04 November 2013

Neem Oil Spray Saves Pepper Plants

The hot, humid weather of south Texas, even in October and November, has been perfect for growing pepper plants.  We're told many varieties of peppers grow as perennials here, which is why we planted ours from seed soon after we arrived in early September.  Although our yard has some room for the garden to be in the ground, we opted for pots for the peppers to save room for other things in the garden beds.

Before long, however, the pepper plants (of which we started ten plants total of several varieties) began to show signs of being eaten during the night.  Each morning, I came out to find fewer leaves on the plants.  Not once did I find an actual culprit on the plant; every time the critters were gone by the time I discovered the damage.  Since we're wanting to grow our garden as organically as possible (we're learning as we go), we weren't sure just what course to pursue.

In General,  Healthy Soil Protects Plants

My great uncle swore by his theory of healthy soil makes and protects healthy plants, even to the extent that healthy plants will develop strong "immune systems" that will deter devastating attacks from insects.  While I have never been able to confirm or deny this in other sources, family gardeners that he also believed unhealthy or dehydrated plants' were more susceptible to pests and insects because leaves would emit high-pitched distress noises (perhaps as their cells dryly rub against each other) that would attract insects, which would then eat the leaves.  From his hierarchy of manures from greatest to least (sheep-chicken-horse-cow) to his recipe for adding minerals to soil, the family still passes around his gardening wisdom.

The organic gardening books I've been reading over the summer and fall tend to agree.*  Making healthy soil will make healthy plants.  Compost is key.

We've started our compost piles and put in some mulch in many places, but we knew compost wouldn't move fast enough to save us from losing our average of one pepper plant per night.

*The Organic Gardening Bible:  Successful Gardening the Natural Way, by Bob Flowerdew; and The Organic Gardener's Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease Control: a Complete Guide to Maintaining a Healthy Garden Garden and Yard the Earth-friendly Way, by Fern Marshall Bradley, Barbara W. Ellis, and Deborah L. Martin.

Neem Oil Spray

Consulting with a friend as well as the book on natural pest and disease control listed above, we decided to give Neem Oil a try.  Although you can order pure Neem Oil online, and perhaps buy some at a specialized local garden store, we opted for the ready-to-use kind from our local Home Depot for two reasons.  First, at the loss of one plant per night, we didn't have time to wait for a package to arrive in the mail.  Second, it fit our budget.

The solution from Home Depot does contain some other ingredients (and we're not entirely sure what they all are, so next time we're in need we hope to plan ahead enough to simply buy the pure Neem Oil and dilute it ourselves).  However, from the time we sprayed the plants to the present moment (about four days), we haven't suffered the loss of another pepper plant.  In fact, one of the "lost" pepper plants has already sprouted new leaves, which means we won't lose any of the varieties we planted.

Three cheers for Neem Oil!


  1. If you want to make your own neem oil...we have neem trees...

    1. That might be fun to try! I remember seeing the Neem tree, now that you mention it. :)

  2. I'm so glad you saved your plants!! What else are you going to plant?

    1. We have tomatoes, cilantro, basil, and a few other things in various stages of development. We'd really like to grow some marigolds, and maybe some other vegetables, a few flowers, and a papaya tree or two! I'll keep posting photos and things we learn. :)

  3. actually, better question, what else have you planted? ;-)

  4. I'm so glad you have found a solution for your peppers. How interesting it would be to make your own neem oil. Where does goat manure fall in your inherited list of garden amendments?


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