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Neem: A natural pesticide for your garden

Natasha Allen is a New York-based freelance writer and publishing veteran with more than 10 years of experience. She has written for and worked with media outlets like Womanrock.com, Global Black Woman, Essence Communications and Penguin...

Protect your garden naturally

For centuries, neem was one of India’s unofficial versatile treasures, known for its power to fend off and relieve illnesses. Today, it is a part of a growing class of natural pesticides and, potentially, a vital addition to any gardener’s arsenal. Many home gardeners favor the flora over synthetic products for stamping out insects and pests that ravage plants without causing harm to humans, wildlife, and the environment. The evergreen neem contains more than 70 compounds, like azadirachtin, which halt bugs from molting, feeding, and laying eggs. Neem is a natural alternative to toxin-rich, potentially health-harming pesticides.

Garden pest and neem oil precautions

1. Nip pest problems in the bud before severe infestation.

Neem oil works best under certain conditions: hot weather and immature, light insect populations. It doesn't provide a quick fix solution -- the oil must be reapplied consistently. Neem oil breaks down in sunlight after several days and easily washes off in rainy weather. "I think [farmers] want to see the kill of an insect within 24 hours of application, which should not be expected from neem," says Koul.

2. Know what is bugging your greenery before purchasing products.

"Figure out what pests you are trying to control before spraying anything so you can purchase a spray that will be effective," advises Ellis. "The vast majority of insects people see are either beneficial or benign and don't need any control at all."

3. Always wear gloves when handling neem insecticides.

Contact on the skin may cause dermatitis or inflammation for certain individuals. A 2008 study by George Washington University investigators found that one patient developed the disease after applying the oil for alopecia.

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