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How to Use Neem Leaf as a Natural Pesticide

Updated on August 7, 2017
Blond Logic profile image

Mary is an organic coconut farmer. In her articles, she shares ideas on land management and how to increase the profit from a small farm.

Neem Trees

I'm an organic coconut farmer living in Brazil. Here on our farm, we use a natural pesticide made from the leaves of the neem trees which grow here. Today, I would like to show you how we do this.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the neem tree (Azadirachta indica), it is an evergreen tree which is found in tropical and sub-tropical areas. The neem tree has many uses including medicinal, culinary, and as we use it on our farm, as a deterrent to pests. It is related to the curry tree but where a curry leaf tree is called a sweet neem, this neem is considered bitter. The tree grows rapidly about 10 feet a year and the seeds are encased in a skin which holds a juice.

Some of the birds we have here will suck the juice out of the berry and others swallow it whole. The monkeys love them as well and can often be seen sitting in the trees eating them. The bats take the berry and fly off with it causing young neem trees to be scattered around bases of many of our trees here. The juice that surrounds the seed, is okay for the animals but I have tried it and it is rather bitter and unpleasant.

The neem trees are used a lot in Brazil in city centers for their mosquito repellent properties and because they are a fast growing tree. The dark green serrated leaves are also attractive and are excellent as a dense shade tree.

Cutting Neem Branches

Cutting Neem Leaves for Pesticide
Cutting Neem Leaves for Pesticide | Source

Using Neem Leaves as a Pesticide

We have 400 dwarf coconut trees that we spray with our neem pesticide. Don't get too hung up on the term pesticide, it isn't killing the bugs, it is preventing them from chewing the leaves of our trees. If the insects are solely reliant on eating coconut palm leaves then they will eventually starve, or at least on our farm. Unlike a commercial product which kills the insect on contact, this doesn't occur when using neem. We are coating the plant with a substance the insects don't like. Instead of killing the insect, we are protecting the plant.

We use this natural pesticide for:

  • aphids
  • white fly
  • grasshoppers
  • caterpillars

These are our main insect problems which we deal with. Although we spray regularly, our trees are also checked daily so we can stop an infestation before it happens.

I want to clarify that this article is about using the neem leaf.

For a more concentrated version of the pesticide, the neem oil can be extracted from the seed. This is done by grinding down the dried seeds into a powder using a grinder or a mortar and pestle. This powder can then be reconstituted with oil. If you don't have access to neem trees or you prefer to purchase neem oil, this is produced from the seeds, not the leaves.

The neem oil although more effective than using the neem leaves is less pungent to smell.

Neem is a Pesticide

A pesticide targets many insects whereas an insecticide is specific to one.

Separating Neem Leaves

Removing neem leaves from stalks
Removing neem leaves from stalks | Source

Removing the Leaves

Once cut, we bring the small cluster of branches back to our patio area. This next part, of removing the leaves from the stems is time-consuming and also hurts the back. It isn't that it is difficult to do, it is just repetitive and we have yet to find an easier way to do it.

We simply sit down and drag our hand down the stem allowing the leaves to drop into the bucket. We continue doing this until our bucket is full and then it's time for the next step which takes place in the kitchen.

Chopping Neem Leaves

Cuttning neem leaves with a food processor
Cuttning neem leaves with a food processor | Source

Chopping up Neem Leaves

To chop up the neem leaves, I use my food processor. I fill the container without packing them too tightly. As I put the leaves in, I ensure there are no stems or seeds which may damage the blades of the food processor.

I then switch the machine to pulse until I see movement at the top, only then do I turn it on high. If I switch it on high from the start, I'd end up with finely chopped leaves at the bottom of the processor and uncut leaves on the top. What you want are leaves roughly the same size.

This could be roughly chopped using a cutting board and a knife if you don't have a food processor or blender. Just to clarify, I don't add any liquid to this, I am just chopping up the leaves.

Making Neem Tea

Don't be put off by the term, tea in the title. This is just the stewing of leaves in water. We don't use warm water for this just our normal well water from our faucet.

The bucket of chopped up leaves is put into a 50-liter plastic barrel. We filled this half full of water, put the lid on and leave it for 3 days to brew.

You'll know if your mixture is ready as it will smell like a cross between urine and onions. Not a pleasant smell but effective against insects.

