Introduction to Moringa or Drumstick pests and diseases
Drumstick is also called moringa, drumstick tree (from the appearance of the long, slender, triangular seedpods), horseradish tree, ben oil tree, or benzoil tree. Drumstick is a fast-growing, drought-resistant tree, and widely cultivated in tropical and sub-tropical areas where its young seed pods and leaves are used as a vegetable. Cultivation of Moringa is spreading across the world under different climatic conditions that may expose the plants to different pests and diseases. Moringa plants suffer from fruit rots, stem rots, root rot, and twig canker, etc. Major pests include pod fly, budworm, hairy caterpillars, and red mites, etc.
A guide to Moringa or Drumstick pests, diseases, and control
Drumstick scientifically called as Moringa oleifera is well known for its multipurpose attributes as a non-food (moringa oil) and food (leaves and pods) commodity. The Moringa crop is attacked by many insect pests. The pests are budworm (Noorda moringae), Hairy caterpillar (Eupterote mollifera), and pod fly (Gitona distigma); bark caterpillar (Indarbela tetraonis) and leaf caterpillar (Noorda blitealis) are pests of economic impact because they cause major agricultural losses.
Conditions for Moringa cultivation
Drumstick is an evergreen, fast-growing, deciduous tree. It can reach a height around 10-12 m and the trunk can reach a diameter around 45 cm. The bark has a whitish-grey color and is enclosed by thick cork. Young shoots have greenish-white or purplish hairy bark. The tree has an open crown of sagging, fragile branches, and the leaves increase feathery foliage of tripinnate leaves. The flowers are fragrant and bisexual, enclosed by five unequal thinly veined yellowish-white petals.
Moringa trees grow up easily from hard-stem cuttings or seeds. while using seeds they can be directly sown in the field or used for raising seedlings in nursery beds and transplanted. Direct seeding is chosen when plenty of seed is available and labor is limited, and when enough water is available. when there is enough water available for irrigation then direct seeding can be done in the backyard garden,. In a large field, trees can be seeded directly at the starting of the wet season. Transplanting allows flexibility in field planting but needs extra labor and cost in raising seedlings. Stem cuttings are generally used when the availability of seed is limited but labor is plentiful.
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Moringa seeds have wings and are about the size of a bulky pea. Seeds do not require sunlight to germinate. Moringa seeds don’t have a dormancy period, so they can be planted as soon as they are mature and they will keep the ability to germinate for up to one year. For intensive Moringa production, plant the tree every 3 meters in rows 3 meters separately. When the trees are in the part of an alley-cropping system, there should be 10 meters distance between the rows. The area between trees should be kept free from weeds.
If using raised beds, to form beds with 2-m-wide tops and space plants 3 to 5 meters apart in a single row. For the production of leaves only, space drumstick plants 50 cm within rows 1 meter apart. For intensive production of leaves, space plants 10 to 20 cm within rows about 30 to 50 cm apart. Then, closer spacing allows the harvest of young edible shoots every 2 to 3 weeks. Trees are spaced in a line 1 meter apart or closer to establish living fence posts.
Drumstick trees do not need much watering, which makes them ideally suited for dry climates. Water regularly for the first 2 months and afterward only when the tree is suffering. Drumstick trees will flower and produce pods whenever there is sufficient water available. If rainfall is continuous throughout the year, Drumstick trees will have a nearly continuous yield. In arid conditions, flowering can be induced through irrigation.
Drumstick trees will generally grow well without adding very much fertilizer. Phosphorus can be added to encourage plant root development and nitrogen will encourage leaf canopy growth. In some parts of India, 15cm-deep ring trenches are dug 10cm from the trees during the rainy season and filled with green leaves, manure, and ash. These trenches are then covered with soil and this approach is said to promote higher pod yields. Biodynamic composts yield the best results, with crop yield increases of 50% compared to ordinary composts.
