Everything About Bermuda Grass
If a gardener is looking for a dense turf in their garden and wondering which grass variety to choose, Bermuda Grass is a major variety they should consider.
Thanks to its extensively creeping stolons (above-ground stems) and rhizomes (underground stems), the plant quickly establishes as a thick, lush lawn.
Published: October 14, 2021.
What is Bermuda Grass?
Bermuda grass is a perennial, warm-season lawn grass belonging to the family Poaceae. Being perennial means it keeps returning every year if climate facilitates and being warm-season means it thrives well in the hot summer months.
Its botanical name is Cynodon dactylon and it’s native to Africa and Asia.
The Bermuda grass was brought to America in the early 1800s, with some sources claiming even the mid-1700s. It is extensively used in warm regions across the world as turf and pasture grass and for golf greens and athletic fields.
Since it’s salt-tolerant, it’s grown in coastal areas too. However, it’s considered an invasive species in Bermuda as well as many other places outside its native area.
The height of Bermuda grass is normally 10 to 40 cm (4 to 16 inches) and it has short flat leaves. It has upright stems at the tip of which spikelets arise in 4 or 5 slender spikes.
Bermuda grass not only forms a thick lawn, but it’s also exceptionally tolerant to heat, drought, salt, and heavy traffic.
Moreover, it recovers quickly from any damage. Furthermore, although most of its roots stay within 6 inches of the surface, they can even go 6 feet or even deeper. This deep root system makes the Bermuda grass extremely resilient to environmental stresses.
All of these qualities make Bermuda grass a popular lawn grass among gardeners in the United States. However, the limited climate requirements restrict its use. For example, Bermuda grass is not very cold tolerant and hence gardeners in the north of the ‘transition zone’ cannot use it.
On the other hand, in areas south of the transition zone starting from the Atlantic and across southern states into California, gardeners widely use Bermuda grass as lawn grass. Bermuda grass is also commonly known as ‘South Grass’, ‘Wiregrass’ and ‘Couch Grass’.
Bermuda grass can provide full lawn coverage within just one year. Seeded or plugged Bermuda grass can even get established within 60-90 days.
When temperatures drop up to the level of frost, Bermuda grass goes dormant and turns brown. When temperatures rise again in the spring, it will get activated and growth resumes.
Bermuda Grass Growing Zones
Bermuda grass is hardy to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Zones 7 through 10.
Varieties of Bermuda Grass
Although the original variety of Bermuda grass is not cold tolerant and thus gardeners in the north cannot use it for their garden lawns, new improved and cold tolerant varieties have been developed and thus now the planting area of Bermuda grass is not limited to the south but is moving further north into the transition zone.
Examples of these cold-tolerant varieties include Riviera, Mohawk, and Yukon. Even Pennington Smart Seed Bermudagrass Grass Seed and Fertilizer Mix offer higher cold tolerance in a self-repairing, wear-resistant, and self-spreading lawn.
These improved varieties are very popular in golf courses, sports fields, and home and commercial lawns.
Varieties like Riviera and Princess 77 offer a more flexible mowing height from very short to 2 inches tall. Princess 77 is the first dense, fine-textured synthetic hybrid Bermudagrass variety in the world available in seeded form.
Note: A synthetic hybrid is a product of two self-sterile clones that are grown vegetatively in designated production fields.
Another excellent option named Bermuda Triangle is a blend of 3 improved Bermuda grass seed varieties and is very popular for golf courses and home lawns.
Some more Bermuda grass varieties are as follows:
Celebration: This is a Bermuda grass variety having a blue-green color and finer texture than several other Bermuda grass varieties.
Latitude 36: This is the most cold-hardy variety of Bermuda grass. It remains evergreen as far north as southern Illinois and Indiana.
Northbridge: This variety grows well in the southern Great Lakes region. It greens up a little earlier in the spring than other Bermuda varieties.
Tifway: This variety is more suitable to warm climates and offers a golf course appearance to one’s lawn.
