After a bit of panic and research, you’ve come to terms with the distressing discovery that your plant baby is in distress. It could be unwelcome visitors (😱) or some kind of fungal thing going on (🤢). So, what's a distressed plant parent to do? Get yourself some neem oil! It’ll save the day for you and your poor, suffering plant.
What Is Neem Oil?
Neem oil is used and loved by many plant parents. Most critically, it's a safe, organic, and effective way to deal with the pesky pests and diseases that your plant may encounter in their life.
While it is non-toxic and pet-friendly, it does have a bit of a stink to it…something between garlic and sulfur. 👃 Definitely not the best smelling oil, but we'll let it slide because it’s just so good for our plant babes!
Surprisingly, it can have other non-plant benefits as well—it can be used to treat dandruff, acne, soften the skin, and more. While we'll probably just stick to using it on our houseplants, we find it fascinating that one oil can have so many uses.
Where Does Neem Oil Come From?
Neem oil is the natural oil derived from neem trees. The neem tree is native to India, but grows in other tropical areas as well. It goes by the scientific name of Azadirachta indica and is sometimes also known as Indian Lilac. Neem oil is extracted by cold-pressing the seeds, fruits, and leaves of the neem tree.
In India, the plant has long been regarded as a sacred tree due to its impressive and varied utility!
The oil can come from the leaves or fruit of the plant, but most commonly from the seed kernels. When you see neem oil, you may be surprised that different bottles are different colors—but don’t worry. Neem oil can be anywhere from a yellow to a bright red.
So what exactly can neem oil do for our houseplants. Let’s dive in!
What Can Neem Oil Fix?
Honestly, a better question might be what doesn’t neem oil fix?
It repels pests at all stages of their development. And it can dispatch of insects as eggs, larvae, and adults. It is actually known to control over 200 species of insects and pests! On top of the creepy crawlies, it can also help you deal with fungus and disease as it has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties.
You may be wondering—is this too good to be true? No! It’s truly not. It’s an amazing remedy for many of the common ailments our plant babes experience, it’s natural, and it's not harmful to us.
What Can Neem Oil Prevent?
Not only does neem oil solve the problems that our plants may face, but it can prevent them as well!
When used on a regular basis, every few weeks or so, neem oil can keep pests, fungus, and bacteria at bay.
The diluted neem oil solution is absorbed through the roots along with the water, making its way to every part of your plant—meaning when a critter comes along to try to feed on your plant, they'll be greeted with the unpleasant and ultimately deadly surprise of neem oil. And if that isn’t incentive enough to start using it, we aren’t quite sure what is.
At this point you may be wondering: what is this black magic?? 🧪 Well, neem oil’s active ingredient is azadirachtin (try saying that ten times fast), and it changes the behaviors of pests by essentially making their hormones go on the fritz, which interrupts their development and appetite, quickly leading to their demise.
What Other Uses Does Neem Oil Have?
Neem oil can also act as a leaf shine if you're into that kind of thing. You can spray it directly on the foliage to give your plant that nice ✨glow✨. Which might be nice after dealing with a bout of pests or disease. However, we don't really recommend doing this just for the sake of it, especially if the plant is in any direct light because the oil can magnify the sun and lead to sunburn or discoloration.
Where Do I Get Neem Oil?
Now that you’re sold on the properties of neem oil and why it's so useful for houseplants, how do you get your hands on it?
Most garden centers and nurseries stock neem oil and, of course, you can find it online.
When weighing the options, we recommend looking for 100% pure neem oil and not just a product that contains neem oil.
While those other products can be effective as well, the full benefits of neem oil come from, well, neem oil. Plus, other products can sometimes contain mystery synthetic ingredients.
NOTE: You may wonder why it's sold in such small quantities. We’ll go over this in detail, but essentially you need to dilute it. So a small bottle goes a really long way!
How Do I Store It?
Neem oil is rather forgiving. While it does solidify if you store it under 70 degrees, you can place the whole container in warm water to bring it back to its liquid state. The only place you shouldn’t store neem oil is in direct sunlight or above 95 degrees as this can eventually degrade the potency (it's natural and bio-degradable after all!).
Also, once you've mixed up your diluted neem oil solution, it’s best to use that up entirely and only mix more as needed. The strength of the active agent in neem oil can wear down if it stays in the diluted solution for too long.
How Do I Use Neem Oil?
We’ll go over the process step by step, from diluting to actually applying. Of course, always check the label on your particular neem oil. But if you have 100% pure neem oil, these instructions should apply to all brands.
Before we jump in, a few tips:
- The smell, as we said, isn’t the best. Some people don’t mind, but those with a more sensitive nose might be offended by the garlic-sulfur smell. Keep in mind it’s for the good of your plants, and luckily it won’t stay around for long. Once the solution dries, the smell dissipates. But either way, you may want to do this outside.
