There are many ways to kill bugs, but there are not at all many ways to kill bugs that do not also kill everything around them. This has proven to be a headache for many pet owners, but just as often it disrupts the lives of plant owners as well. And whereas pets bring in fleas, plants can bring all sorts of strange bugs to your home.
That is why Neem Oil was developed. It is the oil extracted from the Neem tree and processed to be a long-lasting and effective bug killer. Uniquely among bug killers though, it is completely harmless to the plants the bugs usually consume and find shelter in. But how is it used? How do you apply neem oil to your plants?
Neem oil is best applied through a spray bottle, ideally after having been watered down. If concentrated and applied too liberally, the oil can kill plants, as it is still toxic. But that toxicity is well within the bounds of what a plant is able to handle, while still being more than a bug can take.
How Should Neem Oil Be Applied?
The first step to curing your plants of bugs is to mix your neem oil in some water. The best ratio is mixing one tablespoon of the oil for every quarter gallon of water. This will make sure the bugs die quickly and certainly while maintaining the health of your plants. If you have younger plants, double the amount of water.
While doubling the amount of water might seem extreme, keep in mind that you are playing it safe for the plants. Highly watered-down Neem oil is far easier to apply with care than highly potent Neem oil.
To give an example, if one squirt of mostly watered-down Neem oil does not work, a second squirt might. With only partially watered-down Neem oil, a second squirt will definitely work, but it will also definitely kill any young plants that are underneath the bug. The more you water it down, the easier it is to be precise.
Once you have your Neem oil and water mixed, pour it into a spray bottle, like the kind you would scare a disobedient cat with. Spray the bugs exactly where you see them—Neem oil can be a preventative measure, but it is best to just be used as a tool for killing exactly what you want to kill.
Use it too frequently in too great of amounts and what you will find is that your plants’ health will decline. As stated before, Neem oil is safe for plants, but only to a point. It is still toxic, but only if you apply it wrong.
How Does Neem Oil Work?
One of the first things you will notice whether you are using Neem oil yourself or reading its Amazon reviews is that Neem oil does not cause bugs to drop dead on the spot. This can be worrying for people who have not used it before or do not know how it works, as it makes it look like it doesn’t work.
Rest assured though if bugs are running away then it is working as intended. In fact, if the bugs are not dropping dead, neither are your plants. The thing is, Neem oil does not affect bugs and plants the same. What Neem oil does to bugs is that it disrupts most of their senses and much of their biology.
Bugs, like most living things, have a nervous system that tells them to seek out food to survive so that they can reproduce. Neem oil confuses these two main functions of the nervous system. First, it shatters their perception of where food is. They essentially smell food in all directions.
Considering that bugs usually find their pathways by this precise sense, this means that the bug can no longer go anywhere on purpose. It is at an eight-way intersection with no street signs or stoplights.
But perhaps most importantly, the bugs’ sense of when, where, and how to reproduce is completely destroyed by Neem oil. A chemical in Neem oil called a Limonoid causes the signals in the bug’s body to become scrambled, preventing it from effectively “thinking” about those things, insofar as a bug can think at all.
Is Neem Oil Safe For Humans?
The short answer is yes, Neem oil is harmless for humans. We navigate to find food differently, and we compute our methods and reasoning for reproduction differently than bugs.
Perhaps most importantly though, even if Neem oil affected humans negatively, it would take all the Neem oil in the world (plus a rather large spray bottle) to disorient one human. Not that it needs much emphasis, but this underlines the difference in complexity between the human nervous system and that of insects.
Is Neem Oil Safe For Plants?
This answer is a little more complicated than the same for humans. That is because the answer is both yes and no. It is yes because, as mentioned before, it takes an excess of Neem oil to damage a plant. And the answer is no because, unlike humans, it is entirely possible to use that much Neem oil.
The trick to keeping your plants safe while using Neem oil is not using the oil too readily. Watering it down is important since it gives you more precision in how much you are using. But the bigger factor to managing your Neem oil use is in doing it only when it is necessary. You should not use Neem oil regularly.
This is a warning meant to dissuade anyone who plans on using Neem oil every time they water their plants. This kind of home gardener is common, and their tendencies are understandable. Taking care of plants is usually routine. It is about habits. But because it is so effective, Neem oil can be a bad habit to build.
So, stay safe. Do not kill your plants while trying to protect them.