Bimini: This variety is deep green and fine-textured. It spreads fast and the lawn looks much like that of golf courses and sports fields.
When to Plant Bermuda Grass?
An ideal time to plant Bermuda grass is in late spring and early summer once temperatures become consistently warm. In warmer regions, this period is usually in March or April.
It’s important that the soil temperatures should consistently be above 65°F (18°C). This is reached when the daytime air temperature is 80°F or higher. Gardeners can use soil thermometers to decide the right time. They can get it at any garden retailer and is inexpensive.
How to Grow Bermuda Grass?
There are several ways of starting and growing Bermuda grass, the most common ones are from seeds and by using Bermuda grass plugs and sods.
Growing Bermuda Grass from Seeds
It’s important to have the right climate in order to let Bermuda grass thrive. Therefore the gardener should first make sure they have the right climate; otherwise, their efforts may be wasted.
If they live in a northern region of the US or a region that receives freezing temperatures, Bermuda grass may not be the right choice.
However, more expensive Bermuda grass hybrid varieties resilient to cold are available, which gardeners living in the north can use and grow a lush green Bermuda grass lawn.
Preparing the Soil
Firstly, the gardener should till the soil to free it from weeds and other grasses with a tilling machine or manual tiller. This way the Bermuda grass won’t have to compete with weeds or other grasses while it’s growing.
Gardeners should till the soil carefully, more than once to make sure they remove any grass babies that may start germinating after the first tilling.
After such careful tilling, before planting Bermuda grass, the gardener should rake away dead grass and leaves.
Testing the Soil
Then they should test the soil in their garden. Soil pH from 5.6 to 7 is the best for Bermuda grass to thrive. If the test shows that the soil is too acidic, the gardener should add lime to it, whereas if it’s too alkaline, they can amend it by adding sulfur to increase the acidity. One can even apply a lawn starter fertilizer before planting.
Bermuda grass needs soil that is well-drained and high in organic matter. Therefore clay soil is not good for Bermuda grass. To make the soil rich in organic matter, one can purchase humus and lay down several inches, and mix it with the soil before planting the grass.
Note: Generally, lawn lime is non-toxic to animals. However, if one has a pet and if it comes in direct contact with the lawn lime, it can be harmful. Consequences can range from minor burns on paws and skin rashes to hypercalcemia. So, pet owners should be careful while adding lawn lime to the soil.
Planting the Bermuda Grass Seeds
For growing Bermuda grass from seed, the gardener should rake over the planting area with a rake and even out the soil. They should remove any mounds and depressions on the lawn and make the surface flat. They should fill the depressions with soil and remove any large rocks or leftover organic matter.
Now they should plant seeds by hand or with a broadcast seeder that will disperse the seeds evenly. To grow a thick lawn, 1-2 pounds (453 to 907 g) seeds per 1000 sq. feet (305 sq. meters) should be used.
Now they should cover the seeds with a ¼ inch layer of soil using a rake. However, they should take care to avoid spreading too much soil because that will stop the growth. Thus the seeds should be lightly covered with a 1/8 to ¼ inch layer of soil.
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Right after planting the seeds, the gardener should water the yard thoroughly so as to make the soil moist. Then they should continue watering daily. After watering, they should stick their finger in the soil to check if the top half-inch of the soil is moist.
Although Bermuda grass is drought tolerant, its seeds need a lot of water initially to germinate. The soil should be kept moist consistently for the first 3 weeks while the seeds are in the ground. After that, the watering can be slowly reduced as the lawn matures.
Bermuda Grass Fertilizer
If the gardener hasn’t done a soil test, they can apply a complete (N-P-K) turf-grade fertilizer in a 3-1-2 or 4-1-2 ratio. They can sprinkle the fertilizer over the soil. Seeds should germinate within 10 to 30 days under ideal conditions.
Planting from Sods
Another method of growing Bermuda grass is from sods.
Grass sods are patches of pre-grown grass that can be rolled out on the soil.
The gardener will want to know how many square feet of sod they will need. Therefore they should measure their yard with a tape measure. They should exclude the areas where the grass won’t grow, such as blacktops and driveways.
