Neem Dieback, Neem Treatment and other perspectives

neem dieback

Neem dieback:

Yes, neem trees lose their leaves every year, sometimes multiple times but, if a tree ends up with dead leaves up in the canopy then there is a problem due to an external factor. Yes, neem dieback has been around for some time and some trees recover from it. All neem trees that I have inspected have been affected by this to some extent. Older trees, very young trees and trees in poor condition or environments will likely be the most affected.

In the image below is the tea mosquito (Helopeltis antonii) which is one way that the fungus (Phomopsis azadirachtae) is transimitted which then causes the specific neem dieback disease (scientific evidence below).

Why do I think this is an issue now?

Because we have had successive drought years and a very wet year both of which can be detrimental for neems. Some of the trees have been defoliated twice in two years and some even more. Repeated defoliation of trees can lead to tree death.

Generally, all trees can be vulnerable to drought, especially to prolonged drought. It depends on their condition and the extent of the drought. With regards to excessive rain, if the roots are submerged for an extended period, they will not get oxygen, so they won’t be able to sustain their system (they can’t burn sugars). This FAO document mentions drought and neems. It is how I eventually came to the conclusion that the neems will not be able to deal with this very well (but it is likely to be consisting of even more factors).

The succession of detrimental events is the usual course for the death of a tree. Unlike us, they are not programmed to die. So, if a tree is affected by a disease, it is then more susceptible to other diseases.

And finally, yes, there are dead neems around.

Media (pics and videos):

Pictures of affected trees:

Neem Dieback Treatment:

What we are doing is making neem trees more resistant to this disease and improving growing conditions in general for them and all surrounding vegetation.

Method and instructions of what we are doing (anyone can do it): Neem Treatment.

This is slightly old as the method has changed but may be useful: Video of Dr. Margarita Correa​ (MG Ecoduties) explaining treatment:

From what I understand (or think I understand) the C4 compost acts a positive environment for germination for the bacillus which then will merge with/inoculate the absorbing roots (which will also be prompted to grow due to the new richer environment, hence the combination). Then the Bacillus will induce systemic acquired resistance (which should help with the Phomopsis) along with potentially helping with uptake of water and nutrients through synergies with mycorrhizal fungi.

Other Potential Neem Dieback Treatments:

Antifungal activity of essential oils against Phomopsis azadirachtae- the causative agent of die-back disease of neem:

In Vitro Evaluation Of Antagonistic Microorganisms For The Control Of Die-Back Of Neem Causal Agent Phomopsis Azadirachtae:

Integrated management of Phomopsis azadirachtae, the causal organism of die-back of neem:

Efficacy of combinations of hexaconazole and bacterial extracts against Phomopsis azadirachtae, the die back of neem pathogen:

Auroville context:

To give an idea of what could be affected, when surveying about half of Auroville excluding the “Greenbelt” (~2.5 square kilometres) Geomatics have recorded over 3000 neem trees. So there are potentially over 20,000 neem trees in Auroville.

Here is what has been achieved in Auroville, regarding treatment, so far (I am only involved in some of this):

LocationNumber of Trees
Matrimandir ?
Language Lab23
Joy of Impermanence15
Botanical Gardens20+ (with ecological horticultural course students)
Certitudeseveral, goal is 200 trees
Certitude road20
Evergreen70+ trees (with TLC students and others)
Town hall23
Transition SchoolSeveral

India context:

It has now spread to 4 states:

We could be looking at millions of trees dying.

World Context:

This could potentially become like the Dutch elm disease and Ash dieback. Both of which wiped out or are wiping out an entire species of tree.

If you want to help:

Please get in touch. You can help by:

  • Coming in person to apply treatment on Tuesday mornings from 8:30 (contact to confirm location)
  • Learning the application method and doing it wherever
  • Spreading the info
  • Getting others to do it
  • Contributing financially (it costs about RS55 per tree just for the materials and we are all doing this for free) by using the temporary Auroville FS account for this: 253042
  • Letting me know if you have other methods which work
  • Inspecting the trees, plotting them and then monitoring them to see how the treatment is acting

I am happy to come by (locally) and explain, show, teach (can be part of a school or research project).

Please let me know if you treat trees somewhere so we can record it (to later check if it works as intended and get statistics. If you want to be involved in this aspect, that is also possible).

This is the first step in setting up a response to a potentially huge loss of neem trees. All networking and collaboration could be improved and should be and if you want to coordinate efforts, please do so as I do not need, or necessarily want, to be involved.

If you have any other ideas, please suggest them (especially if you want to do the legwork).


Links to documentation:

Paper on dieback of neem:

Crude toxin extract from culture filtrate of Phomopsis azadirachtae infecting neem and its phytotoxicity:

Paper on effectiveness of the one of the strains of bacterium we use: (Bacillus subtilis):

Variation in Phomopsis azadirachtae , the incitant of die-back of neem:

Another Article about one of the strains of Bacillus that we are using in our treatment.

Development of a simple and reliable species-specific detection of Phomopsis azadirachtae, using the translation elongation factor 1-alpha gene:

Abstract of a paper stating that this is quite common in TN: A survey of die-back disease of neem in Tamil Nadu, India and PCR-based confirmation of the isolates:

FAO: A Guide to the Identification of Diseases and Pests of Neem (Azadirachta indica):

 Many people think neems are the toughest trees around and will manage “no worries” which begs the question of “why are they affected in the first place?”

Arboriculture Health and Safety in India

With such poor health and safety practices in India it makes sense to write about the dangers related to tree work and management. This is an article that I wrote which was published in The International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) magazine Arborist News. A similar version was published in the Landscaping and Outdoor Living magazine, India

health and safety in arboriculture
unsafe tree climbing
health and safety in arboriculture

Effects of Trees in Urban Spaces, Auroville, India

A presentation I gave providing a brief glimpse into the effects that trees have on our lives and surroundings in an urban setting.