For growing a moringa healthy crop;
- Select a variety resistant or tolerant to major pests
- Select healthy seeds, seedlings and planting material
- Treat the seeds, seedlings and planting material with recommended pesticides especially biopesticides
- Follow proper plant spacing
- Soil health improvement such as mulching and green manuring wherever applicable
- Nutrient management particularly organic manures and biofertilizers based on the soil test results. If the dosage of nitrogenous fertilizers is too high the crop becomes too succulent and so susceptible to insects and diseases. If the dosage is too low, the plant growth is retarded. So, the farmers must apply an adequate amount for the best results. The phosphatic fertilizers should not be applied every season as the residual phosphate of the previous season will be obtainable for the current season also.
- Proper irrigation
Pests and diseases of the Moringa tree
Moringa is resistant to most pests and diseases, but outbreaks can occur under certain conditions. For example, diplodia root rot can appear in waterlogged soils, causing severe wilting and death of plants. Mite populations can increase during dry weather and cool weather. Mite attack may lead to yellowing of plant leaves, but plants usually recover during warm weather. Other insect pests contain termites, aphids, leaf miners, whiteflies; and caterpillars. Termites can be a problem, particularly when cuttings are planted. Suggested measures to protect seedlings from termite attack contain;
- Applying mulches of castor oil plant leaves, mahogany chips, tephrosia leaves, or Persian lilac leaves around the base of the Moringa plants.
- Heaping ashes around the base of seedlings.
Drumstick/Moringa pests and diseases symptoms and their control
The drumstick tree is not affected by any serious diseases in its native or introduced ranges. In India, several insect pests are seen, including different caterpillars such as the bark-eating caterpillar, the hairy caterpillar, or the green leaf caterpillar. The budworms Noctuidae are known to cause serious defoliation and damaging agents can also be aphids, stem borers, and fruit flies. In some regions, termites can cause minor damage. If termites are numerous in soils, insect’s management costs are not bearable.
The adult is small in size with dark brown fore wings and also white hind wings with dark brown border. Then, it lays oval, creamy white eggs in clusters or singly on flower buds. Caterpillars are dirty brown with a prominent mid-dorsal stripe and pro-thoracic shield. Full-fed caterpillars come out and pupate in minute brownish cocoons, in soil or on the ground itself, below-dried leaves and debris. Larvae bore into flower buds and then cause shedding of buds up to 75%. Generally, infested buds contain one caterpillar. Damaged buds seldom blossom; fall prematurely.
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Symptoms of damage
- The larva bores into flower buds and then causes shedding.
- In early plant stages, the caterpillars are gregarious and scrape the chlorophyll content of leaf lamina giving it a papery white appearance.
- Later they become voracious feeders making irregular holes on the plant leaves.
- Irregular holes on leaves initially and later skeletonization leaving only veins and petioles. Heavy defoliation.
- Bored fruits with irregular holes. Larvae bore into flower buds feeding on the inner contents and cause shedding up to 78 percent during summer.
Identification of Moringa budworm pests
Eggs – Creamy oval eggs laid singly on flower buds in a tree
Larva – Dirty brown with a prominent mid-dorsal stripe, blackhead and also prothoracic shield
Pupa – Pupation takes place in an earthen cocoon in the soil
Adult – Forewings are dark brown, Hind wings are white with brown border
- Collect and destroy the flower and buds
- Spray malathion 1 liter/hectare
Leaf caterpillar (Noorda blitealis)
Adults are medium-sized moths and fore wings are uniformly dark in color with a small white streak near the base. Eggs are creamy-white and are laid in batches usually on the ventral surface of plant leaves. Pupation occurs in soil. And caterpillars feed on leaf lamina, turning them into transparent parchment-like structures. The peak period of the infestation is from March to April and December to January month.