Watering before Laying the Sod
The night before laying down the sod, the gardener should water their yard with ¼ to ½ inch of water in order to prepare the soil and facilitate a healthy growth of the Bermuda grass. They should avoid pooling of water over the soil. Water should penetrate inside.
If the water pools over the soil surface, it means either there is too much watering or the soil contains too much clay. In that case, the gardener should till compost in the soil.
Laying of Sod
Now the gardener should roll out the sod on the longest straight border of their yard. They should roll out the sod with its soil side down and should keep pushing it until it completely flattens out.
They should continue laying down the sods, edge to edge, till the yard is completely covered.
Wherever there are obstructions like a fountain or driveway where the sod doesn’t fit, the gardener should trim the sod with a shovel.
Watering the Sod
Once all the sods are laid down, the gardener should immediately water them thoroughly. Then they should continue watering it every day in the morning. Watering in the evening may promote fungal growth during the night.
Foot traffic on the sod should be avoided at least for a week after laying it to encourage healthy growth.
Planting from Plugs
Grass plugs are small patches of pre-grown grass that can be planted directly in the soil, letting the grass spread naturally.
If one wants to grow Bermuda grass from plugs, one can first plant the Bermuda grass in a small area. Then they should remove/kill the old grass and weeds from the area intended for Bermuda grass. There are 3 methods for doing this.
Chemical glyphosphate will kill the existing grass or vegetation in the planting area and the chemical Ronstar will prevent weed seeds from germinating.
The gardener should spray glyphosphate on the planting area and wait for a week and then again spray it and again wait for a week, and then start plugging. Ronstar should be sprayed a week before plugging.
Note: Any chemical should be used as instructed by the manufacturer!
Tilling will help one get rid of existing grass without having to use chemicals.
Solarizing includes tilling, watering and then covering the planting area with clear plastic. This is to be done in summer for a minimum of 4 weeks.
Although this method is a bit more intricate, it kills seeds in the ground, which other methods don’t do so effectively.
The gardener should water both sod and planting area the night before plugging since wet soil is a lot easier to plug than dry soil, especially if it has heavy clay content.
However, they should take care to avoid overwatering since if the soil becomes soggy, the plugger may clog up or it may be difficult for the plugs to come out of the ground.
Using a 2” depth ring, the gardener should take plugs out of the planting area 6” apart. One can even use a 4” depth ring if they would be transplanting from established grass and want to keep all 4” of roots. Then they should dispose of this soil or keep it if it has no weed seeds in it.
If the soil is too difficult to plug, they can water it again and wait for a while to let the water enter all the way through the soil.
Taking Plugs Out of Bermuda Sod and Taking them to the Planting Area
Now the gardener should take plugs out of the Bermuda sod 3” apart. Then they should gently transport them to the planting area. Now they should plant these plugs.
If the sod plugs sit too high i.e. if the holes made in the planting area are too short, the gardener should remove some soil from the bottom of the holes. If the sod plugs sit too low, they can add some loose soil into the hole.
Now they should fill up the holes made in the Bermuda sod with a commercial soil mix or the soil taken out from the planting area while plugging it. The soil should not have weed seeds in it. They should rake it in back and forth till the holes are filled in completely.
Watering the New Bermuda Plugs
The gardener should water the new Bermuda grass plugs 3 times a day for 20 minutes for the first two weeks, then 2 times a day for 20 minutes for the 3rd week, once daily in the 4th week, and then follow the normal watering guidelines for the grass variety they’ve chosen.
The watering schedule should be followed depending on how hot one’s climate is and the soil type. One can even use a watering timer or sprinklers that are adjustable in both directions.
If the gardener wants to plug again, they should wait 6 weeks for the sod to regrow and then plant another batch of plugs.
How to Take Care of Bermuda Grass Lawn
Bermuda grass is quite hardy but needs significant attention. However, the maintenance it needs is quite basic. A gardener has to perform certain maintenance tasks in order to make their lawn look and perform the best. Here they are.
