Been There, Neem That – Using Neem Oil

Do you see those lovely, lovely zucchini?  Are they not the most lovely zucchini in the whole, wide, freaking world?  They are to me and I will tell you why.  Â  Because I grew them in my very own garden.   I can hear what you are thinking, “yeah, you and everyone else.   I get so many of them that I grow them like baseball bats just so the kids have something to play with.”

I know that everyone and their cousin Bob can grow zucchini, but up until this year, I have not yet been successful with this seemingly easy plant.   In fact, I have not been able to get a squash plant of any kind to for darn near 8 years.   How crazy is that?

The reason was vine borers. Every year those insidious little fuckers would invade my squash plants like Russian spies in the American suburbia.   Quietly and stealthily they would bore into the base of the squash plant,  and run a destructive gauntlet down the hollow core of the plant.

I tried the covering, I tried the surveillance and seek and destroy, but every time they got past me.   But not this year. This year I had a secret weapon and that was neem oil.   The best damn pesticide I have ever, ever used.

Ah, right now so many of you are scurrying to the bottom of this post to leave a comment that starts with “But Hanna” that I can hear the collective squeak of mouse roller balls.   But if you don’t know about neem oil, you need to finish reading this post.   I swear you will be amazed.

You are thinking how could I use a pesticide on my garden.   Think of the bees. Think of the butterflies.  How could I be such a ruthless bitch all for the sake of a few zucchini. Ah-ha! I will say back to you.   I am not.   (Ok, maybe you were not thinking that. Maybe I am just paranoid.)

#1 most awesome thing about neem oil — it only kills bad bugs and does not harm good bugs (or people or pets for that matter).  

As a matter of fact, bee keepers have been experimenting with neem oil to try to treat mite infections in bees.   They found that you had to use a high percentage solution of neem oil to even start to hurt bees.   Neem oil is typically sold at a high solution percentage and then diluted to a very low solution percentage before being applied.   Even extension services say that neem oil application in the home garden is safe for bees at any time.

#2 most awesome thing about neem oil — as mentioned, it is safe for people and pets.  

Don’t believe me, just go ask the approximately 1 BILLION Indian people who have been using it in cosmetics, medicines and as a contraceptive for generations. Studies have been done and the most dangerous thing they can come up with is that if you eat a lot of it, over a long period of time, it may cause liver damage.   I don’t need to eat it.   I have my wine to help me with my liver damage, thank you very much.

#3 most awesome thing about neem oil — It works systemically.

All those other insecticidal oils wash right off if it rains or you water from above.   Neem oil gets into the plant.   Which is why it worked on my vine borers.  Â  Any part of the plant becomes dangerous to the bad bug, inside and out. So where normal pesticides would fail, because they only stay on the surface, neem oil can succeed because it moves through the plant.   So very cool.

 #4 most awesome thing about neem oil — It takes care of other gardening problems too.

Neem oil is also effective as a fungicide and a miticide.   All your gardening pest needs rolled into one.

I have to say that the only thing that neem oil lacks is that visceral satisfaction you get when watching harmful pests die.   Neem oil is not an instant kill pesticide.  It works like the Pax on Miranda.   For reasons science is still not clear on, they don’t fall over dead, they just “stop fighting…and then they stop doing everything else. They stop going to work, they stop breeding, talking, eating.”  Except about bad bugs, instead of innocent people.

Still, I can live without the quick kill as long as it works.   And, as evidenced by the fact that I now have more zucchini than I know what to do with, it does work.

P.S. Still waiting on ripe tomatoes. :(

44 thoughts on “Been There, Neem That – Using Neem Oil
  1. I am waiting for my tomatoes to ripen as well. It still quite cold here in northern CA.

    I have used neem quite a bit this year (Aphids on the Brassicas, scales, leaf hoppers and many more unknowingly). I haven’t seen a reduction in my bumble bee, or other pollinating insects. I love neem soaps, they are awesome for skin troubles

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  2. JenP on

    So how do you use it? Are you mixing your own solution or using something off-the-shelf?

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    Hanna Reply:

    I buy the 70% neem solution and then that mixes like 1 tbs to one gallon of water for application.

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    Kay Reply:

    How often did you apply? I have tried it for borers w/o your success! You have inspired me to try next year.

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    Hanna Reply:

    I used it once a week for the first month or two after it was sprouted and then every couple weeks after that.

  3. Thanks for posting this. I live in Cleveland Heights, OH, and squash vine borers have destroyed pumpkins, cukes, squash, and zucchini for the last four years.

    Sure, for a few weeks, I get all the squash I can eat and then some. Then the borers turn the root stalk into a pile of wet sawdust.

