How To Grow Neem Tree From Seeds and Cuttings

The neem tree (Azadirachta indica), an evergreen tree is a native of Indian subcontinent. It is an extraordinarily hardy tree which can live up to 200 years. All parts of the neem tree possess antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial properties. The seeds, leaves, bark and stems of the neem tree are used in medicinal, cosmetic and insecticidal products [1].

Learn how to grow neem tree from branch cuttings, air layering and seeds in easy to follow steps.

In India you can find neem trees everywhere on roads, parks or homes. I was very interested in having a neem plant in my garden in Sydney to keep the insects away. Also I wanted to make organic sprays for my plants. I looked around to find a neem tree to get its seeds and branch cuttings, but could not find any.

How To Propagate Neem Tree

Planting Time

Neem trees grow well in a tropical to subtropical climate. The best time to grow neem plant from cutting or seed is when the temperature is more than 20 °C (68 °F), which is best suited for germination of neem seed.

Growing Neem Tree From Seed

The neem seeds germinate quickly and reliably with a high germination rate. No wonder, the seed planting is the most common way to propagate a neem tree.

Neem tree fruits for making seeds
Ripe Neem fruits for seeds

Getting The Correct Seeds

Neem tree can easily be propagated from seeds, provided the seeds are fresh. The neem seeds are short-lived, viable for a period of only 10–12 days from the date of collection [2, 3].

I ordered 50 Indian neem seeds; they arrived by air mail after 10 days. The seeds were not fully dried out but appeared quite old. I could not germinate any of these seeds. I tried to germinate the whole seeds with or without their shells, by soaking them from 1 to 3 days in cold as well as warm water, and also by putting them in damp kitchen towel. But none of the seeds could germinate even in 6 months.


Finally I could get fresh neem seeds after 6 days of their removal from the tree, which I could germinate successfully. The weather became quite cold, so I had to put the pots indoors for germination. Due to changing weather daily, I had to move the pots outdoor and indoor quite often. The conclusion, the old neem tree seeds do not germinate, similar to the seeds of sweet neem (Curry leaf plant). The older the neem seed, more difficult to germinate it; also the lower the temperature, longer the time to germinate.

Picture of neem seedling, Azadirachta indica grown from seed
Neem Tree Grown from Seed
One of my friends has a Thai neem tree (Azadirachta indica spp. siamensis) at his house, a tree similar to Indian neem. I collected its fresh fruits and some cuttings to try its propagation.
  1. If collecting from a neem tree, collect the freshly fallen fruit or take some ripe fruits (yellow color) which are not firm.
  2. Do not buy completely dry seeds, they will not germinate. Buy only recently harvested seeds.

Planting Neem Seeds

  1. Neem seeds do not need any pre-treatment before planting. Take the fully ripe neem fruit and squeeze out the seed (remove the pulp) and use for planting.
  2. Fill a pot with a very good quality free-draining potting mix, plant the neem seed horizontally or pointed side down and cover it with half to one inch of the potting mix. Put the pot in a warm and bright place and keep the soil moist.
  3. Neem seeds will germinate within 2-4 weeks depending on the age of the seed and the temperature. The seeds need a temperature between 20 and 25 °C (68 and 77 °F) to germinate well. The cooler the temperature, the longer the neem seed will take to germinate..
You can germinate more than one seed in the same pot and later carefully separate the seedlings and replant them. But whatever pot size you take, it should have several holes at the bottom to allow soil to drain excess water quickly.

Growing Neem Tree From Cutting

You can propagate neem tree from branches if you cannot get the fresh neem seeds. You can grow a new neem tree from a softwood or hardwood cutting. Hardwood neem cutting means select a year old branch, while softwood cutting means growing tip of the branch.

Taking The Cuttings

Select the newly growing tips or a year old branches, and take about 7-8 inch long and less than a pencil thick cuttings. Place the cuttings in clean water while you prepare for planting.

Rooting Media

Free draining propagating media is needed to propagate neem from cutting. I mix 3 parts washed coarse river sand or perlite with 1 part potting mix.

