Your Guide to Bermuda Grass: Knowing the Ins and Outs

Bermuda Grass

Bermuda grass (Cynodon spp.) is a tough and adaptable grass that is one of the top choices for lawns in the southern half of the country. Its all-around vigor makes it a relatively low maintenance choice for lawns.

Get to Know Bermuda Grass

Bermuda grass is a fine-textured species that forms a very dense, tough turf which holds up well to heavy foot traffic. It is often used for playing fields for this reason. It's so tough mainly because it spreads and grows via rhizomes that creep along the soil.

Compared to other lawn grasses, it is not necessarily considered as attractive as some species, such as zoysia, but its ease of maintenance and toughness makes it a popular choice, especially in warmer climates.

Basics of Growing Bermuda Grass

Bermuda grass grows best in hot weather - the hotter, the better. It also needs full sun; Bermuda grass not a good choice for planting under trees or where buildings shade the ground.

It is evergreen in frost-free areas, but in colder climates (colder than hardiness zone 7) it goes dormant for the winter after the first frost in fall, dying down to its roots and leaving the lawn looking brown until it sprouts again in spring.

Bermuda grass grows best with an inch of water per week. It will survive on much less water, but will not look very appealing. The rhizomes are capable of withstanding long periods of drought in a dormant state and then springing back to life when water is available again, which is what makes it one of the easiest lawns to grow, and also why some consider it a weed that's very difficult to get rid of once it takes hold.

Starting a Bermuda Grass Lawn

For home lawns, Bermuda grass is typically planted by seed or as sod in spring or early summer once daytime temperatures are consistently above 80 degrees. It can also be planted in early fall, especially in mild winter climates that have little to no frost.

Growing a Bermuda Grass Lawn From Seed

Bermuda grass is fairly easy to grow from seed. Bermuda grass seed takes two to three weeks to germinate, and you'll have to give it some babying both before it germinates and after, when your lawn is getting established.

  1. Start by preparing the soil. For a large area, a tiller will make this fast and easy. For a small area, you can use a garden fork. Loosen the soil to about six inches so the roots can easily grow into it.
  2. Add some compost to the soil to give your Bermuda grass seed some added nutrients for strong growth.
  3. Rake the surface of the soil smooth.
  4. Sow the seed. Sow Bermuda grass seed at a rate of 2 to 3 pounds per 1,000 square feet using a seed spreader to help distribute the seed evenly.
  5. Rake the soil lightly to cover the seed with a thin layer of earth.
  6. Water well, keeping the soil evenly moist until the seeds have germinated. This may mean watering several times per day during hot weather. After the Bermuda grass sprouts, you'll want to water whenever the top inch of soil is dry for the first few weeks to ensure that it gets established well.
Grass sprouting

What Does Bermuda Grass Look Like When It Sprouts?

When it's first sprouting, Bermuda grass has a brownish-purple color to it. This makes it somewhat difficult to see, since it blends into the soil. It'll stay this color until it grows larger and starts sprouting leaves, which will be the green color of the actual lawn.

Bermuda grass sprouts have a fine, thin texture. Again, once it starts growing leaves (the blades of the grass), it will develop a broader texture.

Sod for a Bermuda Grass Lawn

Bermuda grass sod comes in either rolls or rectangular sections. If possible, lay the sod as soon as it is obtained, rather than leaving it stacked on a pallet. If you can't use it right away, keep the sod moist until planting time.

  1. Prepare the soil by loosening it, adding compost, and raking it level.
  2. Lay the sod from one side of the yard to the other. Walk on it as you lay it to push it firmly into the soil.
  3. Butt the sections of sod as close as possible so you don't get gaps between sections of sod.
  4. Trim sod with a knife to fit it around beds, trees, and other obstructions.
  5. Water well, and then water every day (twice per day for 20 minutes) for the next two weeks.
  6. After the lawn is established, it will need an inch of water per week.
Bermuda sod

Bermuda Grass Varieties

There are several varieties of Bermuda grass available, and some are specifically bred for colder climates.

  • Latitude 36 - This is the most cold-hardy Bermuda grass variety available. It stays evergreen as far north as southern Indiana and Illinois.
  • Celebration - If you're looking for a blue-green Bermuda grass lawn, this might be the variety for you. It has a finer texture than many other Bermuda grass varieties as well.
  • Northbridge - This variety also grows well into the southern Great Lakes region, and greens up a bit earlier in the spring than other Bermuda grass varieties do.
  • Bimini - Fine-textured, deep green, and spreads quickly, this variety provides the type of lawn many associate with golf courses or sports fields.
  • Tifway - This is another variety more suitable for warm climates that gives that golf course look to a lawn.

Bermuda Grass Lawn Care

Irrigate and mow Bermuda grass weekly to maintain a lush, dense turf. A one-inch blade height generally works well, but avoid cutting more than one-third of the height of the grass at any one time.

Fertilize every six weeks during the growing season with a slow release, high nitrogen fertilizer for best results. Weeds are less likely to appear if the turf is dense and full.

Pests and Disease

There are several pests and disease that are common in Bermuda grass lawns:

  • Brown patch is a fungal disease indicated by areas of dead grass that often enlarge to form donut-like shapes several feet in diameter. This disease is most common in lawns that receive excessive irrigation and fertilizer. Proper management can prevent outbreaks of the disease, but lawn fungicides are an effective treatment if it becomes a problem.
grub
  • White grubs, which are the larval stage of several species of beetle, are one of the most troublesome insect pests in Bermuda grass lawns. They are short, thick-bodied white worms that feed on the roots and can cause the turf to become very thin if a heavy infestation occurs. Various pesticides are available to treat white grubs though the bacteria Bt, which is a naturally-occurring bacteria that is an effective treatment.
  • Dollar spot is similar in appearance to Brown spot, but the size of the dead areas is typically only a few inches rather than a few feet. It can also be treated with fungicides, but it is best kept at bay with proper turf management - in this case, it is insufficient fertilizer and moisture that lead to the disease.
Bermuda grass rhizomes

Tough and Low Maintenance

Bermuda grass is ideal for high-traffic areas and great for homeowners who don't want to spend a ton of time on lawn care. Keep in mind that it spreads quite a bit, so you'll have to be vigilant about weeding it out of flower beds.

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Your Guide to Bermuda Grass: Knowing the Ins and Outs