My husband and I have a small nursery at this point and our main focus in Moringa Trees. This business started out with a passion for the tree and its ability to help end starvation, to a business. I believe everyone should grow it when possible or use it in the bulk powder form as the alternative. We are new to growing the trees and are still learning. We thought it was going to be easy. The year before our tomatoes had fried on the vine in the hot summer. This year both the spring and fall were one of the coolest years in San Diego history. So raising them this year has been a challenge. We started out in Spring Valley with the seedlings. Temperatures were rarely over 70 degrees with the nights even cooler. They refused to grow. We then had a chance to move to Alpine where we had room to expand with a well. We have been up here just a month. Here are some observations on growing the trees:
Seed Stock: At this point most of the seed stock that is available comes from overseas. It may come from India or Thailand or other countries. I have a good source now but lost money on my first seed. I received it but the seed was old with poor quality. The problem with your purchase, you have no easy way to get your money back when the seed is bad. I know of a nursery who lost several thousand dollars on old seed. It is hard to tell if the seed is good. The seeds should be dark black in color and solid. They should not fall apart easily in your hand. If they are cream colored they are old. I test seed the batch when I buy large lots of seed. Even that does not tell you how much of the seed is good. That is one of the problems in this business. MoringaTrees are grown here, but these growers do not sell their seed. They use it to grow more trees for themselves.
Sprouting the seeds: The best way I have found is to soak them in water for two days. Then enclose them in a sandwich bag in the dark. Space the seeds out in the bag so they are not touching one another. Don’t add extra water. They have absorbed enough water to sprout. Watch them closely for they mold easily. The reason that the seeds easily mold is because of the heavy protein contained in the seed. You will see two tiny white roots emerge from the seed after several days. Both shoots are important to its survival. One is the tap root that gives it the main nutrients. Take the seeds and plant them with the tiny white roots facing upward, covering them with 1″ to 1 1/2″ soil. Tap the soil down lightly. Moisten the soil with a spray bottle of water. When their little roots shoot up out of the soil, keep them in a sunny spot. Don’t let them dry out.
Rooting Medium: Fine coco mulch is a great medium to start them in. This is not the decorator coco mulch in big pieces that comes in a bag. That bagged mulch is used to keep down weeds in landscaping. The coco mulch used for seeds is fine like potting soil. It is used to grow both seedlings and as bedding for red worms. I bought it online because I could not find it locally. The coco mulch is light and allows freedom for the tiny roots to push up and grow. You can start them in sterile seedling starter soil as well. Keep them moist by spraying them with a water sprayer. When they are several inches high transplant them into bigger pots. Spraying them with chamomile tea helps with the mold issue.
Denali Gold: This is organic humus from Alaska. It is very expensive but if you have seeds that are hard to spout, this is great stuff. I took a bag I bought and spouted some seeds bought from a supplier that I won’t use again. After spending 55 dollars on seeds that would not sprout, I tried them in the Denali Gold as a experiment. They came up quickly. I was amazed at the results. If seeds won’t grow in that, they probably are not good quality seed stock. Denali Gold is great to use as a top dressing to give plants a boost of growth.
Growing Moringa Trees by Cuttings: Once you have mature trees, you can grow the Moringa from cuttings. Take a mature branch and plant it in soil. Pack the soil around the cutting and water it every other day. It is best to plant the cutting during the early summer.
Soil: Plant Moringa seedlings in rich, organic soil with plenty of aged manure. Do not use chemicals on the trees. Dr. Earth manufactures many good organic fertilizers and potting soil. Organic potting soil is better for the plants and our environment. In this way, you will have organic moringa leaves for your tea.
Container Basics: When growing them in containers, the longest, largest container is the best. Moringa trees have long tap roots and will not do well in shallow pots for long. I have grown several of mine in 33 gal trash cans that I got on sale. These trash cans have rollers so I can move them into our sheltered patio area when winter arrives. Make sure if it not a standard container, that you put nice sized drainage holes in the container. A large drill bit works well. Use well draining soil.They hate soggy roots.
We started the seedlings in one gallon containers with the focus for resale. After doing this now for awhile, I don’t feel they grow well in one gallon containers except for a short time. The ones put in 3 gallon containers are doing much better. The hot sun is big problem too in the 1-gal containers. The plastic containers contain minimal soil, get burning hot and dry out the soil quickly, burning the roots. Even in Terra Cotta pots, the soil drys out quickly. I would suggest to anyone who is not going to plant them in soil immediately, to transplant them to 5 gal or larger container. They grow very quickly once the hot weather hits and will need a 15 gal in a short time to be kept in pots.
Water: Moringa seedlings need to be watered everyday while in pots and when first transplanted into the ground. They will wilt. Once they are established in the ground they are drought tolerant. The soil will dry out faster in the containers than in the ground.
Fertilizer: Use fish emulsion or Dr. Earth fertilizer products. Do not use chemical fertilizers like Miracle Grow.
Temperature Extremes: Where ever you live, if there are temperature extremes, they will not grow as well. The trees show this displeasure by leaves that turn yellow. This can also happen when their roots get cramped. The temperature during the day has been in the 90’s finally but the night time temperature has dipped to 56 degrees many nights. They have some yellow leaves to show their unhappiness.
Ideal Temperature: Moringa trees grow rapidly when it reaches 80 degrees or hotter. They will lose their leaves when temperatures dip under 70 degrees. When temperatures stay under 70 degrees, they go dormant. The trees will die with hard freezes. In the winter they are not pretty. They lose all their leaves and look like a half-dead stick. I had two trees that I was sure were dead but are fine now. If the root is hard they are alive. If the root is soft, they have perished. It is remarkable how dead they can look, yet burst out in Spring when the temperatures get warm enough.
Predators: So far we have not had birds or chickens bother them. I have not given the squirrels a chance at them. I would not trust the rabbits either. Put a protective chicken wire cage around the young trees to protect them. Planting them in 15 gallon containers or trash cans will protect the trees from most all the little creatures. So far my mint has survived by using this method as well. Rabbits and squirrels love mint. I put my mint in a huge tub then center it over a turned upside down 15 gal container. The slick sides of the tubs seems to keep the squirrels from climbing up. The rabbits can’t reach the tub either. This method does not deter chickens.
Bugs: I have not had bug or disease problems with the trees yet. At this point, the grass hoppers have left them alone.
Greenhouses: Moringa seedlings do well in greenhouse production. If you live in a climate with harsh winters, you will still lose them unless the greenhouse is kept warm enough. We bought a small greenhouse in the beginning. It was about 14 feet long and 7 feet wide. It was not expensive and the covering was not thick enough to do the job. Either buy a very good quality greenhouse or heat it at night. Again if the temperatures dip down below 70 degrees they will go dormant.
Raising them in the house: We raised many seedlings in our kitchen window. When the kitchen got colder, they lost their leaves. I even had them under a grow light and the results were not great. If you use a grow light, it needs to be a higher watt grow light system and the light needs to be kept on all night as well. If you have a warm sunny enclosed porch or sun room, they would be fine there. Cut them off at 4-5 feet so that you can use the leaves and get them out the front door in Spring. They love to be cut back, It won’t hurt them. They will reward you by putting out more branches and leaves. If you keep cutting them back, they will grow more like a bush. This way you have more leaves which are easier to pick. You can keep them in a container for much longer with this method.
I hope this little article helps you grow your Moringa trees in San Diego. Write me with feedback and any additional information you might have in growing these trees. We are new at growing these trees so feedback from others would be welcomed.