Adding Oil and Detergent

Using another barrel, we strain the mixture which has brewed for 3 days, through a nylon mesh sieve. An old t-shirt works equally as well. This removes the leaves and we then have our mixture.

To make sure the pesticide sticks to the plants and doesn't just run off, we need to add oil and dish soap. For this, we use 3 ounces of cooking oil and the same of dish soap. The role of the dish soap is to break down the oil, and the role of the oil is to make it stick to the leaves.

The stewed leaves from your mixture can be used in your compost heap or around the base of your plants.

Spraying Coconuts and Leaves

Spraying Dwarf Coconut With Natural Pesticide
Spraying Dwarf Coconut With Natural Pesticide | Source

Using a Sprayer

As you can see from our photos, my husband uses a backpack style sprayer. This carries 10 litres which is a little more than 2½ gallons. You may be able to handle a larger one but my husband is 67 years old and an amputee. Walking from tree to tree with the sprayer on his back keeps the oil and detergent mixing. If you were using a hand held spray bottle, a quick shake before applying is a good idea as the mixture may separate.

Ours is a hand-pressurized mechanism which works off a lever on the left-hand side of the sprayer. We have extended the nozzle length on ours to ensure he can reach the upper leaves of the coconut trees without having to use a ladder.

Chapin 63985 4-Gallon Wide Mouth 20v Battery Backpack Sprayer, Powered by Black & Decker
Chapin 63985 4-Gallon Wide Mouth 20v Battery Backpack Sprayer, Powered by Black & Decker

This holds 4 gallons of liquid which will weigh 32 pounds when fully loaded not including the weight of the sprayer. The load is spread across your back making it more comfortable but this is a consideration before you buy. This one is self-pressurized which is a bonus, no more pumping away to keep a steady stream flowing.

The large opening tells me someone has thought about the design, as we have poured the liquid into a smaller one and because of the weight, spilt some.

Some items are crucial on a small farm like ours, we have 8 acres and a sprayer is part of the equipment we need to keep us both organic and as pest free as possible.

 

Spraying Coconut Trees

Spraying Coconut Trees
Spraying Coconut Trees | Source

© 2017 Mary Wickison

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    • Blond Logic profile image
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      Mary Wickison 46 hours ago from Brazil

      Hi Jennifer,

      Here in Brazil, the neem tree is planted not just as a shade tree but as a natural repellent for mosquitos both privately and by the city councils.

      Many homeowners will make a mixture which I've described above, and use a hand held spray bottle, spraying around the outside perimeter of their house. Obviously, they make less of it than we do.

      I wouldn't spray it on the dogs, however, as I have never tried that, and I don't know if it would be an irritant.

      Our dogs are often rolling in the neem leaves which fall to the ground, as well as my citronella plant. Perhaps this is their way of coating themselves in a natural repellant.

      I do know that the citronella will cause a reaction as I have seen it on myself when I have been thinning out our plant. I had a mild reaction of contact dermatitis from it. It was a reminder to me that just because it is in its natural form doesn't mean it's safe as many plants are quite potent.

      Both neem and citronella are used in many commercially prepared mosquito repellants. If you have access to a neem tree, I would suggest you try it in the garden and around the outside of the house.

      Thanks for reading and your question.

    • profile image

      jennifer 2 days ago

      hi mary

      is this formula safe for dogs and garden for mosquitos i came across your article while searching for natural remedies for mosquitos

    • Blond Logic profile image
      Author

      Mary Wickison 4 weeks ago from Brazil

      Hello Ayikobua,

      I'll answer your second question first. The neem seeds hold more oil and are thus more potent than the neem leaf tea mixture. We don't have a mechanized way to crush the seeds effectively here on our farm so opt for the easier method of using the leaves.

      On our farm, we walk around the trees frequently. When we are irrigating, we are checking each tree daily. This means we can control any infestation before it starts. We don't have a set routine for spraying, we spray when we see a problem. Normally our method is, where possible we wipe palm leaf removing what we can see. Then we get the spray ready (remember it takes 3 days to brew), then we spray the tree and those around it.

      We feel the best way to keep harmful insects at bay is by observation and removal of the insect. If we see an excessive amount of white fly, for example, my husband has been known to cut the leaf off and submerge it in the lake. The insects are either drowned or eaten by fish.