Weed Prevention and Applying a Fertilizer
A gardener should prevent weeds and apply fertilizer to their established Bermuda grass lawn in early spring. They should do so any time before crabgrass seeds start sprouting. This starts when soil temperatures become 55°F.
This period can be late January or early February some years in far southern and western regions.
Gardeners should mow their Bermuda grass lawn once in early spring. They should remove dormant clippings to prevent the spread of fungal disease.
Active growth of Bermuda grass starts when soil temperatures reach 65°F. At this time, the gardener should mow their lawn to maintain its height to 1 to 1 ½ inches. Never cut more than 1/3rd of the blade in a single mowing session.
During its active growth period, gardeners may have to mow the Bermuda grass lawn more than once per week. Gardeners should continue mowing the Bermuda grass lawn to 1 to 1 ½ inches till it stops growing and goes dormant.
Aerating and Dethatching
The dense, aggressive growth of Bermuda grass can often result in excess thatch. Gardeners should aerate compacted soil and dethatch the lawn when it reaches its peak growth in late spring and early summer.
Gardeners should water their established Bermuda grass lawn in such a way that it receives around 1” of water per week including rainwater. Watering should be slowly reduced as dormancy approaches.
Gardeners should test their lawn soil every 3 to 4 years to check soil pH. Bermuda grass needs a soil pH between 5.8 and 7.0. However, it’s alkalinity tolerant. If the soil is overly acidic, gardeners should add lime. Adding gypsum to the soil helps loosen heavy clay soil and improve root growth.
Gardeners should keep their gardening tools sharp and clean to lessen the risk of lawn diseases and be prepared for spring.
Maintenance During Dormancy
Mowing: During the winter months, Bermuda grass goes dormant. In this period, it doesn’t need mowing. The gardener should only mow the green cool-season ryegrass lawn grown from overseeding to maintain its height to 2 inches.
Watering: The gardener should water the dormant Bermuda grass lawn only if required to prevent desiccation. If the Bermuda grass lawn is overseeded, they should water the ryegrasses so as to let them receive 1 to 1 ¼ inches of water per week.
Weed Control: Gardeners should spot-treat winter weeds. This is easy because the weeds can be easily noticed on the backdrop of the dormant Bermuda grass.
Cleaning: Gardeners should also clean winter debris like sticks and stones off their lawn.
Thickening Thin Lawns by Interseeding and Overseeding
If one’s Bermuda grass lawn has thinned out due to wear and tear or ryegrass overseeding damage, they can consider interseeding their existing Bermuda grass lawn.
Gardeners and turfgrass managers in the southern U.S. usually plan each year to add extra Bermuda grass seed or sprigs to their turf grass in areas that have thinned or worn out because of overseeding stress.
This is a regular maintenance task to keep Bermuda quantity high and to help dormant Bermuda grass recover faster from winter dormancy and ryegrass overseeding.
Turf-type seeded Bermuda grasses blend well and enhance the overall look and performance of any seeded Bermuda base that has thinned out. In some cases, an annual interseeding or overseeding with a newer higher quality seeded Bermuda grass variety is also useful for lawns with a base of hybrid Bermuda.
When and How: This should be done in mid-spring as soil temperatures reach 60°F. Mowing height for the winter overseeded ryegrass should be decreased to half to slow down ryegrass growth to lessen competition with the new Bermuda seedlings.
It will also allow more sunlight to reach the soil surface for faster germination.
Some gardeners even use growth regulators to further slow down the ryegrass growth. Growth regulators should be applied 1-2 weeks before seeding Bermuda grass.
Aerating or Spiking: This has been proven very successful. It’s to be done in two directions and then Bermuda grass seeds are broadcast uniformly.
This works well with the seedlings establishing in the openings and spreading from there to blend with the existing Bermuda sod.
Opening the thatch and soil surface using a slicer seeder and planting the seed in the shallow slice furrows also works well to help new Bermuda seedlings establish in the existing sod.
