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Neem oil: Will it harm beneficial insects?

Tulsa, OK

I've been using neem oil as a way to control fungus and hopefully garden pests as well. Each time I spray, I worry that I might be harming beneficial insects. I have lot of what I now know are long-legged flies, some green metallic bees, and some unidentified pollinators. I try to shoo them off of each plant as I spray, but I still wonder about the effects when they return. Does anyone know exactly how selective neem oil is in its control, and is there any other natural alternative that's even more selective?

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

It's not selective, take a look at the label and it'll tell you the sorts of things it's effective against, and beneficial insects that are similar to the nasty bugs on the label are going to be killed too. The problem with pesticides even the organic ones is that they all are going to kill some good things along with the bad. That's why I won't spray anything on my garden plants (but I do cheat and use insecticidal soap in the greenhouse over the winter sometimes since the plants are so close together and problems can spread really quickly). The best selective natural controls are going to be those beneficial insects, make sure you're encouraging the right ones to your yard to control the pests you have around. The garden hose is also quite nice--if you find things sitting on your plants I've had really good luck getting rid of them by just being persistent with the garden hose for a week or two.

Tulsa, OK

Unfortunately, I believe you may be right. At the risk of sounding like a hippie, it just "feels" wrong whenever I spray anything like that.

What about watering with neem oil to control boring and slug/ snail type pests? Are there any beneficial insects (besides the microbes) that live in the soil?

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

What's wrong with sounding like a hippie? LOL I don't think neem is going to be good for the microbes in the soil and yes, there are beneficial bugs in the soil too. I also don't think neem does much against slugs/snails, I'd put some copper barriers around your plants instead, that won't really hurt anything besides the slugs and snails.

Tulsa, OK

LOL! I'm a closet hippie, but I read on another thread where someone complained about "hippie" ideas of letting things go natural. :) I guess that's me.

I'll have to go with the copper, because slugs and snails are my biggest problem. I think they may actually be my ONLY problem, but I'm not sure. So much of my garden is in the shade, you see.

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

Here and on the sustainable living forum I think you can get away with being a hippie if you want to be! The copper should work for your slugs and snails, there's also a product that's iron phosphate granules which isn't really truly organic by definition but also isn't really toxic or anything so should be OK as well. Just don't get the stuff with metaldehyde, that's definitely not organic and is really nasty and will be bad for pets, etc as well as the snails.

Shenandoah Valley, VA(Zone 6b)

The iron phosphate (Sluggo) is OMRI certified, whether that's considered organic by individuals or not.

Santa Fe, NM

I use Sluggo for my snail problem. It works o.k. You know the old beer trap routine for snails and slugs, right? I used Neem oil on my roses last year, 2 or 3 times. It worried me that I might inadvertently kill bees, so I stopped using it. I like being an old hippie!

Brisbane, Australia(Zone 10a)

I've had good luck with Sluggo. Also have iron poor soil so I figure its a supplement too.

Dripping Springs, TX(Zone 8b)

i use it on tomatoes,roses as a fungus preventative, also an a few ornamentals if the spidermites get out of controll. I just try and be careful there arent any bees on either of those plants that I notice anyway. I generally use baking soda sprays or milk for mildews as most plants that get attacked by powdery mildews are pollinated by bees although I dont think neem will hurt a bee if you dont spray it directly on them. regular spraying of seaweed and molasses has done wonders for my organic gardening it has kept most bugs away including spider mites it also seems to keep the fungus and mildews down. here in the austin tx area were all closet hippies except for the out in the open hippies and the wanna be hippies. Might explain why willie nelson lives here.

Brisbane, Australia(Zone 10a)

What concentration of molasses do you use? And where do you get a seaweed spray?

Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

I have black aphids on my cherry tree and went to the store and asked for horticultural oil, which may or may not be organic but it seemed a reasonable way to go after using an entire bottle of Safer Soap and not covering the entire tree. The garden store only had that product with neem oil, fungicide, etc. so I bought a small bottle. But when I got home, there were ladybugs on my tree so the bottle is still unopened. I sure hope those ladybugs eat heartily. There are enough aphids there for an entire ladybug metropolis. Then I have some cabbages that could use them as well. I worry that they may get tummy aches from overeating!

Dripping Springs, TX(Zone 8b)

I can get horticulture molasses and seaweed at lowes here. I buy it by the gallons. i usually use one ounce per gallon (2 tble spoons)of each as a foliar spray the molasses then the same amount for a soil spray with a hose end sprayer. The sugars and trace minerals in the molasses is supposed to act as a food for the micro organisms in the soil all I know is it seems to be working and the mites hate the seaweed.

I had aphids on my artichokes this spring it took a while but the ladybugs managed to eradicate them and I still harvested artichokes even though it was hard to sit back and let them do the work

Tulsa, OK

I've never heard of using molasses in the garden! Does the sweetness of it attract ants?

Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

I went out and checked on my lady bugs on my cherry tree aphids. They are still there munching their hearts out. No neem oil on them.

Dripping Springs, TX(Zone 8b)

actually the molasses tends to repel them some people claim it keeps fire ants away

Brisbane, Australia(Zone 10a)

Wow - molasses and seaweed available in Lowes. Whoever is buying for your Lowes sure isnt buying for ours. We must have too low of a hippie quotient here.

Tulsa, OK

"Low hippie quotient," LOL! Here in Oklahoma, I'm definitely in the minority.

(OT moment): My husband is on the board of a local gang investigators association that pulls together law enforcement from all different departments. Anyway, I was attending the opening party last night, and innocently inquired as to whether there was a recycling bin for our empties. My question was met with guffaws, and someone said, "What are you, a hippie?!" I instantly thought of this thread. :)

OK-- back on topic! Does the molasses and seaweed combo acidify the soil in addition to offering aphid control? I'm asking, because I need to acidify as well as control some things, and this might be an ideal solution. I don't know why I'd think that combination would be acidic, but it just sounds like it would be.

Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

Back off topic -- Was that an Okie from Muskogie? LOL. It just sounded so much like the song.

Dripping Springs, TX(Zone 8b)

I dont think it acidifies enough to do any good. I aint really sure what it does except I am having real good results with it pest are at an all time low and the plants are doing as good or better than ever. I still need a cure for squash vine borers . I am originally from north west arkansas very low hippie ratio there also there is quite a few hipbillies up in the hills though

Santa Fe, NM

You guys are funny!

Sheffield, United Kingdom(Zone 7b)

Funny how people who care about beneficial insects, chemical-free food and re-cycling waste are labeled hippies. I never thought of myself as a hippie before, but there are lots of like-minded people about in the U.K.

Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

There was a time when it was mostly hippies who wanted chemical food and waste recycling here in the states, but that time is long gone. Many, many people of every stripe care about the chemicals in food and wholesome living in general, nowadays. Perhaps some of them were once hippies, but lots are too young.

Tulsa, OK

I agree that the so-called "hippie" styles of thinking are (thankfully) becoming more common. There's still a stigma attached to it for reasons I haven't figured out. I'm in that too-young-to-have-been-a-hippie group, but I get called that regularly.

Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

I don't know what's so terrible about being a hippie either. There aren't many around any more, but in the 60's they were fun loving and brought great innovation to the country including health food and colorful clothes and a love for arts and crafts. They also brought recreational sex and drug use out of the closets, but they didn't invent either. They just spoke of both as good things instead of pretending they never heard of them. Also they came up all kinds of exotic music.
I think since the days of hippies, drug use has become much heavier and much bigger business, sex never went back into the closet for the general population and the music has just gotten louder, on the whole.
Hippies from the late sixties and early seventies would seem pretty ordinary now except for their clothes. Somehow, as our lives have gotten crazier, our clothes have gotten duller. ( In general, of course.)