      Something else which I didn't mention in my article, neem leaf can also work as a systemic repellent. It isn't something we have done yet, but plan to. By placing the leaves around the bases of plants and trees and allowing them to decompose, their repellent properties are taken up by the tree. Many people mulch them up to speed up the process, they call it a neem cake.

      I hope this has answered your questions and I hope you try the neem leaves as a natural repellent for your plants. Thanks for reading.

    • profile image

      Ayikobua Peace 4 weeks ago

      Thanks a lot for the article. You have made it very easy. Any practical experiences on frequency of spray, dosage and which works better between the leaves and seed of the neem plant?

    • Blond Logic profile image
      Author

      Mary Wickison 7 weeks ago from Brazil

      Hi Ripplebuzz,

      We use fresh neem leaves and leave them to soak in a large plastic covered barrel.

      Although we didn't heat the water, it gets quite warm and then we leave it for 3 days to brew.

      Here at our home we don't have plumbed hot water so when I want to wash clothes in something other than cold, I put a large tub of water outside in the sun and use that.

      The temperature of the water inside the barrels of neem leaves will also become quite hot helping them to extract the repellent properties into the water.

      Thanks for your question.

    • profile image

      ripplebuzz 7 weeks ago

      Hi Mary,

      Did you use fresh neem leaves and heat the leaves with any vegetable oil or did you just soaked or infused the fresh neem leaves?

    • Blond Logic profile image
      Author

      Mary Wickison 2 months ago from Brazil

      Hi Linda,

      It is an interesting tree which we feel we have only begun to learn the potential of.

      Since we live in Brazil, we read a lot of information from India and the Philippines as they have a similar climate to us and have had years of researching various natural uses of plants.

      Thanks for reading.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 2 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is a very useful and interesting article. I've heard of neem before but didn't know much about it. I enjoyed learning about how you and your husband use it.

    • Blond Logic profile image
      Author

      Mary Wickison 2 months ago from Brazil

      Hi Niki,

      Sorry, I really don't know. If the powder is made from the seeds it will be more potent than if it is made from the leaves. You don't say whether you are hoping to use this medicinally or as an insecticide. I would refer you to the friend who gave it to you. What quantities does he/she use?

      Something else I would like to mention, just because it is natural, doesn't mean any quantity is safe. Many plants are toxic.

      Let me know how you get on. Thank you for your question.

    • profile image

      Niki 2 months ago

      Love your article! I too live on a small organic farm (13 acres in Zambia, to be exact!) I have used neem oil both medicinally and as a pesticide in the past. Recently a friend gave me a jar of neem powder which he made on his farm. I want to try it out, but am not sure how much to use! Any thoughts?! Thanks so much! x

    • Blond Logic profile image
      Author

      Mary Wickison 3 months ago from Brazil

      It appears they do grow in parts of Florida. I will say they don't like to be in standing water. They put a tap root down which can go deep, more than the height of the tree. We are very close to our water table here and although I didn't lose any neems (although, they did go yellow and lose a lot of leaves), I lost a curry tree (sweet neem) due to the roots being underwater for maybe a month.

      They are such an attractive tree, I hope you can find it. There is a place called Neem Tree Farm in Brandon, FL. I know nothing about them other than their details on the internet. Your local nursery might even have them.

      People here trim them into almost a solid shelter of foliage which is ideal as shade but is so thick it will kill the grass underneath. Other than all the seeds they drop, I can't think of a bad thing about the neem tree. We have them growing close to the house for shade but the birds and the monkeys love the juice from the olive-sized casing which surrounds the seed.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 3 months ago from Central Florida

      I love organic, sustainable solutions to pest problems, Mary. I had no idea just how sustainable Neem trees are. Ten feet of growth per year! Wow! I wonder if Neem trees grow in Central Florida. I'll have to look into it.

    • Blond Logic profile image
      Author

      Mary Wickison 3 months ago from Brazil

      Hello Chitrangada,

      The neem tree has so many uses, and until I moved to Brazil, was unaware of it.

      I need to explore more of its medicinal properties. We often look on Indian websites for natural ways of using the plants we have growing on our farm.

      Thanks for reading and your suggestion.

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 3 months ago from New Delhi, India

      Neem is an amazing tree with multiple benefits. You have described the process in easy to understand manner. I am sure it will help many readers.

