Growing Moringa: The Majestic Drumstick Tree

What could be better than ambling into your yard and collecting healthy leaves of a happily growing moringa tree? Moringa is a drought-resistant, fast-growing tree that can reach 3 meters in just the first year! 

The moringa plant has some impressive properties that are worth mentioning. It is extremely nutritious, and the seeds can be used to purify water.  It has a number of medicinal uses as well. 

Packed with vitamins and super-easy to grow, the Moringa tree is definitely one-of-a-kind. Here is a guide on how to take care of this tree.

Get A Moringa Tree

Good Products For Growing Moringa:

Quick Care Guide

Growing Moringa
Growing moringa allows you to have massive superfood harvests. Source: WILLPOWER STUDIOS
Common Name(s)Moringa, horseradish tree, drumstick tree, miracle tree, ben oil tree 
Scientific NameMoringa oleifera
Days to HarvestRoughly 8 months for pod development
LightFull sun
Water:At least 1-2″ per week
SoilSandy or loamy soil, well-draining
FertilizerCompost/manure or balanced slow-release
PestsArmyworms, cutworms, caterpillars, aphids, fruit flies, termites
DiseasesFruit/twig/root rots, canker

All About Moringa Oleifera

M. Olifera
Not only is moringa a great food, it’s a beautiful tree. Source: ValMan

Moringa tree goes by its scientific name Moringa oleifera, and is a versatile, fast-growing tree. Known as drumstick tree, horseradish tree, ben oil tree, miracle tree or simply moringa, the tree is native to various parts of Asia and Africa. In fact, the fruit pods of the plant are eaten as food in southern Asia. 

Moringa tree is often grown in northern India and subtropical regions of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. They tend to grow quickly from cuttings and seeds and can easily adapt to, poor soil. 

The tree has a unique root system that comprises a taproot and many smaller feeder roots. Moringa tree can be grown as specimen trees or a thick hedge.

Moringa has been scientifically studied for a number of health benefits. Since every part of the plant is edible, the moringa seeds, fruit pods, and leaves are known for improving sleep, regulating blood sugar levels, and reducing joint pain.

Drumstick leaves and seeds possess strong anti-inflammatory properties. Rich in iron, fiber, vitamin C, A and B, moringa is rich in healthy compounds. It’s a nutrient-rich superfood! 

The moringa tree can reach a height of 30 feet and has beautiful gray bark. Its leaves are quite unique in shape as they are compound tripinnate, with three unique sets of paired leaves coming off of the main stem. Each set includes tiny oval-shaped leaflets with large bases. 

The drumstick plant bears mildly fragranced and beautiful clusters of blossoms. Each moringa flower is white, dainty, and pealike in shape. Each flower has five stamens towards one side. The plant also bears moringa fruit, the pods of which are slightly angled and in the shape of daggers. 

The fruit can grow up to 18 inches and will burst open once they’re ripe to expel the seeds. Once the moringa seeds are planted, the moringa tree can take up to 8 months to fully mature.

Planting Moringa Trees

Moringa flowers
When it flowers, the drumstick tree has a lovely aroma. Source: Dinesh Valke

Growing moringa trees is easier than you think. Whether you’re using moringa seeds or cuttings, the trees grow and mature quickly. When you have moringa growing, you’ll have to keep on your toes to prevent it from getting out of hand!

When To Plant

If you want to plant moringa seeds in the United States, the best time to do so is in the spring. However, the trees shouldn’t be planted in the colder months, when the temperature is below 50 degrees. 

The seeds retain the ability to germinate for an entire year provided that the soil mixture is warm. The ideal temperature for germination  is between 77-95 degrees F (25-35 degrees C). 

Where To Plant

Moringa trees can be grown in the ground, but are often started in containers. It’s important to protect young plants and saplings from harsh winds and stormy weather. You can use wind barriers around the plants that comprise heavy bags of rocks, potting soil, and sand. 

Moringa trees have a deep taproot system, which means they need lots of space to stretch out their roots in the soil. The trees generally prefer loamy or sandy soils with a neutral pH. They will need to have full sun exposure year-round, so be sure to provide that. 

Since the plant is native to subtropical and semi-arid regions, it can only tolerate light frost. Regular weather below 45 degrees Fahrenheit can be detrimental to the trees. 

How To Plant

When planting a young moringa tree sapling, you will need to be sure to prepare your soil in advance. Dig out and loosen a 3-4 foot hole, at least 2 feet deep and preferably 3 feet. This allows you to confirm that there isn’t heavy clay soil below the soil’s surface.