Tulsa, OK

Couldn't agree with you more. In my view, they brought a level of honesty to our culture that had been missing before. All those things you mentioned, regardless of how a person feels about them, were very much present in our society before the '60's. They were just kept hidden.

Santa Fe, NM

Hippies or not; weren't we discussing neem oil? I guess, to me, if used properly it seems o.k. They tell you to use it early in the morning before bees get busy.

Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

I read up a bit on neem oil. It is natural. It comes from the neem tree which is widely used in India for all kinds of things. It is highly toxic. One of the books I read said that there were thoughts of excluding it from the organic standard because it was so toxic, if only for a brief time. Some thought that it could still do ecological harm even though it is natural and breaks down quickly. I read that in the back of one of those nice picture books about food gardening by Rosalind Creasy. Don't remember which one.
I try not to use neem oil, but I have done so when desperate, usually over some house plant that I probably really shouldn't be growing in my climate -- like a Meyer Lemon. To be honest it didn't do all that much better than Safer Soap which I can't explain. ( I was using it for scale insects.) I have gone back to Safer Soap. I wouldn't rule out using neem oil ever again, but I think I will try to avoid it.

Santa Fe, NM

Yeah, I do think it is better to avoid it. I was having rose problems last year, which was why I used neem oil. I don't think it helped much. I decided that the worst that could happen if I did nothing would be to lose the roses. I figured if they were that sickly then to heck with them. I cut a couple way back. This year they are all happy so far. I also can't say that I have fewer bees, tho, because I used it. I used it probably twice. I've never had the soap stuff really work well either.

Brisbane, Australia(Zone 10a)

I have used Neem oil in combo with pyrethrins to combat thrips on a gardenia. The thrips were just decimating the gardenia flowers. The combo worked really well. Supposedly one component flushes them out and the other kills them. I had tried several other less toxic approaches to no avail. Weirdly, despite the nice smell, the gardenia doesnt seem to attract bees so hopefully, there was not too much bee carnage.

Normally, I just pull up a plant with a recurrent, bad pest problem. For instance, I had camellias when I first moved into this house but, the scale was so relentless that in the end, I decided they were not worth the trouble and yanked them. The gardenia earns it's keep with it's wonderful scent.

Otherwise, I almost never spray anything in my yard other than BT on my vegetable patch. I figure the ecologic cost of the dead moths, flies and butterflies there is canceled out by less trucking of produce from California. I did have horrible trouble with powdery mildew this year on squash. Neem is supposed to work on that though I didnt try it. In the end though, between the mildew and the squash borer, I think that summer squash are not worth the effort in this climate.

PS: my husband and I am not sure what cultural subgroup we could be labled as but we're pretty sure we're somewhere off the mainstream for our area.

Santa Fe, NM

Being over 50 is sort of a cultural subgroup. ( today is my birthday )

Brisbane, Australia(Zone 10a)

Happy Bday Roybird!

Shenandoah Valley, VA(Zone 6b)

Happy (now belated) birthday, Roybird!

I use neem quite happily and carefully for things I can't hand pick like flea beetles. Weeding, stepping in the garden bed, watering and certainly harvesting can also hurt beneficial insects. So does handpicking their prey (the pests). But I do all those things. I keep a sustainable, organic yard the best I can, and I sleep well at night. :)

(BTW, if you don't want to use neem, there are many recipes for anti-fungal treatments that help w/ powdery mildew. Baking soda/water solutions, milk/water solutions, etc.)

Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

Happy birthday, Roybird, Hope you had a great one. I agree that becoming 50 does sort of put one in a certain cultural sub-group -- a fun one, in general.

For powdery mildew I gather one can also used an organic certified sulfur spray. I haven't tried it yet, but I am okay with that. As for flea beetles, they are the reason I first purchased Neem Oil and they do work pretty well on that -- briefly. Something else that works is a substantial mulch. Flea beetles live in the soil and a mulch totally messes up their ability to jump up on the plant. Since I started using the mulch, I haven't had much trouble with flea beetles.

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