This is almost too good to be true. Keep reading if you want to learn how vetiver is a true miracle plant. What do you do when you have hard pan clay soil like we do? We dug large tree holes for our fruit trees, but at some point the roots need to penetrate the surrounding clay soil in order for the tree to grow to maturity.
Vetiver is primarily known for preventing soil erosion. It is known worldwide as the premiere plant for reducing runoff and retaining soil on slopes and stream banks. Vetiver can totally eliminate gullies in eroded areas (even 10 meter deep erosion gullies!).
What is less known is that vetiver excels at soil building. Plant vetiver grass if you have bad soil and want to turn it into a productive garden or field. It’s well known for reclamation of deteriorated ‘problem soils’ with low fertility such as leached soil, gravelly soil and acid/alkaline soils. It’s a very favorable pioneer plant for revegetation projects that help establish trees and other plants. Vetiver prefers full sun and so eventually it may not grow well in our forest garden as the fruit trees get larger. Some varieties are shade tolerant.
More advantages of vetiver grass: Grows in poor soils such as hard clay, weathering rock, salty soil and sandy soils. There’s minimal competition with surrounding plants because the roots grow vertically not horizontally. There’s a positive symbiotic relationship between vetiver and other plants. Roots grow to about 3-5 meters long (2-3m in the first year). The roots bring minerals from deep in the ground up to the surface (dynamic accumulator). The roots attract a whole host of beneficial organisms including earthworms. The deep roots aerate the soil helping to maintain aerobic properties for beneficial microorganisms. The aerated soil enhances moisture infiltration and water holding capacity and therefore reduces need for watering in dry seasons. The roots break up the hardpan and allow other roots to grow more easily and improves soil tilth. Vetiver grass can last for decades. The grass can be cut every 4-6 months and used as green manure mulch around fruit trees and vegetables to suppress weeds and provide a free and continuous source of mineral rich compost for improved crop yields. These cuttings build organic matter in the soil. Vetiver is drought resistant (no watering needed once established under the canopy of fruit trees). It is flood tolerant, reduces salinity, reduces loss of topsoil, naturally repels undesirable insects. Vetiver attracts beneficial insects that prey on harmful insects. It will regrow even if eaten or burned to the ground. Planted in hedges on contour it naturally creates terraces on hillsides without hard labor. Vetiver sequesters carbon, provides shade for smaller plants, filters toxins in the soil including decontamination of agrochemicals, helps balance soil pH. The roots grow about 3 cm (1-1/4”) per day in hot weather (60 cm depth in 3 weeks in Malaysia). Tthe grass can be used for many purposes such as thatch, baskets and fodder. It’s easy to grow but not invasive. Vetiver starts are available for free from land development offices.