Grass with gumption to fight erosion

The spring equinox: sun about 10 degrees from being directly overhead at noon, and me?  I was doing a chorus of “Mad Dogs and Englishmen.” I was out planting vetiver on a slope near the house.  I am well and truly torleyheader062314cooked in places that were not tan and even the tanned areas are a bit warm.

That’s one of the issues with gardening in the tropics. It is fairly easy to get a nasty sunburn especially, as the song goes, you “go out in the noonday sun.”  The thing is, I knew it was happening. I wanted to cover up, but my beach umbrellas – handy when gardening – all seemed to be among the missing. So now I am paying the price.

Sunburn or not, it was a successful day of planting vetiver.  This clumping grass has been around for a long time.  There is a farm in India with a 200+-year-old stand of the grass doing what it does best – preventing erosion.  The Army Corp of Engineers used it in World War II all over the Pacific Theater.

The grass is popular all over the Pacific but it’s amazing how little known it is to expats like myself.  Well, time to learn because I evidently don’t walk around our property enough. We are up in the hills overlooking Lake Arenal, and the hills are the problem. All that up and down gets exhausting after a while.  The minute I forget to pay attention to the property, something will come up. This time, something came down: A nasty slump in a hillside.

Cows are part of the problem, all that chomping of grass and clomping of hooves. But rain is certainly an issue any time land slumps.  For a solution, I am reaching for vetiver.  Vetiveria zizanioides to be exact (don’t ask me to pronounce the ziza-part).

And why?  Because vetiver has really really deep roots. The roots can grow 3 to 4 meters (up to 13 feet) in the first year.  That’s impressive.  As the rains come and soil begins to wash down the hill it hits clumps of the grass and stays put.  This silt, caught by vetiver, can build up at a rate of 10-30 cm (5-15 inches) in one season.  Planted correctly, it actually helps terraces form.

This is actually a miracle grass in many ways.  Cows eat it, and it comes back.  It’s non-invasive, reduces water runoff, filters the water, is pest and disease resistant, is adaptable to many soils, the list just goes on and on.

So, if you have hilly land and worry about erosion, grab yourself some vetiver.  It truly is a miracle grass.

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