      Besides that Neem is also used for medicinal purposes in Ayurveda. And nothing like an antiseptic head bath with neem leaves boiled water.

      Thanks for sharing this useful information!

    • Blond Logic profile image
      Author

      Mary Wickison 4 months ago from Brazil

      Hi Dora,

      It is an amazing tree and from what I read, does grow in the Caribbean. This mixture is easy to make and I'm certain your neighbours will be able to benefit from using it as we have.

      Thanks for reading.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 4 months ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks for this information on the neem leaf and its uses as pesticide. Until now, I had only heard of neem tea. I will recommend this article to my Caribbean neighbors.

    • Blond Logic profile image
      Author

      Mary Wickison 4 months ago from Brazil

      Hi Marlene,

      You're right it is a beautiful and useful tree. Although native to India, it is now found in many countries.

      In India, it is used in ayurvedic medicines although here in Brazil, it's used mainly for shade, and its insect repellent properties.

      Thanks for reading.

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 4 months ago from Northern California, USA

      I am a big fan of organic pesticides. I have never heard of the Neem tree, but it is a beautiful tree. I wish I could grow it here. Lots of uses for this tree. Thank you for explaining the many ways to use it effectively.

    • Blond Logic profile image
      Author

      Mary Wickison 4 months ago from Brazil

      Hi Jennifer,

      Glad you liked it. I hope that you will be able to apply this information to your own garden or farm.

    • JenniferSilv profile image

      JenniferSilv 4 months ago

      Awesome!!! Thanks for the info.

    • Blond Logic profile image
      Author

      Mary Wickison 4 months ago from Brazil

      I'm glad you found it interesting. Our trees are doing well, we are now in our wet season and they are going through a growth spurt.

      I'm a firm believer in Mother Nature wanting a healthy balance and provides the answers to many problems.

      Thanks for reading.

    • chspublish profile image

      chspublish 4 months ago from Ireland

      I really enjoyed this hub as I love finding out how growers deal with insect problems organically. You have explained the process very well in how to use neem tree leaves as a spray. I hope your coconuts are thriving.

    • Blond Logic profile image
      Author

      Mary Wickison 4 months ago from Brazil

      RTalloni ,

      Not sure which area you live it but it may be possible to grow it if you're in the southern States.

      I know in India they make a 'neem cake' of compressed neem leaves and use it in their gardens as a fertilizer. I think it also helps with nematodes.

      Thanks for your visit today.

    • Blond Logic profile image
      Author

      Mary Wickison 4 months ago from Brazil

      Hi Bill,

      This tree grows like crazy here, in fact, my lawn is covered in small neem trees which have sprouted. It is considered an invasive plant in some countries. You may have seen it used in repellents, shampoos, skin treatments etc.

      For us, it is used for the coconut trees and we spray around the house to retard insects.

      Great to hear from you.

    • Blond Logic profile image
      Author

      Mary Wickison 4 months ago from Brazil

      Hi Peg,

      That is a shame about your Ash trees. You've touched on something I didn't mention in my article, boring insects.

      We have a few different ones which can get into our coconut trees. We lost one to the boring insect and burned the tree to rid us of any possible eggs. That was about 3 years ago.

      There is also another type of microscopic insect which burrows under the young coconut, resulting in a dead nut. This is an ongoing problem so we spray as soon as a new flower pod of coconuts open. Coconuts are self-pollinating within the pod so we don't need any helpers which may be carrying a potential problem with them.

      If we think of the neem solution as a protective repellent on the tree instead of a pesticide, you can see why it needs to be an ongoing exercise.

      I'm pleased you found this interesting, thanks for reading.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 4 months ago from the short journey

      Thanks for sharing your method of making a repellent from neem oils. I'll be checking to see if we can get a tree for growing in our area. I would like to mix chopped neem in with mulch.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 months ago from Olympia, WA

      How to use it? I've never heard of it, or the tree. LOL But I love that you believe in organic and it's always nice to learn new things, so thank you for the education.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 4 months ago from Dallas, Texas

      This is incredible. You've described the process in such a way that it sounds easy, although, I would imagine time consuming. I love that you made your own solution to the pest problem. I'd heard that Neem oil will deter boring beetles but when I used it, I was too late and the bugs had already destroyed one of the Arizona Ash trees we'd had for many years. Thanks for sharing this interesting method of pest control.