by Bethany Hayes
Many refer to Moringa trees as the “Tree of Life” because it has numerous health benefits, which has led to the increase of gardeners wanting to learn how to grow moringa in their backyard.
Moringa is a fruit tree that handles growing in less than ideal situations. It handles extremely arid regions where rainfall is limited, and it grows in a wide range of soils. Not to mention, these are some of the fastest-growing trees, often reaching up to three meters tall in the first year.
If you want to grow this unique tree in your backyard, keep reading to learn all about growing moringa in your backyard.
All About Moringa Trees
Moringa trees, Moringa oleifera, are versatile and fast-growing, native to Asia and Africa. The fruit pods are eaten regularly throughout southern Asia.
Gardeners love these trees for various reasons, including that they grow fast from cuttings and seeds. They adapt to poor soil and survive drought conditions. Moringa trees have a unique root system made of a taproot and numerous smaller feeder roots.
All parts of the tree are edible, including the seeds, fruit pods, and leaves. They’re believed to improve sleep, regulate blood sugar, and reduce joint pain. The leaves and seeds are rich in iron, fiber, vitamin C, B, and A.
Growing Moringa in Your Backyard
If you worry that growing moringa is too hard, you’re wrong. These trees are easy to grow, and they grow so fast that they quickly get too big. It’s best only to attempt growing these trees in areas with warm weather conditions. Since they’re subtropical trees, they grow best in USDA zones 8-10.
Pick the Best Location for This Tree
The best location for a moringa tree is a spot that receives full sunlight, typically eight or more hours of light per day. Young plants and saplings need to be protected from harsh winds and storms. Consider wind barriers around the plants, such as bags of soil or even a fence line.
Create the Best Soil for Moringa
Moringa requires sandy or loamy soil for growth; well-draining soil is a must-have for these trees. While they’re known for adapting well, don’t expect these trees to grow in clay or waterlogged soil.
To prepare the soil for planting, be sure to add compost or composted manure; a two to three-inch layer around the base of the plant is sufficient. It also is beneficial to add a balanced slow-release fertilizer when planting to provide the needed nutrients for growth.
Moringa trees prefer to grow in slightly acidic or neutral soils with a pH range between 6.5 and 7.5. Adding peat moss to your soil helps to increase the acidity level.
When to Plant Moringa
Moringa needs warm summer nights to grow and thrive, so keep the delicate seedlings about 60℉. If the temperatures go below this, bring the plants inside each night and put them back outside whenever the temperatures increase the following day.
Moringa is a warm-season crop; make sure any risk of frost is gone. That depends on where you live.
How to Plant Moringa in Your Backyard
There are several ways to plant moringa. Many prefer to begin with started trees purchased from a garden nursery, but direct sowing seeds is also an option. Let’s look at each option.
Growing Moringa from a Cutting
Each year when you prune off branches from the tree, those cuttings can start new growth. The cutting needs to be at least six feet long and one inch thick.
Dig a hole that is three feet deep and three feet wide, and plant the cutting into the hole. Make sure to add compost or composted manure to the hole for a nutrient-rich environment. Pack the soil around the cutting firmly and form a dome with the sides sloping down away from it.
Growing Moringa from a Seed
Gardeners may plant moringa seeds directly into the soil where you want the tree to grow long-term. Immature seedlings are delicate and die when transplanted.
Dig a one-foot deep and wide hole that contains compost or composted manure. Plant three to five seeds into the hole, keeping the seeds two inches apart.
The soil must stay moist to ensure the seeds germinate, but too much moisture drowns the seeds and emerging seedlings.
Wait until the saplings are four to six inches tall and pick the healthiest one, removing the other ones.
Growing Moringa from a Transplant
Many gardeners prefer to grow moringa from a transplant when available at local garden nurseries. Dig a one-foot square hole, adding compost or composted manure at the bottom for nutrients. Water the hole deeply the day before you want to plant a moringa transplant.
The best time to plant a moringa sapling is in the late afternoon to avoid the harsh afternoon sun. Place the seedling into the prepared hole and pack the hole with the remaining soil. Water lightly for several days following.
- Can Moringa Grow in Containers?
Moringa is one plant that doesn’t grow in containers as well as in-ground planting. Growing moringa in containers treats the plant as an annual, reducing the plant’s productivity and yield.
Moringa has large, aggressive taproots that are easily damaged when moved. All container-grown plants eventually need to be transplanted into a new container, but transplanting a root-bound moringa plant might lead to death. Growing this plant in containers also risks the tap roots curling at the bottom of the container, reducing its overall growth.
