, it is still important to follow safety guidelines and avoid excessive or inappropriate use.
2. Non-target organisms: Chemical pesticides can harm beneficial insects, such as bees and ladybugs, as well as other wildlife. Neem oil, when used properly, has minimal impact on beneficial insects and does not persist in the environment for extended periods, reducing the risk of unintended harm.
3. Residue concerns: Chemical pesticides may leave residues on plants, fruits, and vegetables, which can be a concern for human consumption. Neem oil, when applied according to instructions, typically leaves minimal residues, making it a preferable choice for those seeking organic or residue-free produce.
4. Application safety: Chemical pesticides often require special equipment, protective gear, and careful handling due to their toxic nature. Neem oil, on the other hand, is generally considered safe to handle and does not require extensive protective measures. However, it’s still recommended to follow safety precautions mentioned on the product labels.
It’s important to note that the effectiveness and safety of any pesticide, including neem oil, can depend on factors such as application technique, timing, dosage, and the specific pest or disease being targeted. Integrated pest management (IPM) approaches that combine various control methods, including neem oil and other pesticides when necessary, can help achieve effective and sustainable pest management while minimizing risks to human health and the environment.
- What type of neem oil should be used?
Be sure to use garden neem oil. There are different types of neem oil that are used for cosmetic or medicinal purposes, as well as in essential oils. These may not contain the correct concentration of the oil.
Managing insect populations isn’t easy and there are a wide variety of choices that can be used in the garden. This blog and this post focus on organic, natural, and sustainable practices. We explored the use of neem oil as an organic treatment for pests. Neem oil is derived from neem seeds and contains the active ingredient Azadirachtin, which repels and kills pests by interfering with their hormone system. It’s an alternative that’s safe for mammals, birds, and plants when used correctly, but precautions need to be taken to avoid inhaling the mist or getting it in contact with the eyes and skin. It also advises against using neem oil near bees and bodies of water, as it can be harmful to aquatic animals. Additionally, some common myths and misconceptions about neem oil were discussed and we compared its effectiveness and safety to chemical pesticides.
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Do you use neem oil in your garden? What suggestions or tips do you have for other gardeners? Write a comment below and share your knowledge!