For Christmas a few years back, my mom presented me with what looked like a stick growing in a pot. Of course, it was much more than that.

My Little Neem Tree Growing in a Pot

The "stick" was actually a little neem tree my mom started from a seed. When she gifted me this potted tree, it was maybe about a foot or so tall (30 cm.) with only a few leaves. Today, it stands taller than me (though nearly everything does) at about 5-6 feet (1.5 to 1.8 m.). The tree gets pruned each spring to keep it that way, but also to keep it healthy and full. Neem trees actually respond well to pruning, and I even rooted a cutting last year for mom as a thank you gift. Plants are the gifts that keep on giving.

I knew very little about neem trees when I first got mine. In fact, all I knew was that neem oil, which comes from the tree's seeds, was great in the garden as both an insecticide and fungicide. But after some research into neem tree care, I learned that there's so much more to this amazing plant. The neem tree (Azadirachta indica) can be found growing in the more tropical regions of India and South Asia where it's not only an ornamental shade tree, but widely used in Ayurveda medicine for maintaining good health. As a student of herbalism, I found this quite intriguing and had to know more.

In addition to its uses in the garden, neem leaves are said to contain over 130 types of biological compounds that help heal the body and promote healthy living, most notably as a natural remedy for various skin and hair conditions. In fact, you can find it in many products like shampoo, soap, and lotion. The leaves can be used fresh as a paste for skin problems (I've actually tried this) or sun-dried leaves and made into a powder. Neem tree bark has anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties that can help fight gum disease. You can also find toothpaste and mouthwash with neem ingredients added. And though mine hasn't flowered yet (this usually won't happen until at least five years of age), I hear bees love the honey scented blooms. I can't wait!

Potted Neem Tree Care

This tree tolerates poor growing conditions and drought, which I can surely attest to. I haven't always been the best caretaker indoors, but I will say potted trees require more water than those growing naturally in the ground. That said, you have to be careful and find a happy balance between wet and dry. The neem tree doesn't like too much water, and although it does tolerate drought well, it's more prone to spider mites when kept too dry. Surprisingly, you would think a tree known for its insecticidal properties would be immune from these pests. Not so! I wouldn't have thought a neem tree could succumb to these pests, but mine did one year. A head scratcher for sure but, along with some strategic pruning, I treated the mites with neem oil and won the battle.

Neem trees hate cold too, so mine overwinters inside each winter. On occasion mine will drop leaves, but these are quickly replaced with new ones. It also enjoys bright indirect light, so during winter I keep mine in the office where it receives both eastern and southern exposure. In spring I give the tree some fertilizer before moving it back outdoors throughout summer. Under the cover of our carport, my neem plant gets plenty of morning sunshine but remains protected from the harsher afternoon sun. It can get pretty darn hot and humid here, though the humidity doesn't seem to bother my potted neem tree.

Other than my rubber tree plant, growing trees in containers isn't something I've had much experience with indoors. I have grown many in pots outside though. Needless to say, my little neem tree stick has grown into a nice sized plant. And I'm really looking forward to those flowers, which should be coming soon!

Nikki Tilley
Senior Editor

Nikki Tilley has been gardening for nearly three decades. The former Senior Editor and Archivist of Gardening Know How, Nikki has also authored six gardening books.