If you’re looking for a multi-purpose food plant that’s as prolific as it is tasty, consider growing moringa trees. These Indian natives can be grown indoors in cooler climates, or outdoors if you live somewhere steamy.
Their leaves are packed with protein, vitamin C, iron, and calcium, and can be eaten by humans and herbivorous animals alike.
Read on to learn more about these fabulous trees and how you can grow them at home!
What are the Benefits of Growing Moringa?
Moringa (Moringa oleifera), also known as drumstick tree, is a staple food in many parts of the world and has countless benefits. It’s native to northwestern India, but has since been naturalized throughout Asia and parts of Africa.
This tree is pretty much completely edible, from its delicious, spinach-like leaves to its spicy, horseradish-flavored roots.
As far as nutrition goes, it’s one of those powerhouse superfoods that’s so popular right now. The leaves contain twice as much iron as an equivalent amount of spinach, and are also packed with calcium, beta-carotene, potassium, protein, carbohydrates, and healthy dietary fat.
A single moringa tree can offer the same amount of nutrition as a garden full of different vegetables, all in one handy spot.
Now consider that a single tree can grow 60 to 100 feet tall when fully mature. That’s a whole lot of food on one plant! Furthermore, its leaves aren’t just ideal for human consumption: herbivores like goats, sheep, rabbits, and other small animals love it as well.
It’s even considered a superfood for birds and is often fed to chickens to improve their size and overall health.
If you live in a tropical or sub-tropical location, you can grow moringa as one of your vital outdoor homestead trees. Otherwise, you can grow them indoors in large containers. Just remember to prune them regularly. If you don’t, they’ll shoot through the roof.
You’ll undoubtedly come across several different suggestions as far as starting seeds go. Growing moringa from seed can be a bit difficult since the seeds can be tough to germinate.
Your best bet is to soak them for 24-36 hours ahead of time to help break their dormancy period. After that, there are a couple of different options.
Some people suggest wrapping them in a moistened paper towel and putting them in open plastic bags. Others simply pop them into some soil and allow them to do their thing.
I’ve had the most success germinating moringa seeds by soaking them for a day or so, then planting them in a seed-starting medium. This is a mixture of potting soil, perlite, vermiculite, and coconut coir.
Patience is key, as these seeds can take quite a bit of time to germinate. The quickest I’ve seen one sprout was 8 days, while most take a few weeks at least. I even had one germinate nearly four months after planting!
The key is to keep the soil moist, but not damp, and warm.
Since moringa is a tropical/subtropical plant, it doesn’t do well in chilly weather. Your best bet is to keep yours in a pot indoors on a sunny countertop. If there’s too much temperature variance, or if there’s a sudden cold snap, the seed will fail to thrive.
Soil and Sun Requirements
Moringa does best in loamy, partially sandy, neutral to slightly acidic soil that drains quite well. That said, these trees will grow in just about any type of soil as long as it drains well. They’re known for thriving in even poor, depleted soil.
The only type of soil that moringa won’t grow in is compacted and over-hydrated.
As far as sunshine goes, moringa needs direct light in order to grow well. In fact, if it doesn’t get at least six hours of direct sunshine daily, it’ll completely fail to thrive. This is why it does best in USDA Hardiness Zones 9-12.
Those zones offer the sunshine and heat the trees need to reach their maximum potential.
If you’re growing yours outdoors, plant it in the sunniest spot you have available. Additionally, make sure there aren’t any tall trees or buildings nearby that might shade it out.
Alternatively, if you’re growing moringa trees indoors, place them in the sunniest spot available. I have mine situated near my south-facing patio windows and they do just fine there.
That said, if you live in a northern climate, you may have to offer them additional light during the winter months. Full-spectrum LED lights are great replacements for natural sunshine in cases like these.
Watering and Feeding
Moringa doesn’t like to have wet feet, so avoid overwatering.
In fact, the best thing you can do for your plants’ health is to let the soil dry out a fair bit in between drinks. These trees do better with deep, infrequent soaks rather than regular waterings. When a finger poked into the soil is dry right up to the knuckle, that’s a good time to water them.
If your moringa tree looks wilty, or the leaves seem to be yellowing, check the water levels. They’re sensitive to moisture, and the soil might be either too dry, or too damp. If you discover that the soil’s doing just fine, then you might need to give them some extra nutrients.
Moringa needs fertilizer that’s higher in nitrogen than phosphorous or potassium. As such, aim for a 3-1-1 fertilizer. Just follow the directions on the container as far as diluting it goes. Be sure to fertilize a few inches away from the trunk, and don’t fertilize too often.
Additionally, you can also mix aged manure or slow-release, high-nitrogen fertilizer into the soil before planting, or when transplanting to avoid nutrient deficiencies in the future.
If you’re growing moringa indoors, it’s unlikely that you’ll have too many insect-related issues.
Spider mites may leap onto your tree(s) from other plants, and you may get some fruit flies on the pods but that’s about it.
In contrast, outdoor plants might also have to contend with aphids or be defoliated by voracious caterpillars, cutworms, or leaf miners. These can be dealt with by spraying neem oil around and using diatomaceous earth at the soil level.
Generally, however, moringa’s main potential disease issues revolve around rot from too much water. As long as you don’t overwater the soil, you should be able to avoid the potential root rot or stem rot that it can suffer from.
In wet, warm outdoor conditions, moringa may also suffer from powdery mildew. If you see it appearing on the leaves, cut off affected areas immediately. Then treat the rest of the plant with an anti-fungal agent such as a topical garlic spray, copper, or sulfur spray.
Harvesting and Storage
To harvest moringa leaves, cut them off with a clean, sharp knife, at a 45-degree angle. This is the simplest, healthiest way to harvest and will ensure new leaf growth as well. Similarly, if you’re harvesting the seed pods, snip them off with a clear pair of scissors or pruning shears. You can eat these raw or cook them like snow peas.
To get at moringa root, you’ll obviously have to pull up young trees. This is great if you have acres of trees to eat, but not if you’re just growing one or two indoors.
Fresh leaves and pods don’t last very long, so refrigerate them as quickly as possible if you aren’t going to eat them immediately. Try to consume them within a few days to get the maximum nutrition out of them.
Alternatively, you can dry the leaves in a dehydrator for later. I dry some of mine at 130°F for about eight hours, then pulse them through a coffee grinder. This makes a very fine powder that I add to soups, smoothies, and sauces all year. I also dry other leaves whole to add to my rabbit’s winter forage.
To store the dry leaves successfully, keep them in airtight glass jars with food-grade silica packets popped in with them.
As you can see, growing moringa is a lot easier than you might have expected! Furthermore, its benefits far outweigh any potential issues that may arise. A tiny bit of time and effort can result in spectacular yields.
After all, the average moringa tree will live upwards of 30 or 40 years! How does a lifetime of nutritious, delicious greenery in your own home sound to you? Sounds pretty fabulous to me.