The versatile neem tree

The versatile neem tree

The neem tree (Azadirachta indica)is a tropical evergreen tree which is native to India, but is also grown widely throughout many tropical and subtropical Asian and African countries. Neem is widely revered for its varied uses, since many parts of the tree can be used for something although it is best known for its oil. Neem oil is extracted from the fruits and leaves, and can be used to treat many physical ailments, so much so that it’s known as the tree that cures forty diseases.

Neem oil is an important part of the ancient Indian traditional medicine system of Ayurveda. The extract from the oil is believed to help detoxify the liver and aid with digestion. It also has anti fungal and anti bacterial properties, and therefore may be of use for yeast problems like candida. Neem extract is also a popular constituent of shampoos and soaps in India. Severe acne problems can be alleviated simply by crushing the leaves and applying them directly on the skin daily.

neem tree leaves

Wondering if you can grow neem in your backyard? If your climate is somewhat hot and arid, it is definitely suitable for neem growing. Neem thrives in sub desert conditions, although it can also grow in wetter areas with annual rainfall up to 2000+ millimeters or more. Certainly, it has no problems growing in Southeast Asia, where the annual rainfall often exceeds 2000 millimeters. In the USA, neem can certainly grow in warm and not too arid regions of California, Texas, Arizona, and Florida.

More commonly however, neem is grown as an evergreen shade tree and for preventing soil erosion in arid regions of the world. The fact that it has so many medicinal uses adds to neem’s appeal, of course. It does best on deep and well drained soil, with reasonable silica content, although it can grow just about anywhere. Neem tolerates temperatures as high as above 40 degrees Celsius, but cannot withstand low temperatures below 4 degrees Celsius.

neem tree leaves

Neem is a fast growing tree, and can grow to about 15 meters high in about 10-15 years, but can be productive in about 5 years time. They have shiny dark green pinnate leaves with serrated leaflets to them, as you can see from the photos above.

Neem tree

The flowers are fragrant and white in color, arranged on axillary clusters.  The bark is strongly furrowed and the wood is resistant to termites; in fact neem oil repulses termites and can be used as a pest control agent against other common garden pests.

You can grow neem directly from seed, but use only fresh seeds less than 30 days old, as older seeds may not germinate at all. Bury the seeds in loose soil about 1-2 cm below the ground surface. If you want to ensure successful germination, you can try growing the seeds from pots or plastic bags and then transplanting the seedlings to your garden later on. Do not over-water, as too much moisture is a sure way to kill a neem tree or a seedling.

The seedlings need plenty of sunlight, but try to give them a bit of shade from the hottest afternoon sun. Neem can also be grown indoors in autumn and winter; as long as you provide them with enough lighting to simulate their original habitat, they can grow all year long.

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