Bermudagrass (Cynodon sactylon) is native to tropical and subtropical countries worldwide. Spanish explorers brought Bermuda grass to the Americas in the 1500’s from the coast of Africa. Exactly when it arrived in mainland America is unclear, but documents from 1807 show that it was already being established as one of the primary grasses in southern states around that time. For that reason, today, Bermuda grass is known as ‘The South’s Grass’.
Bermudagrass is a perennial warm-season grass. This means that it comes back every year and grows most actively from late spring through hot, humid summer months. Bermudagrass is more sensitive to cold temperatures than warm-season Zoysia grass or cool-season grasses, such as turf-type tall fescue. This lack of cold tolerance prevents its widespread use in the north. Its spread ranges from the Atlantic coast, across the southern states, and into California. Bermuda grass flourishes in sites with full, direct sun and good drainage. It has superior heat, salt, humidity and drought tolerances. Although the majority of Bermuda’s roots stay within 6 inches of the surface, they can reach 6 feet or more in depth.(1) This extensive root system provides more resilience against environmental stresses than other warm-season grasses.
Characteristics and Traits of Bermudagrass
Bermudagrass is a fine-textured turfgrass that spreads by both above-ground stems known as stolons and below-ground stems called rhizomes. It is an extremely drought-hardy, durable, and versatile turfgrass that can be used in many settings. It is relatively quick to establish by seed or sprigs and is most notably known for its superior traffic tolerance and quick ability to heal after damage is done to lawn areas. These facts, combined with its tolerance to low mowing heights, make it the ideal turf for golf courses and athletic fields as well as any other areas that may experience heavy traffic.
In the warmer tropical and subtropical south, during years of average rainfall, Bermuda will retain a beautiful bright green color all year round. Lawns planted in Bermudagrass can attain full lawn coverage in just one year. In fact it is not uncommon for seeded or plugged Bermuda grass lawns to be established within 60-90 days. (Good to note that when a frost occurs, bermuda grass will turn brown and go dormant until temperatures rise again in the Spring and growth resumes.
One of the best characteristics of Bermuda grass is that it can be planted in many forms – from grass seed, sod or grass plugs. The application of Bermudagrass is also numerous, it can be planted for beautiful, durable grass lawns, nutritious and traffic tolerant pastures, sports turf, golf courses, athletic fields, and more.
- warm-season grass
- requires full sun and good drainage
- suitable for southern lawns from coast to coast
- heat, drought, traffic, and salt tolerant
- high maintenance and nutrient requirements
Varieties of Bermuda Grass and their Differences
Common bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon (L.) Pers.) varieties often have coarse leaf texture and light green color. However, improvements in common bermudagrass appearance have been achieved through selective breeding efforts, and there are many improved varieties available on the market that have finer leaf texture, a darker color, and an improved blade density. These varieties are most often planted by seed, but some improved varieties are also available as sod (Princess, for example).
Hybrid forms of common Bermudagrass include narrower leaf blade and finer overall texture. ‘Tifdwarf’ is the finest-textured, ‘Tifgreen 328’ is slightly larger, and ‘Tifway 419’ is the largest and is the best of the hybrids for residential use.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of Bermuda Grass?
As is often true in the horticultural world, a plant’s strongest assets can also be its worst characteristics. Bermudagrass has the fastest growth rate of any of the warm-season grasses. While its aggressive growth rate can make Bermudagrass difficult to contain, it enables the grass to endure heavy use. It recuperates from damage far more quickly than most grasses, and, as a result, is the preferred grass for athletic fields and golf course tee areas and fairways throughout southern regions.
These traits can make bermudagrass one of the worst weeds of all if it encroaches into places where it is not wanted. Roundup will kill stray patches of grass, but recent reports have indicated that the chemical is far more toxic than advertised and should no longer be used. Physical removal of the grass is best. In planting beds it can be controlled by covering the area with ½” compost followed by 5 layers of newspaper or one later of clean cardboard and then shredded mulch. Repeated vinegar and orange oil sprays will also kill it.
For large areas of lawn where you wish to remove established bermudagrass a process known as ‘solarization’ can be used. To solarize your lawn begin by cutting your grass as short as possible. Then thoroughly water the lawn before spreading sheets of UV-inhibitor type plastic over the area you wish to kill. Leave the plastic covering the grass for a minimum of 1 month if you are in a hot climate and up to 3 months if you are in a more temperate zone. This process creates an intensified greenhouse effect that heats the grass up beyond its normal ideal conditions. Over time, a combination of vinegar and orange oil, solarization and later an application of organic compost will rid your areas of unwanted bermudagrass (3).
Bermuda Grass and Lawn Maintenance
Because of its aggressive growth rate, Bermudagrass requires more maintenance than other lawn grass types. A monthly fertilization plan might be needed during peak growth in the late spring. Similarly, it might be necessary to mow twice a week during this period to keep Bermuda at its recommended height of 1” to 1-1/2 inches for residential lawns. Though the grass is drought tolerant, Bermuda will go brown and dormant during periods of extended drought. Give it 1” to 1-1/2 inches of water from rainfall or supplemental irrigation to avoid summer dormancy. (2) Be sure to check with your local municipalities for water restrictions during the summer drought months.
With warm-season grasses, month-by-month lawn care occurs on a different timetable than cool-season northern grasses that peak during fall. Bermuda is best planted in spring, after the final frost, as warm-season grasses come out of dormancy and enter prime growth. Overseeding existing Bermudagrass lawns with additional Bermudagrass seed can also be done at this time.
Bermuda grass grows best when soil pH is between 5.8 and 7.0, but it will tolerate more alkaline conditions.(2) In areas with overly acidic soil, regular applications of lime may be needed to keep pH at optimal levels for phosphorus nutrient availability. A good alternative grass for such areas would be Centipede grass if making amendments is not desirable. Having a soil test performed will reveal if your Bermudagrass lawn needs lime or other soil amendments to thrive.
If you live in the southern United States and your lawn needs call for a durable and wear-resistant warm-season lawn that can withstand both heat and drought, Bermudagrass may be the perfect solution providing you seasons of bright green turf grass.
1. Duble, R.L., “Bermudagrass – The Sports Turf of the South,” Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.
2. Patton, A. and Boyd, J., “Choosing a Grass for Arkansas Lawns,” University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension.
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Top Photo: Flickr // Richard Parker