    I’ve tried row covers. I’ve tried planting late. I’ve tried digging out and lancing the grubs. No joy.

    I’m going to get some of this neem oil.

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  4. i think my problem is not watering enough (sigh). also, the one cucuberm i got this year was biten by some random beasty (racoon?) – meanie.

    i have to rely on some of my more concientious friends that remember to water and then…yummy zuc bread, etc. happy to learn about neem oil, i may pass on the info to my brother who is trying to establish some bee hives around his house (re: treating mites).

    enjoy your zucs and send me reminders to water the tomatos ( :

    peace

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  5. Ok I am buying this TODAY!!! OMG between the little borer and the slugs I have been looking like a mad woman ass to the sky bent over amongst the greenery. (What’s left anyway) So far several cups of beer and my homemade garlic pepper spray has hindered some of the damage; but I am looking for longterm as it is pretty swampy hot here in Minnesota in August. Neem seems like it will leave me time for the pool instead of sweating to near death under my straw hat. Not to mention all the Skito Bites I’ve endured while hunting the green veggie suckers. Did I mention I love your blog? You keep me smiling, LOL’ng, and my brain abuzz with the best gardening tips. Just thought you should know!!! :o)

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  6. Ryan on

    I’m so happy that someone else has this problem. We lost all our vines last year and most of them this year to those damn borers. I also have no ripe tomatoes, but that’s because something keeps taking them before they get a chance to ripen. I keep hoping someone will post a blog with a solution to this problem. We have never been able to enjoy a vine ripe tomato (except for a few cherries).

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    julia Reply:

    The only thing I have found to keep out the robbers ie racoons squerrles possums ect is a powdered coyote urine repellant. I think it also has hot pepper scent. It seems to keep them away better than anything else I have tried.It is called DEER SCRAM.

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  7. I had to use neem oil for the first time this year too. I had an invasion of cucumber bettles. I also have 4 bee hives behind my garden and had no problems with the oil. It is a great find!

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  8. Katherine Isham on

    I love love love love neem oil. My rose plants were actually able to, y’know, bloom this year because of it.

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  9. We sell the 100% neem. It’s labeled as a leaf shine, not a pesticide. Never the less it’s used more as a pesticide. Very safe to use and an important tool in the organic gardening world.

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  10. deniseinark on

    I was a neem convert starting about 4 or 5 years ago. It is completely fabulous! The extension agent tells me it works because the systemic action means it causes the mouth parts to swell up when the bugs bite and they can’t eat anymore. Since good bugs don’t suck/chew plants, it doesn’t hurt hurt them. Most neem oil is in an ultrafine paraffin base, so you want to be kinda careful about sunshine and the kinds of plants you put it on. It is fabulous for rusts, blights, mites, thrips, powdery mildew…the list goes on. Realize how good it is in your garden, then check out how good it is in (or on) your body as well. Just this morning a read a haircare blog where a big-time Hollywood hairdresser uses it on his celebrity clients.

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  11. Linda on

    Thanks for writing about neem oil; heard about it earlier in the season but did not follow up on purchase. So you are using it as a spray? I have read that for those dastardly SVB’s you should inject the neem into the stem? Or maybe that was a Bt solution. Don’t know. Didn’t grow squash this year as those buggers got my winter squash last year :(
    What’s up w/ no ripe tomatoes for you? I’m in Lakewood and I’m happily up to my eyeballs in them…Matina (which is an early variety) but also Vorlon {awesome taste}, Paul Robeson, Japanese Black Triefle and German Johnson have all had multiples. And the cherries…my god! Perhaps this does not bode well for a harvest into autumn??? I’m curious as to when you planted, perhaps that would explain the difference?

    Love your blog!

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  12. Will this work on crunchy bugs, like Japanese Beetles?

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    Hanna Reply:

    Any bug that chews on a plant is affected. But, with Japanese beetles, you may have an issue with more coming from other locations and since it is not a quick kill pesticide, it won’t be effective keeping new ones from coming into your yard.

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  13. I found this really interesting, I’ve got a bottle of neem oil languishing in my garden shed (toolbox in the laundry) waiting for a not windy and/or rainy day to use it on my camellia which is being monstered by every bastard bug in the garden.
    My bottle says in the ‘warning’ section not to use on edibles but I’ve read so many blogs, books, comments from people who do and have no adverse affects from this.
    I’m wondering if it’s Australian overzealous health and safety laws coming into play with this.
    I actually bought neem oil after reading rave reviews about it as a safe product for edibles but after reading the warning I’m now not sure – hence the languishing!

