The moringa plant (Moringa oleifera) is prized for its food and medicinal value, but home gardeners will also enjoy its delicate, fern-like leaves and tropical appearance. Also called the horseradish tree for the taste of its roots, the moringa plant is native to India, Arabia, and parts of the East Indies and Africa, according to Purdue University.
Size & Appearance
The moringa plant usually grows more like a tree, on one trunk. The tree grows rapidly -- even when grown from seed -- and reaches a maximum average height of around 25 feet. Home gardeners should make sure they have enough room for this plant to stretch out. The branches droop heavily and feature alternate leaves that range from 9 to 24 inches long. The leaves are composed of oval, 1-inch leaflets. In the spring, fragrant white flowers sprout from the leaf axis. The flowers are about the size of the leaflets. The tree also produces long, distinctive seed pods, which can reach 18 inches in length.
Climate & Temperature
Moringa plants are tropical in origin and nature. Although the tree can tolerate light frosts, it grows best in subtropical and tropical areas where the average low temperatures don't drop much below 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Growth slows in cooler temperatures. This means that, in the United States, the tree grows best in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 through 11.
Moringa plants grown where light frosts sometimes occur might benefit from a location protected from cold winds, such as near the wall of a house. The plants are drought-resistant and quickly develop deep taproots, which means you can plant them near sidewalks or turf grass without worrying about shallow roots uprooting the sod or cement. The seed pods can become messy when they drop, so plant the tree away from areas where people tend to gather. In addition, the wood is soft and, because the tree grows so quickly, branches might break easily. Like most trees and plants, pests can infest the tree, including caterpillars, aphids, scale and borers. Most of these will not pose a series health threat to the tree. If pest problems become severe and the population too great to hand pick, saturate the entire tree with a ready-to-use malathion insecticide, according to Tamil Nadu Agricultural University. Reapply after rain or weekly if the pest problem persists. Always follow the label directions for use and wash your hands after applying, keeping children and pets out of the sprayed area.
In the Garden
Trees planted during the rainy season need full sunlight, so make sure nothing casts shade on your moringa plant. If you plant it during the dry season, however, some afternoon shade is beneficial, and the plant should be watered every other day until it is established. The amount of water will vary depending on when you plant it and your climate, but in general, the trees need about 10 inches of water annually. The tree is adaptable to different types of soil, but sandy soil is recommended because it aids in drainage -- too much water will cause the roots to rot. Moringa trees don't need much, if any, fertilization outside of India, according to the University of Leicester.
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