- While we already know neem oil is basically 🪄magic🪄, it doesn’t work instantaneously. You have to keep up a consistent regimen to get rid of pests completely. It's ultimately so effective because it alters the behavior of bugs and stops them from reproducing, but it will still take a couple of applications to get through their various life stages. Stick to a routine, and you’ll have a happy, healthy plant in no time!
- Finally, as we mentioned, neem oil can cause sun sensitivity. If you’re treating a plant outside or in direct sun, test on a small inconspicuous leaf first and watch for burning or any discoloration. It’s also a good idea to apply neem oil early in the morning before the sun is shining directly on your plant or at night after the sun has gone down. 😎
Okay, let's get into it!
Prepare the Solution
We hinted at this earlier—but a small bottle of neem oil will go quite a long way because you dilute it. As we know, oil and water don’t mix well. And the same goes for neem oil. So you'll need a mixing agent (emulsifier), which can be insecticidal soap or simply a mild liquid dish soap. 🧼
When you’re making the mixture, you can dial in the concentration based on what you’re trying to do. For example, for preventative measures, you can aim for a 0.5% solution. For treating, you’ll aim for closer to 1%.
Preparing 0.5% Neem Oil Solution
To make your preventative neem oil solution, follow these ratios:
- One teaspoon neem oil
- 1/4 teaspoon mild dish soap
- One quart of lukewarm water
Preparing 1% Neem Oil Solution
To make your treatment solution out of neem oil, follow these ratios:
- Two teaspoons neem oil
- 1/2 teaspoon mild dish soap
- One quart lukewarm water
Making the Solution
Now that you have your ingredients together, you’re ready to make the solution.
- Start with the lukewarm water.
- Pour in the measured soap and neem oil.
- Close up your container or spray bottle and shake very well.
Water and oil still sometimes don't like staying mixed even with a middle man, so throughout your treatment and in between sprays, continue shaking it all up.
Test Neem Oil
Neem oil is safe for most, if not all, houseplants, but it’s always a good idea to test your neem oil solution when you’re applying it to a new plant, have switched up the soap you are using, or aren't sure how it'll react to the amount of light. Some plants are very sensitive! To test, apply it to a small area of your plant and wait for 24 hours. If your plant is still happy, you can go ahead with the full treatment. If not, try diluting the solution even more.
Apply Neem Oil
Once you’ve finished making your neem oil mixture, you’re ready to treat. The idea is to cover your plant, with special attention on the areas that are suffering from disease or pests.
There are a few different ways to apply neem oil, but you may find that mixing and matching some of these methods will give you the best results.
If you’re worried about overdoing it, don’t worry! You should be able to give your plants a very liberal dose of neem oil, and it won’t impact them negatively.
Overall Spray Down
A good way to start is with a large capacity spray bottle. This works well for bigger plants with lots of foliage. When you’re spraying, make sure to get the underside of leaves, especially if you’re trying to treat pests. They love to hang out under leaves where you can’t spot them easily. 🕵️
A spray down is a quick way to apply neem oil to the majority of your plant, but it can still allow spots to be missed. Again, don’t worry about overdoing it. Keep on spraying!
Wiping the Leaves
If you’re using neem oil as a leaf shine or know which leaves the pests are concentrated on the most, wiping is a great way to go. You’ll want a clean washcloth or microfiber cloth. You can either dip the cloth directly in your neem oil solution or spray it on first.
Once your washcloth is appropriately wet, gently wipe the top and bottom of your leaves. Remember to be gentle but thorough! Your plant will thank you for it. 🙏
Do you have pests on the stem of your plant or in a very concentrated area? It can be hard to reach the stem of some plants due to the foliage. This is where spot application comes into play—you can use a cotton ball or a Q-tip to reach those tricky areas.
You’ll want to soak the cotton ball or Q-tip in neem oil and then gently dab to apply. This will ensure that you’re getting full saturation of the offending pest or disease.
If you’re treating pests that lay their eggs in soil, a fungus that is growing on the soil, or starting a preventative regimen, you can do a soil soak. You'll want to prime your plant with a little plain water first, then go ahead and saturate the soil with the neem oil solution. Don't worry about doing harm to the roots—they don't mind. In fact, they may even enjoy the fatty acids in the oil! 😋
Using neem oil isn’t tricky—even the newest of plant parents can do it. Just don’t forget about those leave undersides!
How Often Should I Use Neem Oil?
When you have a pest or fungus to get rid of, you will likely need a few repeat treatments to ensure the infestation doesn't return. You'll want to reapply every 7-10 days for severe cases. When you’re using it purely for preventative measures, you can use it every two weeks or so.
Do remember to apply neem oil in the early morning or at night after the sun has gone down.
You don’t want the leaves to burn on top of whatever else is ailing your poor plant! 🙃
Having neem oil on hand and as part of your regular plant care routine is kind of like having a secret weapon. You may even come to love neem oil almost as much as you love your houseplants! From pest prevention and treatment to making our leaves look oh-so-shiny, this magical oil definitely deserves a place in your home (and heart?). 💖