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  14. deniseinark on

    I can’t even imagine why there would be a warning on the neem. Check the ingredients – maybe there is something besides neem in it. You can buy neem in toothpaste (Tom’s of Maine – don’t know if you can get that Down Under, though.) It is DEFINITELY ok to use on edibles, if it’s just neem and not some other chemical.

    As to the “crunchy” bugs…yeah…not so good on grasshoppers for the same reason.

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  15. JeananaMO on

    I love this post. I too have not harvested one single squash. As I walked through my garden last night I was feeling particularly beaten down. All of the squash plants died (squash vine borers also) and now the tomato plants are all dying with verticullum (sp?) wilt or something. Very depresssing. I’ll look and see if I can find the neem oil. To work so hard and then…. it all went to hell in a handbag! Anybody got any ideas on how to help the tomatoes? Possibly I should just close up shop for a year. I don’t know.

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    David Reply:

    We have our first totally miserable experience with tomato vine borers this year. Hope neem helps. BT injected in squash vines helps a lot for them, no use on tomatoes.

    What we did for verticillium wilt – which always attacks us, except for this very hot dry year – is this: Since the bottom 4 feet of the plant will be dead by the end of August, grow plants 9 feet high. Big Boy plants will easily do this, if they have a big enough cage. We bought a roll of concrete reinforcing mesh. The tomato first gets a standard $1.79 cage, then a 6′ piece of 5′ mesh rolled up, then another 2 1/2 foot high rolled up piece on that. Then roll up another 11′ piece, and use three 6′ steel farm fence posts to support it 3′ off the ground. A healthy Big Boy will fill this cage so you can hardly see it. We canned 70 quarts off of three plants in 2009. In 2005 one of the plants made 50 quarts by itself. We don’t fertilize, but water twice a week to a 5′ diameter. This is southern Wisconsin.

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  16. JeananaMO on

    Do you spray the entire plant? I don’t see how you apply it and I’m so ignorant about all this stuff.

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    Hanna Reply:

    I just put it in a spary bottle and spray the plant down. Just that easy. :)

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  17. So Deniseinark prompted me to check the label on the product that I bought and when this was inconclusive I rang the company phone number printed on the bottle and queried the warning on the label.

    Long story short, it came down to the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicine Authority declaring themselves unhappy with some of the submitted data from the origin company, and requesting further testing which would have resulted in animal deaths, and so the company chose to market the product for non-edible use only.

    It was an interesting phone call, thanks Hanna for this post and Deniseinark for her suggestion, I now know more about neem oil and the APVMA than I ever thought I would!

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    deniseinark Reply:

    @CrazyGardenLady: I am so happy that you responded to this. What great news to hear that the company had more interest in their moral integrity than in expanding their product market. So did you decide to go ahead and use it on your edibles after all? Isn’t it terrible that the misinformation on the label came down to someone not filling out red-tape applications to some bureaucrat’s satisfaction? I mean, that same person surely has access to at LEAST the same information that we have access to here, and WE know it’s safe.

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  18. patty in Cleveland on

    K, yep, gonna get me some of this Neem Oil…I didn’t even bother with cucumbers this year because of the inevitable vine collapse. Thanks Hanna, you give me hope!

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  19. Mitch on

    THANK YOU!!! Wow, you’ve given me a second wind! I have spent all summer battling a vine borer population which a carefree neighbor has probably been nurturing for who-knows-how-many years. I have an arsenal of weapons that I’ve been using (the most successful so far has been toothpicks jabbed into the frassy holes the demon-bugs have been boring). I just finished wiping the frothy drool from my latest crazed killing spree (I do say some rather nasty things to the ones I manage to kill) when I came across your article from a google search. I had decided that I was just going to give up on squash altogether. I had 3 kinds – spaghetti, zuke, and crookneck – that all fell prey to the slimy maggots and just beat my willpower down to nothing. You have inspired me to try again next year, and I can’t wait. You’ve earned yourself another reader, an obsessed gardener to make everything count! This has been the first ray of hope in the dim world of vine borer control I’ve been able to find.

    Thanks thanks thanks!

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  20. deniseinark on

    When having problems with borers, be sure to check the undersides of the leaves. Anywhere you see a little cluster of brown balls stuck to the underside, you want to get rid of them. Those are borer eggs and nothing good is going to come from letting them hatch.

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    Amanda Reply:

    Actually, the clusters of eggs under the leaves are squash bugs, not squash vine borers. Totally different animal, but still harmful to the squash. Squash vine borers lay single eggs scattered on the stems. Much harder to find and get rid of.

