Growing Vetiver: Tips and Tricks

When you get your plants, if bare rooted, store the roots in water until you plant them out. Add some fertiliser if you like. We use composted cow manure until the water changes colour. You can store them that way for months as Vetiver will grow in water. Refresh the water by topping up and allowing some run off.

Don't expect too much of your Vetiver for the first year. Conditions will vary but the plants won't take off until they are consolidated in their new home. But everyone gets inpatient with growth rates during the first year. Thereafter, is something else.

Plant your Vetiver during the warmer months. It is a tropical plant originally and Vetiver thrives on heat. Its growth will pause at 5C so keep that in mind. In the sub tropics your planting window is really August to the following April, all year round in the Tropics, and October to March in temperate and Mediterranean climates.  You plants won't die on you if you plant them at other times -- they'll just be slower to grow.

Keep the water up. While Vetiver will tolerate drought it is still vulnerable when it is first planted. For the first 6 weeks water the plants frequently and make sure they are kept moist during their first year of growth. Generally, Vetiver can tolerate bore water but does not survive long term inundation in salt water.

Like any grass Vetiver appreciates fertiliser. Anything you may have with Nitrogen in it is good during the plants' first year. We use cow manures either in dry form or dissolved in water.

Trim your Vetiver. Once the plants take off you can start to trim your Vetiver to as low as 30 cm.  Cutting the stems  encourages more tillers. Generally, you should look forward to trimming your plants at least three times per year. Use the cut stems for mulch, fodder or take up basket weaving and build a thatched hut.

Don't plant your Vetiver in the shade. Vetiver will tolerate some shade if you keep the moisture and nutrients up to it, but it isn't a plant for growing under trees. Under shady conditions growth will be slower and root and stem development less than plants growing in full sun. Indeed, even when you grow-on your slips in water, leave them in full sun. Only shade them if they are bare rooted slips stored for a few days.

Keep the weeds down. Like any plant, Vetiver in its first year does not appreciate competition. Trim any weeds around the clumps. Take care as it is easy to uproot the Vetiver if you are pulling weeds. We pull a sickle vertically through the hedge like this. You can also use a brush cutter but its whipping cord will get caught on the Vetiver stems and quickly shorten. Metal blade ends are better.

Mulch your Vetiver. Like with any plant, mulching  is sure to help out its lifestyle. Ironic, as Vetiver grows its own mulch. If you are using the Vetiver system along the contour, during the plants' first year  (at least) lay mulch along the up slope side to help the hedge to consolidate. We also use green mulches.

Divide your Vetiver at 15-25 tillers. If you plan to divide your Vetiver to create new plants don't wait until your plant is a monster. Divide when there are 15-25 tillers because the quality of the root stock will be better, the divisions more robust, and digging up the plant will be easier. Rather than divide plants that may be growing in a hedge, it is a good idea to plant some Vetiver slips separately in a nursery area to grow on for division.

Burn or cut back Vetiver as a fire break. While Vetiver recovers quickly from a bushfire it can be deployed as part of a protective zone strategy. It will burn like any other grass, but it is easy to manage  as you can cut it back at the onset of the fire season thus removing its potential fuel capacity and allowing only green shoots to prevail during the Summer heat. Vetiver is also useful for dampening an area as the roots go deep and draw up moisture. So it has a place in fire protection ecology.

Grow Vetiver in partnership with vegetables and fruits. There are two ways you can integrate Vetiver with your orchard or vegetable patch.
  1. Plant a Vetiver hedge around the border of your beds to supply mulch, draw up moisture and influence soil and insect ecology. For the best impact, keep your beds narrow and keep the hedge trimmed to around 30cm high.
  2. Plant  Vetiver  in direct partnership with seedlings and saplings so that the Vetiver develops a symbiotic relationship with the new plantings. The Vetiver generates a wicking effect that can sustain the partnership without seemingly impacting on the growth rate of the seedling or sapling.

Vetiver will also serve as a trellis supporting tomatoes, squashes and other rambling plants. We grow tomatoes right next to a Vetiver hedge. The hedge helps to irrigate the tomato plants, by drawing up moisture, it enriches the soil microbiology, and the tomato stems can scramble over the Vetiver so that the fruits rest above the ground.
When planting saplings, research suggests that you can plant Vetiver in the same hole or ring the tree with a Vetiver circle.

Check out these topics for further information: