California spans the length of 800 miles, which means there are quite a few different climates to cover. In this post, we are going to be focusing on growing moringa in southern California.
For those of you in northern California, don’t worry, there are still options for you too (more on this later).
Since you’re interested in growing moringa, you likely know of its health benefits and uses. Also called the drumstick tree, horseradish tree, and tree of life, moringa is incredibly high in protein, potassium, and beta-carotene (along with a large list of vitamins). It’s becoming the sought after plant to add to many diets. And grinding the leaves into a powder is a popular way to store them as a nutritional supplement on-the-go.
But, like most plants, moringa has its weaknesses.
Frost, pests, and heat can stunt or kill it. So, helping moringa adapt from its native tropical environment to California’s is the key to a good harvest.
Let’s take a look at these details and how to grow moringa successfully in California.
Ideal climates for moringa
Moringa has a small range of ideal climates. It’s used to hot and humid regions, but it can grow well in warm and dry areas.
Moringa grows best in Zones 9 to 10 but can be grown in colder climates if you have a greenhouse or decide to grow indoors.
Frost is one of the biggest threats to watch out for as the tree’s tolerance to the cold is low.
Since California has different climates depending on the region, let’s take a look at the differences between them.
Growing moringa in southern California
I live in Ventura, California (Zone 10a) and the weather here is usually around 70ºF this time of year, which is a good time to start growing moringa.
Ideally, you should start growing in spring or early summer, but if you have a greenhouse or grow-lights you can start sooner.
If you usually get a light frost or no frost at all, then moringa should be safe to remain outside. If the temperature drops below 60ºF consistently, the tree will shed its leaves and some branches and go dormant. Once the warmer months come back around, the tree will start growing again.
Growing moringa in northern California
While it is possible to grow moringa in northern California, the cooler weather can make it more difficult. But there are ways to help it grow well in this climate.
First, you may want to bring the plant inside before the first frost. This will significantly reduce the chance it dies. This is one reason why many prefer to grow moringa in pots.
You can also help your tree go dormant in the winter by cutting it to a stump (two to six inches).
If you’d like your moringa to remain outside during winter, covering the plant to keep it warm or placing it along a south or west-facing wall can help it maintain heat.
But if you’d prefer not to go through the extra work, you can grow moringa as an annual.
While direct seeding can work, moringa saplings can become easy snacks for critters. Starting your tree indoors for the first seven to nine weeks and transplanting can increase its chance of survival.
In a previous post, I listed some steps and a video on getting started with moringa seed germination.
In summary, folding the seeds in a paper towel, soaking it, and placing it in a plastic bag can germinate the seeds within several days.
Once you see sprouts, you can plant the seeds and watch them grow quickly (10 to 16 inches per month).
Planting your moringa
Since moringa can grow up to 40 feet tall, many prefer to keep it in a pot to control its growth. But whether you plant it in a pot or the ground, these trees do best with certain environmental conditions.
The best soil to use for moringa
When it comes to soil, moringas are pretty tolerant, so they can grow in many types. However, sandy loam works best. Given that much of California is high in clay, mixing some sand in can help balance the pH (6.3 to 7 is ideal).
Fertilize your moringa by adding a couple of inches of compost to get it off to a good start. From there, feeding the tree once per year with more compost or a 10-10-10 fertilizer will help continue its growth.
Sunlight and water requirements
Moringa trees require full sun, but if you’re in areas that get 120ºF or hotter, then providing it with partial shade can help it survive the heat. While it’s native to the tropics, moringa can get burned if you’re in a hot and dry area of California.
Even though moringas are fairly drought-tolerant, water them once a week for best results. Make sure to check that your soil drains well so root rot doesn’t develop.
Mulching the base of the tree can also help significantly retain water and keep the roots cooler.
Pruning moringa trees
Once you successfully have your moringa tree growing in California, all that’s left is pruning. And since its one of the fastest-growing plants in the world, this step is essential.
You can start pruning your tree when it reaches two feet tall.
Here’s how to prune moringa:
- Trim back the main (or terminal) stem by four inches
- Wait a week for new branches to grow below the cut
- When those branches get to be eight inches long, cut them back to four inches using a slanting cut
- Repeatedly halve new branches from eight inches to four
Ideally, this pruning should be done about four times before the tree is three months old. These trims will encourage the tree to grow bushy instead of tall and sparse.
The only exception to pruning is if you’re using moringa as a natural barrier to your property and don’t mind it growing tall. Otherwise, if you’re growing it in a pot, or want it to be a manageable size, pruning it will greatly increase your yields.
Growing moringa in California can be challenging since it’s not the tropical region the tree is used to. But depending on your zone, and how much you take care of the plant, you can grow it outdoors. Growing indoors can also work in most places, but because of the lack of sunlight, you may have to let the plant become dormant until spring.
Germinating and starting your tree indoors for several weeks can give it a head start before transplanting it. Once you find the proper balance of sandy soil, full sun, and weekly watering, moringas can be quite the hardy plant.
With a little pruning and it’s fast growth rate, you’ll be able to harvest leaves in no time and add this nutritious plant to your everyday meals.