Gardening Tips from Down South

How to Grow Kudzu

by Tifton Merritt


From "The American Heritage Dictionary":

Kudzu (kood'zoo) n. A vine, Pueraria lobata, native to Japan, having compound leaves and clusters of reddish purple flowers and grown for fodder and foliage.


All you beginning gardeners out there might want to consider growing kudzu as a fine way to launch out into the great adventure of gardening in the south. Kudzu, for those of you not already familiar with it, is a hardy perennial that can be grown quite well by the beginner who observes these few simple rules:

Choosing a Plot:

Kudzu can be grown almost anywhere, so site selection is not the problem it is with some other finicky plants like strawberries. Although kudzu will grow quite well on cement, for best result you should select an area having at least some dirt. To avoid possible lawsuits, it is advisable to plant well away from your neighbors house, unless, of course, you don't get along well with your neighbor anyway.

Preparing the Soil:

Go out and stomp on the soil for a while just to get its attention and to prepare it for kudzu.

Deciding When to Plant:

Kudzu should always be planted at night. If kudzu is planted during daylight hours, angry neighbors might see you and begin throwing rocks at you.

Selecting the Proper Fertilizer:

The best fertilizer I have discovered for kudzu is 40 weight non-detergent motor oil. Kudzu actually doesn't need anything to help it grow, but the motor oil helps to prevent scraping the underside of the tender leaves when the kudzu starts its rapid growth. It also cuts down on the friction and lessens the danger of fire when the kudzu really starts to move. Change oil once every thousand feet or every two weeks which ever comes first.

Mulching the Plants:

Contrary to what may be told by the Extension Service, kudzu can profit from a good mulch. I have found that a heavy mulch for the young plants produces a hardier crop. For best results, as soon as the young shoots begin to appear, cover kudzu with concrete blocks. Although this causes a temporary setback, your kudzu will accept this mulch as a challenge and will reward you with redoubled determination in the long run.

Organic or Chemical Gardenning:

Kudzu is ideal for either the organic gardener or for those who prefer to use chemicals to ward off garden pests. Kudzu is oblivious to both chemicals and pests. Therefore, you can grow organically and let the pests get out of the way of the kudzu as best they can, or you can spray any commercial poison directly on your crop. Your decision depends on how much you enjoy killing bugs. The kudzu will not mind either way.

Crop Rotation:

Many gardeners are understandably concerned that growing the same crop year after year will deplete the soil. If you desire to change from kudzu to some other plant next year, now is the time to begin preparations. Right now, before the growing season has reached its peak, you should list your house and lot with a reputable real estate agent and begin making plans to move elsewhere. Your chances of selling will be better now than they will be later in the year, when it may be difficult for a prospective buyer to realize that underneath those lush green vines stands an adorable three-bedroom house.

Kudzu was introduced to Georgia earlier this century in an attempt to provide improved fodder for cattle. It worked ALL TOO WELL. Cattle do love kudzu but not nearly as much as kudzu loves Georgia. Georgia provides nearly ideal climate and growing conditions for this rapid growing and hardy perenial (that's "hardy", as in calling nuclear weapons "explosive").

People have been known to leave home on vacation down here only to return a week later to find cars and other LARGE objects buried under its lush greenery. It climbs telephone poles and crosses wires. Its eradication is a major expense to utility companies. The City of Atlanta has used bulldozers to dig up the tubers in vacant lots. It's resistant to most "safe" chemicals although 2,4,D has some effect if used frequently enough.It's sometimes call "yard-a-night" down here because that's how fast it seems to grow. The only question seems to be whether the "yard" referred to is that of "3 feet" or that of "front and back". Rumor has it that some of the roads in the more rural areas don't get enough traffic and will be covered by kudzu after a long holiday weekend.

It is a very pretty vine in early spring and summer. Its broad leaves and flowers are quite attractive until you start to realize that the dead stick, that it's sunning itself on, use to be a huge pine tree. In the winter, the first hard frost turns kudzu into tons of ugly brown leaves and thick vines. It becomes a real eyesore and possibly a fire hazard although I haven't heard of any actual kudzu fires. The plant regrows new vines from the ground up every year, so you can see it's growth rate must be phenomenal.

I understand that the Japanese make a highly regarded form of tofu from kudzu tubers. It is supposed to be prized for it's nutty flavor (soy tofu is rather bland). The Japanese cannot produce enough to meet their own demand and think we're NUTS for trying to eliminate it. I haven't been able to confirm this use for kudzu, but, if true, they may well be right. We've got plenty of hungry people and LOTS of kudzu!

The existance of kudzu in a neigborhood has been known to, adversely, affect property values. The threat of planting kudzu in someone's yard is generally considered an extreme case of "fightin' words", potentially followed by "justifiable homicide". Regardless, you can still obtain kudzu seeds from several major seed companies who list it as a "hardy ornamental perennial". If understatement was a crime they'd be history.


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