How to grow and care for moringa trees

Moringa is also known as drumstick tree or horseradish tree. Coming from the warm climate of Himalayan India, it is grown for its culinary and herbal medicine properties. All parts of the tree can be used in some form or other.

What you need to know about moringa

Name: drumstick tree, horseradish tree, moringa (Moringa oleifera)

Height: up to 12m but normally pruned back to around 2m

Foliage: pale green, feathery leaves.

Climate: warm temperate to sub-tropical/tropical.

Soil: well-drained, fertile loam with added organic matter; slightly acid to neutral pH (6.2–7).

Position: full sun—loves heat.

Flowering: perfumed creamy-white flowers in racemes.

Feeding: use a long-term controlled-release fertiliser.

Watering: keep moist while young; in high rainfall areas plant on a raised mound; older plants can rely on rainfall.

Appearance and characteristics of moringa

Moringa grows quickly to 10–12m high. In the garden, cut it back to about 2m every year so its shoots and flowers are within arm’s reach. 

It has whitish-grey corky bark, pale green ‘feathery’ leaves, perfumed creamy-white flowers, long pods that turn brown when mature and dark brown seeds. It has a deep tap root, which has a horseradish-like flavour.

Uses for moringa

Moringa is part of the normal diet on the Indian subcontinent and is gaining popularity in the western world, where it is claimed to be a ‘super food’.

The young shoots, flowers and young seed pods are high in antioxidants, vitamins and vital nutrients, and are commonly added to soups and curries. The leaves are used to make a herbal tea, or can be dried and crushed to a powder, which can be taken in capsules. The root can be peeled and grated as a substitute for horseradish.

The oil extracted from mature seeds is said to have antifungal properties, and may be included in creams and soaps.

Before adding moringa to your diet, do your own research. Some plants can have unpleasant side effects. The leaves of moringa, for example, are said to have a mildly laxative effect, and may cause digestive disturbances in some people.

How to plant moringa seeds.

  1. Sow seeds in seed-raising mix as directed on the seed packet and keep moist.

  2. When seedlings are large enough to handle, pot them up separately.

  3. Grow them in pots for at least a year before planting out in the garden or repotting into larger pots. Always use a premium-quality potting mixa terracotta and tub type is ideal.

Moringa likes a well-drained soil which is slightly acidic (pH 6.2–7). In the garden, a loamy soil with plenty of added compost and well-weathered manure is ideal. In high rainfall areas, plant it on a mound to ensure excess water drains away from the roots.

How to care for a moringa

Moringa thrives in full sun and loves heat. It does best in tropical, sub-tropical and even arid areas.

  • In southern states give it a warm, sheltered position with plenty of sun for warmth in winter. A north-facing courtyard is perfect.

  • In cool to cold climates, moringa is deciduous, dropping its leaves in autumn. It won’t tolerate deep cold, but will survive in Victoria and Tasmania, to re-shoot again in spring. 

Trees should be pruned in the cool season to about 2m high.

  • Pot-grown moringa should also be cut back in winter to encourage new growth in spring.    

Watering

Moringa is reasonably drought-tolerant. It hates ‘wet feet’, however, and will quickly show signs of distress if the soil holds water for long periods after rain or watering.

It will need regular watering in the first year or so after planting, but once established it will do well on rainfall alone.

It’s a different matter in pots, however, where the roots are unable to grow down deep in search of moisture. Water the pot well, making sure that excess water drains away freely, then don’t water again until the top 15–20cm of potting mix has dried out.

Fertilising

Moringa should be given two applications of a six-month controlled-release fertiliser each year—one in late winter and the other in late summer. Read the label for details about how much to apply.

From spring to late summer, liquid or water-soluble fertilisers may also be used to give trees an added boost.

In spring, add compost and weathered manure as a mulch over the roots of trees in the garden. 

Diseases and pests

Moringa is not affected by any serious diseases, but may be attacked by common garden pests like aphids, caterpillars in all areas, and fruit flies in warm climates. Pyrethrum- based insecticides will take care of the aphids and caterpillars. Ask for assistance when buying and using fruit fly controls—there are specific products available. 

If you like this then try

Konjac: grown for its starchy tubers, which are used in Japanese and Chinese cooking; vegan substitute for gelatine.

Wasabi: popular in Japanese cuisine, wasabi grows in most climates; the strongly flavoured rhizome is edible.

Onions: pungent edible bulbs used to add intense flavour in cooking; white, brown and green are popular

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