Skip to main content

How neem oil can help you control houseplant pests

If you’re a houseplant enthusiast who’s ever dealt with the headache of pests, chances are that you’ve probably heard of neem oil, which is supposedly a holy grail pesticide that’s natural, safe, and affordable. But just exactly what is neem oil and is it really as effective as it’s made out to be? For all your curious questions about neem oil, we’ve compiled a comprehensive guide to everything you need to know about this miracle worker in the plant world.

Neem plant
Image used with permission by copyright holder

What is neem oil?

Neem oil is derived from neem tree seeds, which are broken open and pressed for oil. The neem tree is believed to be native to tropical and dry forests in India and other parts of South Asia, where it has been a key ingredient in traditional Ayurvedic medicine. Clear yellow in color, it has a bitter taste and a sulfur and garlic smell. For centuries, people have used neem oil for personal care items such as toothpaste and beauty products. Today, many gardeners view it as a reliable go-to for pest control.

How does neem oil work to control pests?

The active component in neem oil that helps repel pests is azadirachtin. This component essentially disrupts hormones in pests so they stop feeding, slowing down their growth and preventing their larvae from properly developing. Remember how we mentioned that it has a strong sulfur and garlic smell? This scent repels the pesky insects that you want to get rid of as well! Sometimes, neem can also suffocate insects if it contacts their breathing holes. Neem oil is especially helpful for managing pests such as mealybugs, thrips, scale, aphids, and more—essentially, these pests ingest the neem oil and then slowly die off. While gardeners primarily use neem to target pests, it can also be great for tackling and preventing fungal diseases such as powdery mildew.

Neem oil
Image used with permission by copyright holder

How to use neem oil on houseplant pests

You can always buy insecticidal neem oil from your local garden center that’s mixed and ready to use. But if you want to create your own mix that’s potentially stronger, you have that option. The rough formula for a neem oil mixture to control pests is one gallon of water with one or two tablespoons of raw neem oil—the exact quantity can have some leeway for experimentation. Since neem oil is, well, an oil, it needs an emulsifier to mix with water. One or two teaspoons of an insecticidal soap or mild dish soap can work effectively for this.

Pour your mixture into a sprayer and shake it up before use. Since pests typically feed on leaves, spray the solution directly onto the foliage. Do make sure that your plant has some shade or only receives indirect light, as neem oil can cause foliar burn when combined with direct sunlight. Additionally, don’t overdo the spraying since that can also damage leaves. If you have a sensitive plant, patch test your neem oil solution on a small leaf or two to see if any adverse reactions occur. Spray your foliage every week until you notice no more pests on it.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Pros and cons of neem oil

Pros of neem oil

Neem oil is a go-to for houseplant issues because it’s gentle and relatively easy to access. Gardeners enjoy using neem oil on plants because it’s naturally derived and (relatively) nontoxic, making it an appealing alternative to synthetic pesticides. Neem oil, in small, diluted quantities, is safe when used around pets and children. Additionally, neem oil usually doesn’t kill off beneficial pollinators such as ladybugs and bees since these critters don’t feed on foliage. Plus, the active component, azadirachtin, breaks down quickly after exposure to microbes and sunlight.

Cons of neem oil

One major drawback is that neem oil is a relatively indirect way of tackling pests, so it works more slowly than an insecticide that takes pests head on. As we’ve mentioned before, this natural pesticide can actually damage your plant if you’re not careful, so avoid spritzing it on plants that are overwatered, underwatered, or otherwise weak. When it comes to safety, there’s also the matter that in large quantities, neem oil can irritate the eyes, skin, and stomach, so it’s a good rule of thumb to keep it away from your kids and pets.

After spraying down pest-ridden plants with water and soap, your next best bet is neem oil. While this pesticide has its limitations, it’s worth a shot, given that it’s natural, gentle, and relatively accessible. With a spritz of neem on your foliage every week, you’ll have a strong chance at defeating those headache-inducing pests once and for all!

Editors' Recommendations

Stacey Nguyen
Stacey's work has appeared on sites such as POPSUGAR, HelloGiggles, Buzzfeed, The Balance, TripSavvy, and more. When she's…
5 fantastic backyard design apps to help you craft your own personal oasis
Design apps for your backyard to help you build and implement your landscape
Assorted plants with trees In the backyard

Do you ever feel the urge to shake things up in your backyard? Turn it into the oasis of the neighborhood and make it a gathering place for friends and family? To really envision something extraordinary, though — especially if you're having a hard time coming up with fantastic ideas — you might want to allow technology to help you out. Figuring out which app to use can be tricky though, especially if you aren't the most tech-savvy individual. That's where we come in! Here are our favorite five garden and backyard design apps that are simple to use and perfect for planning your space!

Landscaper's Companion – Plant & Gardening Guide
A great app to help you with landscaping your backyard is Landscaper's Companion. With a database of more than 26,000 plants and 21,000 photos, it can help provide you with a ton of information when considering which plants would look best in your yard. It is currently only available for the iPhone.

Read more
Zone 10a planting guide: Here’s what you need to know about what you can plant
Zone 10a plants and their growing schedules
Woman reading book by plants

Consisting of the southernmost parts of the U.S., zone 10a is a rich region for a wide range of plants. While you might need to keep an eye out for your tender herbs and cold-hardy plants, many flowers, succulents, and plants can thrive in zone 10a's warm temperature outdoors. Below, we've put together a zone 10a planting guide to break down all that you need to know about this welcoming environment for nourishing foliage life.

What is a climate zone? 
With the Plant Hardiness Zone Map, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has divided the country into 13 different climate zones based on average annual minimum temperature ranges. Zone 1 has the coolest temperatures, while Zone 13 has the warmest ones.

Read more
What types of plants can you grow from garden boxes? You’ll be surprised with all your options!
Your comprehensive guide to choosing and setting up a garden box
Garden boxes with legs

Growing plants in containers can be a convenient way to enjoy harvests when you don’t have time or energy to build full-blown garden beds or manage crops directly planted in the ground. However, there may be times when you simply need bigger containers.

There’s where garden boxes come in. While they may sometimes be conflated with raised garden beds, garden boxes are often smaller and much more transportable than beds — many also come with convenient features like wheels and legs, too! If you feel curious about garden boxes, we’ve got you covered with a comprehensive guide on what they are and what you can plant in them.

Read more