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  21. What a great post! Both hilarious and informative. I also have problems with the dreaded vine borers that up till now I’ve used Sevin for. I’ll try the neem…next year, since once I stopped the Seven this year, my two plants collapsed :)

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  22. Short and sweet informative content about Neem oil. Credits to the author. Learning from experience is the best concept but I think the readers of this esteem article will avoid the mistakes which the author have gone through. once again thanks for sharing:)

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  23. I had issues with my squash-likes this year too. Sure enough I found little grabs all through the roots. A neighbor told me to sprinkle ash liberally all over the roots. Within a couple days there were new little leaves poking up. Sadly with the huge setback I’m not expecting any fruit before the frost but I’ll try ash next year at the outset.

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  24. Tricialyn on

    My tomatoes have mites; I have been using neem oil, but I got to it a bit late. I’ve lost nearly all the leaves, but there are several small tomatoes that finally seem to be slowly ripening. The thing I haven’t been able to find out is if it will hurt to spray the neem oil on the fruit.

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  25. Because someone mentioned toothpaste, I have this little nugget to add – before toothpastes came into being, people were using neem twigs, fresh off the tree, to brush their teeth. The procedure, as well as the twig is called ‘datun’. You chew one end of the twig thoroughly, and use that for rubbing your teeth as required. Basically acted like a germicidal mouthwash I guess. When I was young, the idea of using something so bitter was appalling, but now I wonder if it is not actually better! Imagine how good everything else will taste in comparison!

    Another use of neem leaves is to keep moths away – put lots of them with your woollens! We still use that one, when we get the leaves that is. Unfortunately, in urban India, this is difficult.

    Sorry for rambling on. Just thought this might be of interest :)

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  26. thanks for these tips. I’ve battled the borers in the past too, to less success. Though I can grow butternut squash and they tend to leave it alone. I figure… by the time the squash borers do there thing, powdery mildew will hit anyways, so why bother. I’ll just pull it up, compost it all (actually, this year, I burned the vines to kill any bugs and eggs, then composted tne ash), and plant a fall crop.

    But something that can control both powdery mildew AND vine borers… sign me up. I just ordered some on Amazon, should be here Thursday. I’ve heard about Neem before, but it, like BT, I can never find locally (at least, last time I checked) so I always put it off. The testimonial from a real gardener, and one that I know isn’t just going to jump on and promote something because it is “green”, tipped the scales for me. Besides, Amazon has it on free shipping now.

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  27. maggie lupton on

    We were going away for the weekend and brought my colley plant into the enclosed deck because it was being eaten. I liberally sprayed with neem. We returned three days later and it was almost eaten up. I don’t understand.

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  28. Awesome! I’ve been fighting those SVB bastards for years now! Picking off those damned little eggs, injecting the vine with BT, covering, wrapping the vines with foil…. It’s not worth the effort AT ALL to me, but I keep doing it because my wife loves squash so much. I’ve got some small squash plants now for a fall garden, I’m going to spray them tomorrow if it stops raining.

    Thanks so much, Hanna. Long time listener, first time caller. Or whatever.

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  29. Dr_mags on

    Interesting posts and blog about neem oil. I’m looking for a substitute for derris dust to prevent asparagus leaf beetle (I’m based in UK). Being a scientist I went looking for evidence that neem oil works and is non-toxic. I came across this abstract to a review by a very well-known and respected university http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15261960 which says that there is little toxocity when used appropriately on foodstuffs.
    I’ll certainly try neem next year.

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  30. THANK YOU so much for posting this. I’ve been struggling with my zucchini plants for the last 2 years and didn’t want to use harmful pesticides in my garden. I can’t WAIT to try neem oil in the spring. When and how often did you apply it to your seedlings?

    Also, thank you for the Firefly reference – I forgot about it until I read your quote. I LOVE garden blogs. hahaha.

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    Adam teaser - Neem oil expert Reply:

    Hi lisa! i’m new to this board and saw yor question so thought of answering to it being an experienced neem oil user! I have been using neem oil for past 7 to 8 years and also experimented a lot using this magic oil.. During spring it needs a special attention while spraying on plants.. you need to spray mostly during night times at such periods in order to avoid leaf curls. Yes Neem oil has the effect of causing curls in leaf when exposed to sunlight. For seedlings, it is too harsh to spray Pure neem oil and even after dilution it is not advised.. Instead you can use neem oil granules or pellets mixed with the soil for enrichment before planting the seedlings during spring. Hope you reap better out of it!

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  31. How I enjoy a site full of political incorrectness…have had a gutful of it ! I now feel so good after a good laugh.

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