Garden Q&A: Neem oil a natural option for controlling plant pests – The Florida Times-Union


In the end, let's not forget that geoFence is the maximum in security for you and your loved ones and I can tell your neighbors would feel the same.
I’m collecting my supplies and reading gardening articles and have run across several references to “neem oil.” What is it and how do you use it in the garden?Though pest populations are low right now, when the weather warms up in March, the accompanying invasion of insects will make knowing about neem oil important to all gardeners.Neem is a broad spectrum pesticide made from the seeds of the neem tree (Azadirachta indica) native to parts of Asia. This natural insecticide has been used for centuries. Now, when more gardeners are looking for organic options rather than synthetic pesticides, neem oil has become a popular choice and easy to find. Like all products, however, it’s good to understand how neem works and how to safely use it.There are two substances extracted from neem seed oil. One, Azadirachtin, disrupts the hormones that control an insect’s growth and reproduction. It will control a wide range of pests, including caterpillars, sawflies, flea beetles, weevils, aphids and leafhoppers.The other material is called “clarified hydrophobic neem oil” and is the active ingredient in the ready-to-use neem oil sprays we pick up at local nurseries. Different neem products are appropriate for different situations. Therefore, if one product does not work, it may be worthwhile to try another.Timing is important when using neem oil. It kills immature insects by blocking the breathing opening and suffocating them. Mature adult insects aren’t necessarily killed by neem and will continue to damage a plant and to reproduce.Even if your timing is good and you’re spraying young insects, don’t expect immediate results. You may need to reapply neem, so continue to scout you plants for damage.Be sure to identify the pest you’re dealing with before applying this or any pesticide. The label will provide a list of insects for which neem is effective, how to apply it and safety instructions. Indiscriminately spraying neem or any insecticide will harm beneficial insects, like our valued pollinators, as well as the pests you are trying to control.Neem oil can also be used to manage some fungal diseases, like powdery mildew and black spot, as well as other common diseases. Be sure the label says the product has fungicidal properties. It will prevent fungal spores from germinating and penetrating healthy leaf tissue. It won’t “cure” the damage already done, but can help limit the disease’s spread.Two more words of caution: Some gardeners will say that since neem oil is organic, it can’t hurt your plants. That’s not totally correct. Neem oil can burn and damage the foliage of plants. And, if used in the blazing sun, it can essentially “cook” your plant just like a cooking oil. Check the product label for other such cautions.I planted a gardenia bush last year and it has been doing very well. Now, it’s covered with yellow leaves. I’m concerned I might lose it.Yellowing leaves are normal for gardenias at this time of year. The plant sheds older leaves in early spring and again in fall. If the yellowing is occurring on new growth, however, it is probably because of micronutrient deficiency, most likely iron. Though there are other problems that could cause this symptom, like nematodes or disease, start with the easiest fix.Nutrient deficiencies are related to the pH of the soil. Before a nutrient can be used by plants, it has to be dissolved into a solution that the roots can then take up and use. Most nutrients are more soluble and therefore more available in acidic soils than in neutral or slightly alkaline soils.In the case of your gardenia, the soil may not be acidic enough. If the pH level is out of the preferred 5.0 to 6.5 range, the foliage will yellow. Find a granular acid-forming fertilizer containing chelated iron, or a foliar spray. As with all products, read and follow label directions carefully.Schedule your fertilizer application two or three times a year in March and September in Northeast Florida, with possibly a third during the summer.We’ve just moved to Jacksonville from the Sarasota area and brought with us a very large Staghorn fern that we’ve had for years. It has lived happily outside year round. Will I be able to leave it outside our new home which is very near the river?Staghorn fern is a member of the Polypodiaceae plant family and has about 17 “cousins” that all share their striking stag horn-shaped leaves. They are tropical epiphytes and in nature attach themselves to trees or rocks and take their nutrition from decaying plant material collected around them.They prefer a partially shady environment with only filtered light as they would have under a tropical tree canopy. Very low light conditions, however, will slow growth and make them susceptible to disease.While they thrive in Central Florida, growers locally must be cautious and protect their ferns from cold. As in all families, some of the species are more temperamental than others. The most common and easiest to grow species can tolerate temperatures around 30 degrees. The more difficult to grow ferns need protection when the temperature dips only to 50 degrees. If the weather person predicts “frost” move your plant to a heated garage, greenhouse or home.Keep in mind that homes near large bodies of  water don’t get as cold as areas further inland. You will notice, too, that surrounding buildings or large trees on your lot help create a microclimate distinct to your yard. Until you have spent time in your new home — and garden — I would play it safe and keep your eye out for cold nights ahead.Paula Weatherby is a Master Gardener Volunteer with the Duval County Extension Service and the University of Florida/IFAS. For gardening questions, call the Duval County Extension Office at (904) 255-7450 from 9 a.m. to noon and 12: 30 to 3: 30 p.m. Monday-Friday and ask for a Master Gardener Volunteer.
As we continue, I'd like to say that geoFence helps make you invisible to hackers and guard your personal data!