Neem tree (Azadirachta indica) has caught the attention of gardeners in the recent years because of the benefits offered by its oil which is a safe and an effective herbicide. Neem is a hardy tree that can tolerate temperatures up to 50° C,thus gardeners prefer to grow neem . However, extended cool weather with temperatures below 5° C will cause the tree to drop its leaves. A neem tree can not tolerate colder temperatures, wet climates or prolonged drought.
Planting Neem Cuttings or Seed
Neem can grow easily from seeds if you can get hold of its seeds. You only need to put your neem seeds in a pot with a very good quality potting mix, cover them with an inch of the same mix, and keep that pot moist and warm. Neem seeds should germinate within 1 to 3 weeks.You need to be careful about the temperature as cooler the temperature, longer the seed will take to germinate.There are some other propagation methods as well. There have been trials using cuttings, suckers, roots and tissue culture, and it all works.But planting seed is by far the easiest and the most common method.There is no problem with raising neem in pots. Neem trees develop a very deep and strong tap root so you will have to transfer them to the ground. Leaving them in pots or polythene bags for too long will lead to stunted and distorted roots.
Planting Location to Grow Neem
You can grow neem trees in just any soil as it does not demand fertilized soil due to presence of a long tap root system. Clay soil or sandy soil, rocky or saline soils, it does not matter. Like most plants neem trees grow best in deep, rich, dark soils with lots of nutrients and good water holding capacity, but it is amazing to see how well neem trees grow on the poorest, shallowest rocky slopes as well.
Neem trees don’t care much about pH of the soil either, so up to 8.5 the soil is fine, and so are acidic soils. In fact, growing neem trees can help bring acidic soils back to a neutral stage, and improve water holding capacity along with nutrition of poor soils.
Planting Time to Grow Neem
A humid subtropical climate is a zone of climate characterized by hot and humid summers where tropical air masses dominate, and mild winter occurs. Neem will perform well in tropical as well as sub tropical climates.Neem trees loves growing in a tropical to subtropical climate as it needs and positively thrives in hot weather, but it can handle the occasional cold spell as well.A temperatures up to 50°C (120F) is fine for growing neem trees. So is the occasional drop down of temperature to about 5°C (35F). Below that temperature,the neem tree will shed its leaves. Longer exposure to cold weather can cause permanent damage or kill a neem tree. Younger neem plants are more vulnerable to cold weather.The most remembered gardening tip to grow neem tree is to begin cultivating it in spring as the temperature at that time is best suited for germination.
Grow Neem in Pots
If your climate has long periods of such cold weather, or if it gets even colder than that, then you won’t have much luck growing a neem tree plant in your garden.The obvious solution is to grow your neem tree in a pot inside.But a pot is not a natural environment for such a vigorous tree. Your neem house plant will initially grow slowly, but once it gets a year older it should take off, you will have to look after it well enough.
Spacing to Grow Neem
Neem tree requires lot of space as it grows about 15 to 20 meters in a round and dense pattern and reaches a height of 20 meters as well.
How to Take Care of Neem ?
Neem has powerful pest controlling activities and medicinal properties. Neem is a natural resource to keep environment clean. More importantly, pesticides made from neem are much safer compared to synthetic pesticides.An evergreen, perennial tree can survive up to 200 to 300 years.
An ample amount of water is good when growing neem trees. The areas where neem trees grow naturally receive between 450 and 1200 mm of rain per year, but neem has been planted in drier regions as well. There are neem trees growing in areas that receive as little as 200 mm annual rain.The one single thing that neem trees can’t handle are soggy, waterlogged soils. The plant roots need to breathe, so don’t try growing neem trees in swamps.
Pruning your Neem
If your neem is young, then its better to prune your tree during spring or late summer, if you want to maintain your neem plant.
Neem is a tropical tree, if you wish to grow it in temperate climates, their first choice is in the upward direction.
Watch out For Pests
A Neem tree has a unique insect repelling qualities so this trees does not have any problems with sucking or otherwise damaging insects. People actually grow them in the hope to repel pests and protect other house plants. At least insects like scale and spider mites will leave your neem tree alone.
[ READ ABOUT OTHER PLANTS THAT REPEL INSECTS ]
- Weeds are unwanted plants which start to compete with young sage plants for soil’s nutrients and slows down the development of young plants.
- You only need to remove the weeds when you neem plant is as young as seedling or a few mounths old. but once you neem plant grows bigger, you need not to worry about the weeds unless they are not blocking sunlight.
- You can control the weeds around seedlings either through weeding or mulching (limestone gravel, builder’s sand, leaf mold or straw).
How to Harvest Your Neem ?
Your neem trees grow slowly during their first year, but they reach maturity fast. You can expect to harvest your first neem fruit after three to five years. It takes about ten years for a neem tree to get to full production. After that it will start to produce 30 to 50 kg of fruit a year. A neem tree has a long life span so it is expected to live about 150 to 200 years.
Gathering Neem Seeds
- Neem normally produces fruit once a year, but in some moist zones twice a year production can be observed. The fruit of the neem can either be shaken off a tree, picked, or stripped off from the branches.
- When ripe it is yellow in colour, about 2 cm in length and oval-shaped. The soft sweet neem fruit has a light-coloured seed of about 1.5 cm in length, containing one, or sometimes two, brown seed kernels.
- After harvesting the fruit the ripe pulp should be removed as quickly as possible.
Drying the Seeds
In order to dry neem seeds, they are spread out for a few days on a solid and dry ground in the sun. The seeds should spread as thin layers, as thin as possible. The drying process must be carried out very carefully as the undried seeds can become mouldy quickly. During the rainy season the seeds to be dried should be promptly covered over or brought indoors before rain showers begin.
Extracting Neem oil
Neem oil is extracted from the neem seed kernels (oil content 40 – 50%) of dried seeds, pressed either by machine or various other traditional methods.The seeds must first be shelled, by cracking the shells with a stone or gently pounding them in a mortar and finally by winnowing to remove the shell particles.
Storing Neem Seeds
As the dried sees can also become mouldy during storage, they should only be stored in airy containers (e.g. jute sacks or baskets). Airtight containers such as plastic bags or pots are unsuitable.
Gathering Neem Leaves
- You can cut off the fresh green, young branches leaving the woody part of the stalks behind and striping the leaves off the stems.
- Then you need to gather these bunches into small bundles and use a rubber band to fasten it. Don’t tie them too dense as this may cause uneven drying and could result in a less desirable finished product.
Hanging Your Herb
You can try hanging your neem plant in an area that is warm and dry but partially out of direct sun light. Hang the bundles in a dark but well ventilated area to dry your neem. Another way to dry them would be to lay them on a tray and put them on a food dehydrator. Once the herb dries out completely, you can easily pinch off its leaves off the stems.
Storing Neem Leaves
You need to check your neem leaves on regular intervals and when they become brittle, the leaves are ready to be stored. Spread out a sheet of news paper and place your neem bundles on it.Crumble the leaves after that. Now your neem is ready to be stored, keep them in air tight jars to enjoy it throughout the year.
Neem can be a good companion plant for Giloy (Tinospora cordifolia) or commonly known as heart leaved moon seed. If Giloy is grown on neem tree thereby its is supposed to have ample medicinal virtue. The same goes with Bitter melon commonly known as bitter gourd (Momordica charantia).