Presentation starts at 3:30.

Recently, in urban settings, trees are being used more as green infrastructure providing ecosystem services rather than merely street furniture. This presentation illustrates some ways in which this applies.

This presentation uses examples from the U.S, the U.K. and from India, where I am based. It includes the positive and negative effects and ways to improve matters with existing trees as well as potential trees. It is based on experience and research from around the world.

This is relevant for architects, town planners, municipal corporations, engineers, landscapers and anybody interested in improving urban forests through arboriculture.


South Indian House and Roadside Tree Properties Survey

roadside trees India

This is a survey that will hopefully gather the information needed to improve the selection of roadside trees and trees near houses in South East India.

One of the most important factors for roadside and house trees here is to provide shade during the hot summer months. Many deciduous trees in non-temperate regions lose their leaves during this time.

The other most important factor is the ability to survive in the heat and scarce water conditions without high maintenance schedules.

The potential trees are therefore drought resistant and most are evergreen but other aspects have also been taken into consideration.

Please forward this to anyone who may be able to provide feedback of any sort or help out in some way.

Here is the link to the survey

Thank you,


Selecting Tree Seedlings from a Nursery

Insisting on good quality tree seedlings from nurseries can ensure that your trees will thrive for considerably longer than plants already riddled with defects. This is an important consideration for trees that will live for decades or potentially much longer.

Some things to consider when obtaining trees from a nursery:

  • Bigger seedlings are not always better. The smaller the tree, the more it is likely to be in establishment mode (growing roots to be able to obtain the necessary water and nutrients for later growth and maintenance). It will need water and mulching to help it along but once it gets established, it may overtake plants that were planted as larger seedlings.
  • Selecting seedlings with a main stem will reduce potential future issues such as weak branch unions and damage to branches from rubbing branches.
  • Select seedlings with most branch unions in “U” form. Genetic variations or/and improper pruning can cause some trees to produce weak unions. This has been a major issue at times when large quantities of such stock have been planted along roads or in public places as they lose healthy branches periodically and will eventually need to be removed. This can be very dangerous if they have become large trees.
  • Avoid seedlings with damaged or diseased branches and/or leaves. This could otherwise mean that your plants would not survive very long and/or they might infect other nearby plants.
  • Some seedlings are sold grafted. This means that a scion (top bit which determines the fruit and flower) is fused onto a root stock (bottom bit which determines the vigor, ultimate size and drought resistance of the plant). One such example is the chikoo (Manilkara zapota) scion which is grafted onto a Manilkara hexandra root stock which helps it survive in the arid conditions of Auroville. Another advantage of grafting is that the plant will bear fruit earlier than normal as the scion will have been taken from an already fruiting plant. When buying grafted plants, make sure the grafts have fused properly. If a branch grows from under the graft union, you will get flowers and fruit from the root stock on that branch (which is often not wanted).
  • Check the roots before planting. Many seedlings are kept in containers that are too small for them. This often leads to roots turning around the container and creating girdling roots. The impact of this can be seen years later when such trees topple over or die from, essentially, self-strangulation. Some turning roots can be pruned if they are caught early enough but not if removing them would severely affect the health and then possibly the structure of a tree if/when decay sets in. If small roots are found circling at the bottom of the pot or bag that your tree comes in, they can be teased out or pruned if too thick.


The following two pictures show a tree that has failed entirely due to girdling roots: The tree has a stem diameter of at least 60cms and a height of nearly 10 meters. You can clearly see that it is lacking lateral roots.








We transplanted this (other) tree after it had been in the ground for several years. It had two roots which would have later damaged it and were therefore pruned.



What the roots looked like initially:


How it was pruned:

What was pruned off:


This tree will require a bit more aftercare than if it had been left with the defective roots but the long term effects will far outweigh the initial stress.

In the same way, trees properly grown and prepared in the nursery will be much more beneficial in the long term.

Digging near trees and why you should know what you are doing then

A brief article to inform people of how to go about digging near trees and why it matters.

Digging occurs for many reasons but the most important (for the tree) usually occurs when a trench is being dug for foundations or utility, such as for cables or pipes (there are many ways tree roots can be damaged but I am concentrating on digging damage).

Tree roots, usually, do not go below a meter in depth in the ground as there is not enough oxygen below to sustain them (through respiration). This is why it is usually feasible to dig under tree roots (Figure 8.16) instead of through them to install cables and pipes. For trees with tap roots, one can dig under the roots but to the side of the stem rather than directly under it.

Construction work near trees should be properly evaluated as most root damage to trees often occurs during this time but the effects will only be seen several years later.


Here is an example of poor planning and devastating results:

A new construction was planned to go around this tree (image) as it was a central focal point. The tree was not considered sufficiently. The result was that many roots were destroyed during excavation and a main branch was to be removed. I was called in by the owners who could clearly see that the tree had become a hazard as the above ground parts stretched for over 15 meters each direction and the below ground parts were all cut off at 1.5 meters in each direction. The only outcome was removal of the tree as the stability and health of the tree was severely compromised.

Construction work near trees should be properly evaluated as most root damage to trees often occurs during this time but the effects will only be seen several years later. The UK minimum root protection area is 12 times the diameter of a tree measured at 1.5 meters from ground level (a 12 meter radius for a 1 meter diameter tree). Before digging within this area root presence or absence should be verified. Foundations within this area are most often of the pile variety rather than the typical trench foundation.

Please think next time you want to dig near trees, especially if you want to build as close as you can to that special tree, because that may just shorten its life time significantly and defeat your purpose.

If you want more info, clarifications or advice, you are welcome to contact me. or 7598103616