Symptoms of damage
Larva feeds on the leaflets reducing into papery structures
Identification of pest
Egg – creamy white oval eggs and laid in clusters on plant leaves
Larva – Devoid of prothoracic shield
Adult – Similar to N. moringae but bigger
- Plow around moringa trees to expose and kill pupae
- Collect and then destroy damaged buds along with the caterpillar
- Set up a light trap by 1/ha
- Spray insecticides such as carbaryl 50 WP about 1gm/lit
Hairy caterpillar (Eupterote mollifera)
Eggs are laid in clusters on plant leaves and tender stems. The larvae are whitish, speckled with black and dorsal tufts of black hairs arising from a whitish hump. The larva has seen in groups in tree trunks feeding gregariously and scraping the bark and gnawing foliage. Severe infestation leads to defoliation of the Moringa tree.
Symptoms of damage
- The larva has seen in groups in tree trunks
- Feed gregariously
- Scraping the bark and gnawing foliage
- Severe infestation leads to defoliation of the tree
Identification of Moringa Hairy caterpillar pests
Eggs – Laid in clusters on plant leaves and tender stem
Larva – Brownish with densely hairy
Adult – Very large size moth with uniform light yellowish-brown
- Collect and destroy egg masses and caterpillars
- Set up a light trap by 1/ha to attract and kill adults immediately after rain
- Carefully use a burning torch to kill congregating larvae on the trunk
It is a minor pest of the Moringa tree. Eggs are laid in clusters on anthers within the flower buds and maggots feed on internal tissues of buds especially on ovaries. This pest is active from August to January. Infested buds soon fall and full-fed maggots come out to pupate in the soil. Egg, maggot, and pupal periods last for 1 to 2, 6 to 9, and 5 to 8 days, respectively; a single life cycle is completed in about 12 to 19 days.
Aphids are a polyphagous pest. Nymphs and adults suck vital sap from twigs. As reproduction is mostly parthenogenic, population build-up is fast. Spray dimethoate about 30 EC 500 ml or malathion 1.0 L in 500 – 750 L of water per ha. All pods must be removed before spraying.
Eggs are laid singly in cracks or crevices in the bark of the Moringa tree. Grubs are stout, 100 mm long, yellowish with well-defined segmentation. Pupation takes place within the tunnels and adults are medium-sized beetles and yellowish-brown with white spots on elytra.
Grubs make zig-zag burrow beneath the bark, feed on internal tissues, reach sapwood and cause the death of affected branch and stem. Adults feed on the bark of young twigs and also petioles.
- The clean affected portion of the tree by removing all webbed material, and excreta, etc.
- Insert in each hole, cotton–wool soaked in monocrotophos 5 ml or any good fumigant such as carbon disulphide, chloroform, and seal treated hole with mud.
Though each insect takes only a few drops of sap during its lifetime, the presence of an enormous number of insects sucking the sap continuously at times, weaken Moringa trees and ultimately affect the size of pods. Spray as given for aphids.
Commonly asked questions about Drumstick/Moringa cultivation
How long does Moringa take to grow?
Moringa tree almost takes about 8 months to grow after planting. It tolerates a wide range of soil conditions but prefers a neutral to slightly acidic, well-drained sandy and loamy soil.
How do you take care of a drumstick plant?
It is very important to keep the soil moist but not overly wet. You do not want to drown or rot the drumstick seeds or cuttings. Keep the planting area free of weeds and rinse off any pests that you find on the growing Drumstick tree using a water hose. As the Moringa tree matures, then trim off older branches to encourage fruiting.
Is Moringa easy to grow?
The Moringa tree is a fast-growing, drought-resistant tree that can reach up to 3 meters in its first year. The Moringa tree is easy to grow. Then, simply plant high-quality Moringa seeds or cuttings in a sunny spot.
How can I make my drumstick flower better?
Pruning is done when the Moringa plant is 18 months old. Prune Moringa plants in the winter season when it grows to a height of 3 feet tall. Allow 4 to 5 branches per tree up to 2 feet above the ground level. This method helps to encourage healthy growth and flowering with high crop yield.
Why moringa leaves turn yellow?
The main reason that Moringa leaves turn yellow is because of moisture stress, which can be from overwatering or under-watering. If you feel the soil and it is too wet then you know that you have been putting too much water on the Moringa plant.
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