Caring for Moringa Trees
Caring for moringa trees is as easy as planting them. They require little weekly maintenance; here’s what you need to know.
Watering Moringa Trees
While these trees are drought-resistant when established, they need water to survive. Remember, these trees grow natively in jungles as well as arid conditions. They prefer high air moisture and humidity for proper growth.
The best practice is to water saplings every two to three days. Water deeply right at the tree’s base with a soaker hose. Mature trees only need to be watered once per week when it’s not raining. If the temperatures increase, check the soil moisture content more often and water more as required.
Applying a three-inch layer of compost around your tree regularly removes the need to add any more fertilizer to your trees. Composted cow or horse manures are acceptable as well.
It’s not a requirement to apply any other fertilizer. These trees adapt well. If you want to fertilizer otherwise, an annual application of a slow-release, all-purpose fertilizer in the early spring is sufficient.
Pruning is a Necessity
These trees reach up to 18 feet tall, which makes them hard to harvest. A solution is to prune or “top” the trees to a height that makes them much easier to harvest. Pruning moringa trees lead to a bush-like growth habit throughout the warm, growing months.
Each year, branches stop producing fruits. To increase the following years’ harvest, be sure to prune those branches off of your tree.
Remove branches at the top to open the canopy and prevent crisscrossing of the branches. Criss-crossing leads to damaged branches, which increases the risk of diseases. Don’t feel wrong about pruning; take off what you need to maintain your preferred height. These trees are vigorous growers.
Dormancy is Normal
Don’t be surprised when your moringa tree dies back to the ground when the cold weather arrives. In the following spring, when the nighttime temperatures increase above 60℉, the tree will regrow.
It takes between four and five years for healthy moringa trees to adjust to frost and cold temperatures. At that point, the mature tree becomes frost-hardy and doesn’t die back as often or as much.
Common Pests & Diseases That Bother Moringa Trees
Unfortunately, these trees face a range of pests and diseases. Frequent inspection for problems or signs of disease will help you respond quickly.
Cutworms and Armyworms
Both cutworms and armyworms are Noctuidae species, emerging at night and munching on plants’ stems or base. The main difference between cutworms and armyworms is that the latter is more likely to skeletonize plants’ leaves.
The best way to treat these pests on moringa trees is to spray them with Bacillus thurigiensis.
The adult beets lay eggs on healthy twigs and branches of the tree. When they hatch, the larvae bore into the stem and eat the center. Over time, the leaves turn yellow, and the branches die.
Cut off infected branches below the damaged portions. It’s best to burn them; never compost infected branches. Pruning regular helps to reduce the damage caused by stem borers.
Aphids stick to the underside of the leaves on your plants and suck out the sap. Then, they leave behind a sticky substance called honeydew that attracts ants and sooty mold. Spraying the tree with neem oil or another horticultural oil reduces their numbers.
Fruit or Root Rot
One disease that these plants fall victim to is fruit, twig, or root rot. Treating root rot is nearly impossible because taproots grow so deeply into the soil. Gardeners may treat fruit and twig rot with a copper-based fungicide.
Another problem that moringa trees face is forms of cankers that might appear on the tree’s trunk or branches. To combat canker, remove all of the damaged or dead limbs. Make sure not to prune too much when it’s in the rainy season because rain spreads the bacteria.
Moringa grows quickly, reaching up to 18 feet tall within six months. The size makes harvesting a challenge, which is why many gardeners suggest pruning or “topping” tree at a height that makes harvesting easier.
Besides the height challenges, harvesting moringa is relatively easy; it’s the easiest part of growing the moringa.
Leaves may be harvested at any point and in abundance all at once. The leaves are nutrient-dense and used to make moringa powder. However, that requires a lot of leaves.
The branches must be washed thoroughly once harvested off of the plant. Bundle the branches together at the base and hang them in a warm place to allow them to dry. Drying takes several days.
Pods may be harvested for fresh eating when they’re six inches in length. At this stage, they’re undeveloped and immature, but the entire pod is edible. Most cook them similar to string beans.
Mature pods are safe to be harvested at full size, but they’re no longer edible. Instead, mature moringa pods are pressed to extract oil, or the seeds may be cooked and eaten as well. Quickly blanch the seeds to remove the sticky exterior film, and then they’re safe to cook, similar to cooking peas or fresh beans.
Growing moringa in your backyard is easier than my fruit trees. This tree adapts well to most growing conditions and grows rapidly wherever you place it. Give this popular edible and medicinal tree a try.