If you wish to amend your soil, this is a good time to do it. Adding one part sand to one part compost and then mixing the combination in with your soil should ensure good drainage. If your soil is already sandy, just blend in some compost on its own.

Moringa Care

Moringa fruit
The edible seed pods are tasty and nutritious. Source: Karen Blix

When discussing how to grow moringa tree, you’ll need to know what its overall preferences are, too! Here’s a short list of ideal conditions for your tree to keep it invigorated and healthy.

Sun and Temperature

Moringa needs a bare minimum of 6 hours of daily sunlight, but prefers full sun conditions year-round. As a subtropical beauty, it’s accustomed to warm weather conditions, making it best to grow in the United States in zones 9-10.

Although the plant can tolerate light frost, it shouldn’t be planted in areas with long, cold winters. Short periods at 45 degrees Fahrenheit are fine, as long as it warms up during the daytime. It can tolerate hot spells quite well.

Watering and Humidity

While they’re drought-resistant once well established, moringa still needs water to survive. It’s accustomed to high air moisture of the sort typically found in jungles, and in humid areas it will thrive. But you’ll still need to water consistently.

Watering deeply is better than a quick shallow watering at the tree’s base. You can do this with a soaker hose, and the gradual dripping of moisture into the soil will fully hydrate it. Otherwise, water at least once a week when it’s not raining, and increase watering frequency as the heat goes up.

Saplings will need more water than established trees. Keep the soil moist around them by watering every 2-3 days.

Soil

Moringa trees prefer loose loamy or sandy soils as these types offer the best conditions for the root to develop deeply into the ground or potting mix. Loose soil will also ensure good drainage.  Although the trees can survive in poor soil or clay soil, it’s best to stick to loamy. 

Growing moringa requires enriched soil, which is why you should add compost or manure every now and then. Spread a 2-3” layer of compost around the base of the tree to the width of the tree’s canopy. The plants work best in slightly acidic or neutral soils that have a pH between 6.5-7.5

Fertilizing

If you’re regularly applying a 3” layer of compost around your tree, you won’t need a separate fertilizer. Both cow manure and horse manure are acceptable alternatives.

But what if you aren’t adding compost or manure? You may very well discover that your tree still performs just fine without it. As its roots delve deep under the surface, it’ll find pockets of material from which to feed itself. Still, an annual application of a slow-release all-purpose granular fertilizer won’t hurt in the early spring.

Pruning

Pruning moringa trees is an absolute necessity. These exuberant trees grow like wildfire, and you may discover you have a lot of extra work on your hands! A good sturdy pair of loppers will help.

Remove branches to open up the tree’s canopy and to prevent criss-crossing of branch wood. This allows for healthy leaf development. Damaged branches should also be removed.

Prune as necessary to maintain the tree at the size you want it to be. If it’s not maintained, it will rapidly soar to rather significant heights, making pruning a challenge! Most of the major pruning happens once flowering has concluded so as to enjoy those beautiful blooms.

Propagation

Moringa can be propagated from both seed pods and cuttings. 

If you’re planting moringa from seeds, germination can take up to 3-14 days. They will ideally sprout in a warm temperature between 70-90 degrees F. The best way to plant them is to start in small pots and transplant them in the ground once the seeds begin to sprout. 

You can soak the seeds in water for a few days or plant them directly in containers. To do this, simply take a small pot and fill it up with organic potting soil. Plant the seeds at least 1 inch deep and keep the pot in a warm, sunny spot. 

Water it daily until the seed sprouts. Keep the soil moist but not waterlogged as the seedlings can drown when there’s excess water. It will take a few days for the seeds to grow into young plants. Once they’re 8-10 inches tall, transfer them to a larger pot or the ground.

If you’re doing a post-flowering pruning, you can also select a healthy, long branch to propagate. The branch should be at least 1” in diameter and can be up to six feet in length. Dig a hole that’s at least 3 feet deep and wide and amend the soil. Place the wider end of the branch down deep into the hole, and backfill and tamp it down. It will develop roots if the soil is kept moist.

Harvesting and Storing

Moringa leaves
These leaves are highly nutritious either fresh or as a powder. Source: Ahmad Fuad Morad

Harvesting moringa is surprisingly easy to do. Storing is a bit more complex. Let’s talk abou that!

Harvesting

One of the best things about pruning your moringa is that you’re able to more easily harvest an abundance of leaves all at once. These leaves are nutrient-dense and are used to produce moringa powder, but it takes a lot of leaves to make that powder.

