For centuries, people annoyed with plant pests have used oils to control insects, mites, and even some fungal diseases. Current oil products are better than ever!

horticultural oil and neem oil bottles

Sample oil products for pest control. Photo by Mary Derrick.

Commercially available horticultural oils are mineral oils from refined petroleum products. Impurities are removed and then an emulsifying agent is added that allows the oil to mix with water for application. Neem oil is a newer product that has become increasingly popular; the oil is an extract of the seeds of the neem tree.

What are some of the advantages of using an oil for pest control?

  • Oils are inexpensive and easy to apply
  • Oils can be used on most plants (check the label for a list!)
  • Oils control a wide range of pests that feed on plants (again, check the label for a list of pests the product will control!)
  • Oils pose a low risk to people, pets, and desirable beneficial predators
  • Since oils kill pests by blocking their breathing holes (spiracles) and/or gumming up their mouthparts, there is no chance for resistance to develop
  • One product can control both insects and some diseases like powdery mildew at once
  • Oils can be combined with some other pesticides to provide greater control

[warning] Don’t combine with, or use within 30 days of, any sulfur based pesticide. The combination can harm your plants![/warning]

There are always drawbacks to a product. What are the drawbacks?

  • Some plants (including cryptomeria, junipers, cedars, maples, and redbud) are damaged by oils – check the label!
  • Ensure good coverage during spraying as pests must be contacted with the oil in order for the control to work
  • Oils break down quickly and reapplication may be necessary
  • Check the label for instructions on the temperature range when it can be used. Older formulations generally are safe when temperatures are in the 40 to 80°F range but ultra-fine oils can generally be safely applied during hotter weather.


For further information:

Natural Products for Insect Pest Management from UF IFAS Extension

Insect Control: Horticultural Oils from Colorado State University Extension

Less Toxic Pesticides  from Clemson University Cooperative Extension


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