If you’re an avid gardener, you’ve probably heard of neem oil as a natural insecticide and fungicide.
But if you’re also a bird lover, you might be wondering if using neem oil could harm the delicate hummingbirds that visit your garden.
The good news is that neem oil is generally considered safe for birds, including hummingbirds, as well as other beneficial insects.
In this article, we’ll explore the properties of neem oil and how it affects different organisms, so you can make an informed decision about using it in your garden without harming your feathered friends.
Will Neem Oil Hurt Hummingbirds?
As mentioned earlier, neem oil is generally safe for birds, including hummingbirds. This is because neem oil is practically non-toxic to birds, mammals, bees, and plants.
However, it’s important to note that neem oil can be slightly toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms. This is because one of the components of neem oil, azadirachtin, is moderately toxic to fish and other aquatic animals.
It’s also important to remember that insects must eat the treated plant to be killed. Therefore, bees and other pollinators are not likely to be harmed by neem oil.
But there is one thing to keep in mind when using neem oil in your garden. Neem oil is an insect growth inhibitor and can prevent bee larvae from developing if adult bees feed them neem oil-coated pollen they’ve brought back to the hive. For this reason, it’s recommended to avoid using neem oil on flowers or remove open flowers from plants you’re treating with neem oil.
What Is Neem Oil?
Neem oil is a natural control for many insects, mites, and fungi. It functions well as an “antifeedant”, discouraging insects from feeding but not directly killing them. It can be watered in or applied as a foliar spray. Neem oil is pressed from the seed of the neem tree (Azadiracta indica Juss.). This tree, native to eastern India and Burma, has a 4,000 year history as a medicinal herb and insect repellent.
The naturally occurring compounds in neem oil discourage feeding on treated plants. When ingested, neem disrupts the molting and reproductive cycles of many insects. In tests, desert locusts, which are voracious herbivores, will sooner starve to death than eat plants treated with neem.
Neem has proven remarkably non-toxic to birds, mammals, and beneficial predators like ladybugs, spiders, bees, and wasps. It is also considered safer than some of the other residual insecticides and is recommended as a repellent against some of the more difficult insect pests such as Japanese beetles.
How Does Neem Oil Work As An Insecticide And Fungicide?
Neem oil works as an insecticide by suffocating insects and disrupting their life cycles. The oil covers the bodies of insects, blocking their breathing openings and causing them to suffocate. Neem oil also contains azadirachtin, which is responsible for killing and repelling insects. Azadirachtin is extracted from neem seed oil and is used to disrupt insect hormones that control growth and reproduction. This makes it harder for insects to grow and lay eggs, ultimately reducing their populations.
Neem oil can also work as a fungicide by preventing the germination and penetration of fungal spores into leaf tissue. It’s effective against a range of fungal diseases, including mildews, rusts, leaf spots, wilts, and stem rots. However, it’s important to note that neem oil won’t cure a plant that is already infected with a fungal disease. Instead, it can help limit the spread of the disease to healthy tissue.
Is Neem Oil Safe For Birds, Including Hummingbirds?
Many people are concerned about the safety of neem oil for birds, especially hummingbirds. The good news is that neem oil is generally safe for birds, including hummingbirds. According to experts, neem oil is practically non-toxic to birds, mammals, bees, and plants. This means that hummingbirds and other birds are unlikely to be harmed by neem oil.
However, it’s important to note that neem oil can be slightly toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms. This is because one of the components of neem oil, azadirachtin, is moderately toxic to fish and other aquatic animals. It’s also important to remember that insects must eat the treated plant to be killed. Therefore, bees and other pollinators are not likely to be harmed by neem oil.
If you’re using neem oil in your garden, it’s important to keep in mind that neem oil is an insect growth inhibitor and can prevent bee larvae from developing if adult bees feed them neem oil-coated pollen they’ve brought back to the hive. For this reason, it’s recommended to avoid using neem oil on flowers or remove open flowers from plants you’re treating with neem oil.
How To Use Neem Oil Safely In Your Garden
If you’re interested in using neem oil in your garden, there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure its safe use.
Firstly, make sure to apply neem oil at night while hummingbirds are sleeping. This will minimize the risk of any contact with the oil. Once the neem oil has dried, it won’t affect the safety of hummingbirds or other birds.
Secondly, avoid using neem oil on or near flowers, as it may inhibit bee larvae development if adult bees feed them neem oil-coated pollen. If you must use neem oil on flowers, make sure to remove any open flowers from the plant before applying the oil.
When applying neem oil, follow the instructions on the product label carefully. Neem oil can be applied as a foliar spray or watered into the soil around plants. It’s important to note that neem oil is an antifeedant and may not directly kill insects but discourage them from feeding on treated plants. Therefore, it may take some time for neem oil to take effect.
Lastly, it’s important to avoid overusing neem oil or any other pesticide in your garden. Pesticides should be used sparingly and only when necessary to minimize harm to beneficial insects and other wildlife. If you’re experiencing a larger-scale pest problem in your garden, consider contacting your local or state environmental agency for advice on safe and effective pest control methods.
Alternatives To Neem Oil For Pest And Fungal Control In Your Garden
While neem oil is a popular choice for pest and fungal control in the garden, there are other alternatives that may be more effective or better suited to your needs.
One alternative is rosemary oil, which has been used by farmers for hundreds of years to naturally repel pests. Earth’s Ally Insect Control is a product that contains high-quality, sustainably-grown rosemary oil from a single source in the US, along with clove oil and peppermint oil. These ingredients work together to paralyze, suffocate, and repel soft-bodied insects like spider mites, aphids, and whiteflies.
Another alternative is diatomaceous earth, which is available at many garden centers. This powder affects crawling insects like snails and slugs by disrupting their life cycle in any stage (egg, larvae, or adult). It’s biodegradable and nontoxic to pets, birds, fish, and other wildlife. To use diatomaceous earth, simply dust it around your plants or sprinkle it directly on affected leaves. Keep in mind that it needs to be reapplied after rain or heavy watering.
Horticultural oils are another option for pest control on plants. These oils can be made from a variety of sources, including grains, vegetables, or neem tree seeds. They work best when sprayed directly on the pest and can be safely used at any time on plants that are not attractive to pollinators. However, on pollinator-attractive plants, it’s best to spray at dawn or dusk when pollinators are not present. Horticultural oils can be effective against armored scales, aphids, whiteflies, spider mites, true bugs, caterpillar and sawfly larvae, and more. Keep in mind that some plants may be sensitive to oils, so it’s important to test a small area first and observe for any phytotoxicity symptoms.