Wash your branches thoroughly with water once you’ve cut them. Some advocate washing them with a saline solution and then rinsing them as well. Tie bundles of the branches together at their base, and place them somewhere where the leaves can dry out. Drying should only take a few days, and as the leaves dry, you can pull them easily off the tree with your hands.

You can also harvest the leaves fresh for use in salads or as a green vegetable. Use sterilized pruning shears to snip off clusters of healthy leaves for this use.

Moringa pods can be harvested for fresh eating when they’re about six inches in length. At this young, undeveloped size, the entire pod is edible as are the immature seeds within. These are often cooked like string beans.

Mature pods can be harvested at full size. At this point, the pod is no longer edible, but the seeds within can be pressed to extract moringa oil. The seeds can also be cooked and eaten, but not until they’ve been stripped from the interior of the pod and rinsed well. A quick blanching of the seeds will remove the sticky film, and then they can be cooked in similar ways to peas or fresh beans.

Dried pods can also be harvested, but once the seeds inside are harvested and blanched, they will need to be cooked as if they were dry beans.

Storing

Fresh leaves can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week. If you leave them on their stems and set the stems in a glass of water, they will stay almost as fresh as they would be if just harvested. Change the water daily until you use them. Strip them from their stems just prior to use.

Dried moringa leaves can be crushed into a powder that can be stored up to a year if kept dry. Keep the powder in an airtight container with a moisture absorbing packet. Be sure to keep the powder in a dark cabinet to prevent it from losing its flavor.

Young pods can be frozen whole as long as they’re 6 inches or smaller. Once thawed, cook them as you would green beans.

If the seeds are kept completely dry, moringa seeds can last virtually forever. At the first introduction of moisture, they’ll try to sprout, so keep them in a dry, dark location!

Troubleshooting

Moringa tree
Not only are they tasty, but they’re lovely shade trees as well. Source: Starr

Growing moringa is usually very easy, but that doesn’t mean you won’t run into problems. Let’s go over a quick list of what you might encounter.

Growing Problems

A big problem with moringa is excess watering. Soggy soil can lead to root rot formation. As should be expected, the roots of the plant are critical to the plant’s overall health and it will suffer if rot begins to develop.

Pests

Noctuidae species, particularly the armyworm or cutworm, are problematic for moringa. So too are an assortment of caterpillars. All of these can be eliminated by using a bacillus thurigiensis spray on your tree.

Some forms of stem borer are also a potential problem. The adult beetle will lay its eggs on a healthy twig. Once hatched, the larvae bore into the stem and eat the center. Leaves will yellow and the branch will die. Cut off impacted branches well below the damaged portion and burn them or destroy them rather than composting. Regular pruning can reduce stem borer damage.

Aphids are an opportunistic pest that will suck the sap out of leaves. To keep aphids at bay, regular spraying with either neem oil or horticultural oil will reduce their numbers. Small quantities may be able to be sprayed off with a hard water spray.

Fruit flies may be attracted to the flowers and seed pods. Yellow sticky traps will help identify this annoyance. Keep the area around the tree free of debris and harvest young pods promptly to prevent them from sticking around.

In limited amounts, termites may become an issue. Termite damage can be professionally treated to kill off the burrowing pests. Depending on how severe the damage is, the tree may be able to be saved.

Diseases

Fruit, twig, or root rots are possible in moringa. Root rot is mostly untreatable due to the depth at which the roots grow, and should be prevented by avoiding overwatering. Fruit or twig rots can be treated with copper-based fungicide. 

Some forms of canker may appear on the trunk or branches of the plant. Remove all damaged or dead limbs and try not to prune heavily during a rainy season. This reduces bacterial spread.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Can moringa grow in the US?

A: People who live in the southern or western United States are usually able to grow moringa. 

Q: How tall do moringa trees grow?

A: They can grow up to almost 40 feet in height.

Q: Do moringa trees lose their leaves?

A: Moringa is a deciduous tree, so it usually loses its leaves in the fall. Some areas with mild winters may see leaves year-round.

Q: Can moringa be harmful?

A: Surprisingly, yes. Ingesting the pulp or the bark of the plant in large quantities can be harmful. Symptoms which might be experienced if eaten in large amounts are low blood pressure and slowed heart rate. In addition, people who have been told to limit their intake of potassium or calcium may want to consume the leaves sparingly, as they’re high in both of those nutrients.


The Green Thumbs Behind This Article:

Lorin Nielsen
Lifetime Gardener

Did this article help you? Yes No
× How can we improve it?
× Thanks for your feedback!

We're always looking to improve our articles to help you become an even better gardener.

While you're here, why not follow us on Facebook and YouTube? Facebook YouTube