Moringa plants (Moringaceae)—sometimes commonly referred to as drumstick trees, horseradish trees, or ben oil trees—are native to the Himalayan foothills of India and Bangladesh. Moringa plants have long been used and revered in their native habitat for their amazing nutritious and medicinal qualities. This is so much the case, that the moringa tree has earned the affectionate nickname, the “Miracle Tree.”
While moringa plants are accustomed to the South Asian tropical and subtropical climates, they adapt well to growing in other areas of the world as long as they are protected from cold weather and harsh frosts. Learn how to grow these miracle trees and reap the benefits of moringa all year long from the comfort of your home.
|Common Name||Moringa plant, moringa tree, miracle tree, horseradish tree, drumstick tree, ben oil tree|
|Botanical Name||Moringa oleifera|
|Mature Size||40' tall|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun|
|Soil Type||Well-drained, sandy or loamy soil|
|Soil pH||Neutral to acidic|
|Flower Color||Cream, white|
|Hardiness Zones||10, 11, USA|
|Native Area||India, Bangladesh|
Established moringa plants are low-maintenance and require little care, especially if grown outdoors year-round. For those gardeners who do not live in tropical or subtropical climates, moving moringa plants indoors during cool weather will be necessary. Luckily, they adapt well to container growing.
Moringa are fast-growing, deciduous trees that are native to India and Bangladesh. Once established, they are drought resistant, and they can tolerate extreme temperatures as high as 118 degrees Fahrenheit.
A bright, sunny location that receives direct sunlight for most of the day is best for moringa plants. Growth may be stunted if the plants do not receive enough light.
Moringa plants are adaptable to a wide range of soils and can survive in poor soils if needed. However, they thrive when grown in well-draining, sandy soils. Moringa plants are sensitive to root rot, so they will not thrive in overly compacted soil or soil that holds too much moisture.
Keep the soil of moringa plants consistently moist, but not wet. Moringa plants do not tolerate "wet feet" and are sensitive to overwatering. Established moringa plants are drought-tolerant, but young plants need more consistent moisture to encourage strong growth. When it comes to watering moringa plants; infrequent, deep watering is better than frequent, light watering.
Temperature and Humidity
Moringa plants grow best in temperatures between 77-95 degrees Fahrenheit, although they can tolerate extreme temperatures as high as 118 degrees Fahrenheit, as long as they are positioned in the shade. These plants do not tolerate cold temperatures as readily, although they can stand up to some light frosts. Moringa plants can grow outdoors year-round in USDA zones 10 and 11 and can be grown outdoors for part of the year in any region that experiences warm summers.
Add compost to soil when planting to provide needed nutrients. Moringa plants benefit from a light application of a general, all-purpose fertilizer to help support growth. Once established, moringa plants do not require regular fertilization. However, they benefit from having their topsoil regularly amended with compost or manure.
Types of Moringa
There are over 13 species of Moringa plants, all of which can be used for food or medicinal purposes. However, except for Moringaceae oleifera, most other species are not widely cultivated outside of their native habitat. Other popular moringa varieties include:
- Moringaceae arborea
- Moringaceae borziana
- Moringaceae longituba
Regular pruning helps keep moringa plants healthy and promotes leaf growth while preventing the tree from becoming too tall. If left unpruned, moringa plants will become tall with many branches, few leaves, and will only flower near the top of the branches, which makes harvesting difficult. Pruning regularly and encouraging branching also helps to increase the harvest of the leaves, flowers, pods, and seeds, which are all edible, as are the roots.
Moringa trees can be propagated using cuttings either indoors or out, although indoor propagation in pots has a higher success rate. Propagating with cuttings rather than seeds ensures that you will get an exact duplicate of the mother tree with all the same traits. It also shortens the growing time, with plants going from cuttings to flowering in as little as eight months.
How to propagate outdoors:
- Take a large cutting from your existing moringa tree. It should be at least 1 inch in diameter and about 6 feet long.
- Remove the majority of foliage on your cutting.
- Dig a hole with a 3-foot diameter and a 3-foot depth.
- Place your cutting in this hole and fill with a mix of sand, soil, and dried manure or other fertilizer.
- Keep the plant watered generously until new growth begins to show, then cut back the watering schedule to ensure the plant doesn't have wet feet.
