Fertilizing Neem Trees

 In Tips and Tricks

Neem trees are incredibly tough plants. They’ll grow in places where nothing else survives – like parts of the Sahara Desert where there’s no fertilizer and very little water – but they’ll thrive with a little love and attention.

All the neem trees we ship have been treated with beneficial microbes as part of our commitment to organic growing. We highly recommend Turf Pro products http://www.turfprousa.com/what_are_turfpro_products_3010a.html that are mined sustainably in Florida from a bowl-shaped depression hundreds of thousands of years old – kind of like ancient compost.

They’re minimally processed so the humate remains active, including the natural beneficial microbes that break down organic fertilizers and make it available to your neem tree.

Now that you have your neem tree, the most important thing about fertilizer is to make sure it’s balanced. Fish emulsion, for instance, is a wonderful product but it’s typically very high in nitrogen. Using fish emulsion alone is like feeding a baby nothing but protein. It’s an important part of their diet, but they need carbohydrates and healthy fats too. Click here to read more about balanced fertilizers.

Experienced organic gardeners mix fish emulsion with other products ranging from kelp to blood meal to alfalfa meal, but each product may contain different concentrations of the primary nutrients. We’ve used different fertilizers over the years, including the balanced blends from Gardens Alive (which also include soil microbes) or Neptune’s Harvest which mixes fish emulsion with seaweed. It’s cold-processed from fresh fish byproducts (heads, tails and skeletons) so it has very little odor as long as you don’t mix more than you can use immediately.

If you use the liquid fertilizer, we recommend applying it to your neem tree at half-strength (1/2 tablespoon per gallon or 1/8 teaspoon per quart) every two to three weeks during the growing season. We use very little fertilizer during winter months because neem trees are day-length sensitive – they’re not going to grow as fast in short days no matter how much they’re fed.

If you’re reading this right before your last expected freeze date and are planning to put your neem tree outside for the summer, you can use the full recommended dose.

FERTILIZER 101

Unless you’re an expert gardener with a very specific objective, most plants prefer a balanced fertilizer – just as most people are healthier with a balanced diet.

By law, all fertilizer must be labeled with the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and potash, the three most important nutrients for plants. They’re always listed as numbers in that order, in large print on the front of the package.

Nitrogen is the ingredient that shows up as healthy green leaves, which is why so many people mistakenly believe that fish emulsion (typically 5-1-1-) is such a beneficial product. In fact, it should only be used occasionally unless you’re applying other natural products with it. If you’re gardening in soil rather than in pots, nitrogen is very mobile and can quickly escape your landscape and pollute nearby lakes and streams. (Learn more at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nutrient_pollution.)

Phosphate, the second number, boosts the growth of roots and flowers. Most phosphate used in the U.S. today comes from strip-mines in Florida but organic growers may prefer to use products derived from animal manure or bone meal.

Potash – literally pot ash that has been collected from wood fires for centuries – is an all-around important nutrient that boosts stem growth and circulation of nutrients in your plant. It’s particularly important when plants are under stress. Even if you have a fireplace, be careful with the ash. Too much can burn plants.

Learn more about organic fertilizers and how to use them at http://www.ext.colostate.edu/mg/gardennotes/234.html.

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