How Much: Gardeners should use 1 ½ to 2 pounds of turf-type Bermuda seed per 1,000 sq. feet. For best results, they should plant the seed shallow i.e. less than ¼ inches. Soil temperature should be more than 65°F for best germination and establishment. For best results, regular light watering or spring/early summer rains for the first 2-3 weeks are essential.
Bermuda Grass Pests and Diseases
Bermuda grass lawns can be affected by many pests and diseases. Here are a few.
Brown Patch: This is a fungal disease. Its signs are areas of dead grass that typically enlarge to acquire donut-like shapes with diameters of several feet. This disease commonly occurs in lawns that receive excessive water and fertilizer. Gardeners can prevent it with proper management. However, lawn fungicides are effective against it if it becomes severe.
Dollar Spot: This looks the same as a brown patch, but the size of the dead areas is usually only a few inches rather than a few feet. Although it can be treated with fungicides, it can be best prevented with proper turf management.
Inadequate moisture and fertilizer can cause the disease.
Grubs: White grubs are the larval stage of many species of beetle and are one of the most problematic pests in Bermuda grass lawns. They are thick-bodied, short, white worms that eat up roots resulting in thinned lawns.
Several pesticides are available to treat white grubs. However, the bacteria Bt are a naturally occurring and effective treatment.
Removing or Mulching Fallen Leaves
The most basic requirements of any lawn i.e. oxygen, sunlight, water, and nutrients can remain unfulfilled due to fallen leaves. It’s like growing the lawn in dense shade.
There are two ways of getting rid of fallen leaves, first is raking them. However, the other way is more beneficial to the lawn – mulching the leaves.
Note: fallen leaves can be also removed using leaf blowers and leaf vacuums. Most leaf vacuums feature impellers that shreds the vacuumed leaves in a 1:6 to 1:18 ratio, allowing the gardener to collect a large amount of leaves in the collector bag. Collected shredded leaves can be used as mulch if needed.
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Mulched leaves offer a natural fertilizer and useful organic matter to the lawn. Mulching of fallen leaves also deters the germination of weed seeds such as crabgrass and dandelions.
One can mulch fallen leaves during regular lawn mowing. But if one has to deal with large amounts of heavy leaves, they can use a dedicated mulching mower. A mulching mower or leaf mulcher is designed particularly for shredding leaves and not cutting grass.
Mulching grass clippings into the lawn with the mulching mower delivers an all-natural fertilizer every time the gardener mows.
Overseeding for Winter Color
Gardeners can overseed Bermudagrass lawns in winter to achieve temporary color during Bermuda’s dormancy.
They can do this with ryegrass seeds. But they should wait for at least one year i.e. after Bermuda gets is established.
In the second year, they should wait till the night temperatures consistently drop below 65°F. Weed killers should be avoided at least 3 weeks before overseeding.
Gardeners should mow the Bermuda lawn as short as they can. However, they should not use a de-thatcher or similar device, as dethatching of Bermuda is best done early to mid-summer and not in the fall as Bermuda has a good growing season in hand to recover and regrow after dethatching in early to mid-summer.
While overseeding for winter color, the gardener should spread 8 to 10 pounds of perennial ryegrass seeds per 1,000 sq. feet. Any heavier than this can cause diseases in ryegrass seedlings and problems in getting rids of ryegrass next spring to let the Bermuda grass to return.
After spreading the seed, they should add around a ½ inch layer of any type of mulch on top of the seeds to allow it to hold moisture for better sprouting and to reduce the risk of birds eating the seeds.
Then they should water the planting area 3-4 times a day for 5-10 minutes every time for the first 3-4 weeks to let the lawn germinate and get established.
Then they should reduce the watering frequency and increase the length of time of watering to let the water go deep and help develop deeper stronger roots.
During mid-winter, they should water once every 3-5 days for 20 minutes per day.
Long Story Short: The gardeners can grow Bermuda grass in their yard without much effort and enjoy pleasant greenery! Bermuda grass is for a reason one of the most popular lawn grasses...