Selection of Pot

Take a small pot if you are planting a single neem cutting with many holes at the bottom or take a larger pot for rooting 4-5 cuttings together.
Fill the pot with the rooting media and water thoroughly, turning the soil to ensure that the soil is wet at all places. Keep the pot in shade for half an hour to drain all the excess water. Now is the time to prepare the cuttings.

Prepare and Plant the Cuttings

  1. Take one cutting and remove all of its leaves leaving the top 2 leaves which you cut into half.
  2. Apply rooting hormone at the lower 1 inch end, and tap off the extra hormone. You can use a commercial rooting hormone or a homemade hormone using honey, aspirin or cinnamon.
  3. Insert a stick in the soil down to about 1 inch from the bottom.
  4. Take out the stick and insert the prepared cutting in the hole and press the soil around it. Similarly plant all the cuttings.
  5. DO NOT WATER AGAIN. Put the pot in a clear polythene bag and tie it at the top. This will trap the moisture inside the bag and keep a high humid environment necessary for rooting.
  6. Place the pot in a bright place but away from direct sun.
  7. Every 10 days, open the bag and mist the soil. Close the bag again. Do not give excessive water otherwise the cutting will rot (water is not needed as there are no roots yet.)
  8. In 3-6 weeks, new growth will emerge. Open the bag and just tuck the cutting with hand, if it offers resistance, that means that the roots are there. If not, mist the soil and tie the bag again. You may also see some roots emerging from the bottom holes of the  pot.
  9. When some leaves are formed, open the bag for half day only for next 3 days. Then take out the pot and place it in partial shade for several weeks. 

Growing Neem Cuttings in Water

You may try to root the neem branches in water. Just put the prepared cuttings as mentioned above and dip their lower 1 inch in water in a pot. Keep the pot in shade. Change the water every 3-4 days. New roots will emerge in 2-4 months time.

Growing Neem By Root Cuttings

Mature neem trees produce a large number of root suckers (seedlings) under its canopy. In early winter, you can cut sections of these roots, about 1/4 thick and 2 to 4 inches long and plant them into rooting medium.

Growing Neem By Air Layering

New neem can also be grown by air layering method in which new growth of roots are stimulated from a stem while it is still attached to the parent plant [4]. Choose a 1-2 inch thick branch and remove all the bark layer around 1 inch long stem. Cover the exposed stem (without the bark) with moist sphagnum and wrap a plastic sheet around to seal in the moisture. New roots and growth will form in 2-3 months. Cut the stem just below the roots and transplant.

Planting Neem Seedlings in Final Place

  1. Whether you grow neem from seed, cutting, root cutting or by air layering method, keep the prepared seedlings and rooted cuttings in partial shade for 2-3 months.
  2. Slowly expose to them to full sun.
  3. Plant the tree in permanent locations when it is 1 meter tall.

Final Comments

While growing neem tree from seeds is easiest method and quick, but it needs fresh ripen neem fruits. The rooting of cuttings in soil is very successful method with high success rate, almost 100%. I do not see any advantage of propagating in water as it takes a long time to root, however, it does not need rooting hormone.

The neem tree grown from the seed will not be the true copy of the parent plant, but that rooted from other methods, viz. from cuttings and by layering will be the true clone of the parent plant.

Growing neem tree from seeds Video

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References

  1. Vegetative Propagation of Azadirachta indica A. Juss (Neem) Through Cuttings: A Review
  2. Rajiv Rai (1996), To study the efficacy of different nursery raising techniques in neem (Azadirachta indica), Journal of Tropical Forestry 12 (4): 183–88. 
  3. Read MD & French, JH (eds) (1993), Genetic improvement of neem: strategy for the future, Proceedings of the International Consultation on Neem Improvement held at Kasetsart University, Bankok, Thailand, January 1993, Winrock International, Bankok, Thailand.
  4. Anon. (1999), Propagation of  Neem (Azadirachta indica) by air layering