How to propagate indoors:
- Take a cutting from your moringa plant that measures between .25-.5 inches in circumference and 8-12 inches in length.
- Remove all but one stem of foliage.
- Fill a deep pot with a good potting mix with some sand thrown in to help with drainage. Because moringas have deep taproots, it's best to use a large pot such as a 20-inch container or bigger.
- Scrape off the outer bark from the cut end of the branch, dip it in rooting hormone, and place it in the pot.
- Keep the pot in a shaded area that still gets a good amount of ambient light, or in a greenhouse until the plants are rooted, which should only take about two to three weeks.
- Harden off the plants before transplanting outdoors in a sunny location.
How to Grow Moringa From Seed
Moringa plants grow from seeds readily. Moringa seeds have no dormancy period and are best planted as soon as they are harvested from the tree. Fresh seeds retain excellent germination rates for up to one year.
Moringa seeds can be directly sowed into the garden but it's best to start them indoors to protect the seedling from harsh wind, temperatures, or wildlife while it's growing. Soak the seeds overnight in water to speed germination. Fill a container with seed-starting soil, and plant the seeds 1-inch deep. Cover with mix, and water well.
Bottom heat helps speed germination, which should occur in 3-14 days. Harden off the plant before transplanting outside. Choose a location that receives plenty of sun and dig a hole that is slightly larger than the seedling's rootball. Place the seedling in the hole with the top of the rootball flush with the soil line and backfill the hole with a mixture of soil, sand, and compost. After planting, water the freshly planted seedling lightly, being careful not to overwater.
Potting and Repotting Moringa
Moringa plants need to be grown in containers unless they can be exposed to tropical or subtropical temperatures year-round outdoors. When grown in containers, moringa plants can be easily moved indoors during the winter to avoid cold winter temperatures.
While young plants can be kept in 6- to 7-inch pots, because of the plants' deep taproot system, they should be moved to larger pots as they grow. Expect a 30-inch pot or larger to serve as home for your moringa. Be sure to transplant well before the plant becomes rootbound, or it will be very difficult to remove.
There are no special steps to take regarding overwintering outdoor moringa trees. However, if your trees are kept in pots, you will want to bring them indoors well before the first frost and keep them in a sunny, warm location.
Luckily, moringa plants are resistant to many different pests and diseases, however, termites can still be an issue with established moringa trees. If you notice termites, mulching around the base of the tree with castor oil plant leaves, mahogany chips, tephrosia leaves, or Persian lilac leaves can help. Armyworms, cutworms, stem borers, aphids, and fruit flies are also attracted to moringa.
Common Problems With Moringa
Generally, moringa trees are extremely hearty, fast growing, and problem free. However there are a few things to watch out for.
This is by far the most common issue with moringa trees. If the plant is not situated in soil that drains at the rate of 1-inch per hour at minimum, a heavy rain could saturate the soil and the tree could die from root rot in a matter of days. Once root rot is found, it is likely too late to save the plant, so the best course of action here is to ensure proper soil drainage when the tree is first put in the ground.
Fruit and/or Twig Rot
While less common than root rot, keep an eye out for fruit and/or twig rot in which a fungus turns the seed pods or twigs a brownish color. Both conditions can be treated with a copper-based fungicide.
While even less common, some types of canker can appear on moringa trunks and branches. If you notice this condition that appears like a wound on the tree, be sure to prune off damaged limbs or branches. Also if canker does appear, be sure not to prune your moringa too heavily in rainy periods as it could help spread bacteria to other parts of the tree.
How do I use the parts of the moringa plant I've harvested?
The leaves are often cooked like a vegetable or steamed for tea, while the ground pods are used for curries and the oil extracted from the seeds can be used for cooking, and in perfumes and soaps.
When should I harvest the moringa leaves and pods?
The pods can be harvested once they are about 1/2 inch in diameter and pop off the branches easily. Moringa leaves can be harvested at any point, however, the older leaves are better than new growth for making moringa powder.
How fast do moringa trees grow?
Generally about 10 feet per year. In ideal conditions, the tree could gain up to 20 feet in height in just one year.
“Moringa.” Fao.Org, http://www.fao.org/traditional-crops/moringa/en/.