Q. I planted a Moringa tree for its health benefits. I understand it is native to the tropics. Can you tell me how to grow it in this climate?
A. You know that Moringa will be killed back to the ground every time we have a hard freeze. For this reason, we have to manage it similar to bougainvillea. Moringa grows on its own roots so we don’t have to worry about suckers developing from a rootstock like we do with most tender citrus.
Moringa is one of those plants touted for its health benefits. It is native to tropical and subtropical South Asia and has spread to Africa, South East Asia and more recently Latin America where the leaves and pods are used in cooking. Most recently it has been labeled a “superfood” by the media.
Moringa is also called the horseradish tree, drumstick tree or malungay. It will grow here but it has to be managed differently than in the tropics. Establishment of the tree by cuttings or trunk cuttings is quite common in the tropics. Establishment in our desert soils is similar to any fruit tree by using compost to amend the soil during the time of planting. This is a tree I would mulch with wood chips, not rock mulch.
Marine got can be started from seed very easily. Start them the same way you would start tomato seeds or any other tropical seed. They require warmth, above 70° F moisture and good drainage. Start them as early in the season as possible so that you get enough growth on them before you put them out.
Growth rates of this tree are extremely rapid and you can expect 6 or more feet of growth during the first year if it’s given enough water. This is a large tree in the wild and it will want to have one central trunk.
You should discourage this central trunk by cutting it close to the ground after it gets about 2 to 3 feet tall. This pruning cut will encourage suckering from the base of the tree which is what you want. You should probably grow it as a shrub, not a tree in our climate.
Let it get damaged in the first light freeze of the winter. After the freeze has passed, cut the plant to the ground and protect it during very cold weather.
You can do this by throwing a blanket over it and preventing the blanket from blowing away during high winds. Remove the blanket during warm daytime temperatures. Fertilize it with your favorite high nitrogen fertilizer that promotes leaf and stem growth.