You may have heard of using neem oil in your vegetable garden as an organic, safe pesticide that won’t harm birds or beneficial insects, if applied properly.
But what about fruit trees? In this guide, we’ll investigate how to safely use neem oil on a variety of fruit trees, as well as explore how neem oil protects your trees, the best times of year to apply neem oil, and times to avoid spraying neem oil on your fruit trees.
Is It Safe to Use Neem Oil on Fruit Trees?
Yes! When prepared and applied properly, neem oil is a very safe and effective organic solution that solves many a gardener’s woes in regard to fungal and bacterial disease on fruit trees as well as insect pests. It is safe to use on fruit trees, nut trees, and most vegetable plants.
Neem oil is made from the seeds of the neem tree and has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine. Records show neem oil to be one of the oldest known medicinal oils, and it is still used in many health and beauty products today.
In your garden and orchards, neem oil is indispensable, allowing you to treat many common problems without the use of chemicals. Neem oil has been deemed non-toxic; safe for humans and mammals, biodegradable, and when applied properly, will not harm birds, bees, butterflies, ladybugs, or earthworms.
That being said, neem oil is considered mildly toxic to fish and other aquatic life, so do not use neem oil near ponds, lakes, or rivers. And, of course, store neem oil away from children and pets, who may accidentally ingest an unsafe quantity.
What Fruit Trees Are Neem Oil Friendly?
You can use neem oil on the following trees:
What Does Neem Oil Do for Fruit Trees?
Neem oil can be used to treat many fruit tree diseases, such as:
- Alternaria Leaf Blotch
- Anthracnose Canker
- Apple Scab
- Black Spot
- Bacterial Canker
- Cedar Apple Rust
- Pear Scab
- Cherry Leaf Spot
- Quince Rust
- Peach Leaf Curl
- Perennial Canker
- Powdery Mildew
- Plum Curculio
As well as control insect infestations from over 200 species, including:
- Spider Mites
- Leaf rollers
- Leaf Hoppers
- Codling Moths
- Woolly Apple Aphids
- White Flies
- Japanese Beetles
A solution made from organic, cold-pressed neem oil works in two ways. As a root drench, it can be applied to the soil, halting many insects while still in a larvae or egg stage. This is particularly useful for insects like Japanese beetles, which start out as grubs beneath the surface.
As a spray applied topically, the neem oil will kill many smaller insects on contact by suffocation. On larger insects, it will affect their ability to feed, fly, or reproduce, and soften the exoskeleton of hard bodied insects, rendering them defenseless against predators.
Neem oil also is reported to have a scent and flavor that most insects find unappealing, causing them to find a different food source.
How Do You Mix Neem Oil for Fruit Trees?
Purchase only pure, cold-pressed neem oil to ensure your success, I use Plantonix neem bliss you can see here. If neem oil is exposed to heating when being processed, it will denature the active ingredient, Azadirachtin, rendering it ineffective.
Neem oil must be diluted with water to safely use it on your trees. If you have a variety of fruit trees on your property, it’s best to use a mild solution, as some trees, (like pears), are more sensitive than others, (like apples).
The following solution is weak enough to be used on all fruit trees:
- Mix 3 teaspoons of neem oil with 4 gallons of warm (not hot) water. Add a few squirts of dish soap as an emulsifier and shake the mixture well.
How to Use Neem Oil on Fruit Trees?
- Choose the right time of day – Neem oil should never be applied in full sunlight, or when temperatures exceed 85 degrees F, as it may cause foliage burn. It’s best to apply neem oil at daybreak or dusk, which also reduces risk to pollinators.
- Use a lawn and garden sprayer with a wand to be able to reach higher branches. If spraying several trees at once, it may be helpful to invest in a larger sprayer that can be worn backpack style. This will allow both hands to be free.
- Wear gloves and eye protection, as neem oil may cause minor irritation to exposed skin.
- Spray the solution in a back-and-forth motion, coating all the leaves, stems, branches, fruit and trunk. Try to spray the underside of leaves, as well, as this is a common place for insects to lay eggs. Excess solution may be used as a soil drench simultaneously.
Do not spray a fruit tree with open blossoms, as neem oil may harm pollinators if the wet oil comes into contact with their bodies. Oil trapped in an open flower blossom will be slow to dry, even if applied in the evening.
How Often Should You Spray Neem Oil on Fruit Trees?
1. Late winter – You can start spraying neem oil on your fruit trees at the end of winter, while the trees are still dormant. It is especially beneficial to use neem oil as a soil drench at this stage, to stop the development of eggs and larvae that have wintered over in the soil.
2. Early spring – When leaf tips emerge, spray the tree thoroughly, rake the ground beneath the tree, and use a soil drench.
3. When flower buds are pink and closed – spray the tree again. Once the flowers open, you’ll need to stop spraying.
4. Immediately after flowers drop – for best results, rake underneath the tree and remove fallen flowers. Spray the tree thoroughly and use a soil drench.
5. Wait 3 weeks – Spray the leaf canopy and emerging fruits.
6. Spray every two weeks – until a week before harvest. If you notice an insect infestation, increase the frequency of spraying to once every 7 days, but keep a sharp eye on your foliage. If you notice the leaves beginning to develop white/tan patches that are dry (leaf burn), back off on your spraying.
Can You Spray Neem Oil Directly on Growing Fruits?
Yes. Spraying neem oil on your growing fruits will help prevent insects such as caterpillars and ants from eating them.
How Long After Spraying Neem Oil Can You Eat Fruit?
It is recommended to wait one week before eating fruit that has been treated with neem oil. This is not a matter of toxicity, but of taste. Always wash the fruit thoroughly to remove any neem oil residue before eating.
Neem oil is a great option for organic gardeners wishing to control pests and diseases on their fruit trees. It is important to remember that neem oil is not an instant fix. Your best results will be seen if neem oil is used on a regular schedule, as preventative maintenance for your fruit trees.
In conjunction with the use of neem oil, you should still implement good gardening practices, such as keeping the ground below your fruit trees clear of fallen leaves and debris, pruning, and removing dying or diseased leaves, using an appropriate fertilizer for your variety of fruit tree, and ensuring your trees stay hydrated by supplementing water when in a dry season.
A healthy tree is much more able to fight disease and pests. Neem oil can be a very useful tool for organic gardeners, but it’s crucial to use it correctly to reduce risk to pollinators.
Michelle Weaver is a former pastry chef of thirty years who reinvented herself during the pandemic, now happily earning a living through freelance writing and selling her art. She and her significant other live in an 1895 farmhouse in North Carolina, where they have several acres, allowing her to garden to her heart’s content. When she’s not playing in the dirt, she enjoys hiking in the nearby mountains, creating new vegetarian recipes, and photographing the wildlife that comes to visit.