Miracle Soil Building Properties of Vetiver Grass

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.

USDA vetiver growing guide for the US
The Vetiver Network International
Black Cotton Soils and the Vetiver System
Vetiver Grass Training Manual (137 page PDF)

8 thoughts on “Miracle Soil Building Properties of Vetiver Grass”

  1. the comments above said local ag offices give away vetiver, compost (for manure) and jugs of beneficial organisms. Is that just for Thai citizens or can an urban farm in Los Angeles county get this as well? And if so which office to contact?

    • I suspect that the post was referring to Thai agencies, since that is where Owen was living when he wrote this.

  2. A friend gave me a pot of overgrown vertiver last week. After perusal online, I broke it into smaller clumps, planted the biggest one in a pot to multiply, a small washed clump in an outdoor fish pond, one clump to a friend who is planting on a steep hill and was wondering whether I could use the last clump in my garden that has hard clay soil to help break it up. This confirms my plan to plant and completely pull up to harvest leaves for mulch, roots for essential oil and replant the clump in another spot in the garden. Thanks for making this information available.

  3. Sawadee Kar Khun Owen?? Thank you very much for your videos on youtube and all the articles on this site. I am moving back to Minburi, Thailand this year. From one of your videos, you mentioned that you bought 1500 vetiver grass plants. Did you have to order that? Where did you buy? IKop khun kar ??

    • Contact your local agricultural office. The government gives the plants away for free. There are limitations of course. You have to own land nearby and be in progress of upgrading the land, etc. A Thai citizen must sign for the vetiver starts.

      The same office has a special deal on compost. Bring in 10 bags of manure and you can take away 20 bags of finished compost. They mound up leaves, rice hulls etc. with the manure using a tractor and let it decompose all year. The compost is typically available before the rainy season. Check in March.

      Another local ag office has deals on EM (effective microorganisms). They’ll give you a gallon jug of EM and free directions for mixing with fruit scraps, raw molasses, etc. This is stored in a barrel for a few weeks and then you dilute it and pour around your plants.

  4. Great plant, if only it would grow where it’s cold. USDA zones 9-11. I wonder how fast it grows? If it was a fast grower, it could be used for erosion control before it died and left to decompose. We have only about 5 months of frost free weather. I don’t think that would be enough.


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