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Bermuda Grass Lawns (Bermudagrass)

Bermuda is a hardy full-sun grass that thrives in hot weather.  It spreads by underground rhizomes, and above-ground stolons.  Bermuda is pretty tough and can take more abuse than most grasses – heavy traffic, heat, drought, and less than ideal soil conditions.  For this reason, it’s commonly used for sports fields, parks, golf courses, and other high-use areas. It’s the best choice for full-sun areas in the south, including all our service areas in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi.

Bermuda turns brown in the winter. In our climate, bermuda is green all summer and then as temperatures drop and we get our first frost, it goes dormant and turns a light brown.  It will remain that way until spring, when it starts to green up again, usually in March, dependent on weather.  When temperatures are consistently higher, with lows in the 70’s, bermuda will grow 24 hours per day.  In tropical climates it will stay green year round.  Farther north, it cannot survive the colder, longer winters and is not a good choice for a lawn where winter temperatures typically fall below 10 degrees.

To establish a bermuda lawn on bare dirt, we recommend sodding for best results.  Next best is plugging or sprigging, and last, for those with a lot of patience, seeding.  Bermuda seeds normally available may not turn out as fine-textured as some of the sod available.  Bermuda sod can be laid anytime, but May is the best month to sprig, plug, or sod bermudagrass. 

There are many different varieties of bermudagrass.  Common bermuda came to America in the mid-1700’s from East Africa.  Since then, lots of new cultivars have been produced, although many lawns still have common bermuda, which has a medium texture – a wider blade.  The new cultivars, like Tifway, Midway, Sunturf, Tifgreen, Floratex, Tifdwarf, and Pee Dee, have a much finer, denser texture than common bermuda.  Some are more insect and disease resistant, and most require a little closer maintenance than common bermuda.  Most of the hybrids don’t produce viable seeds and must be sodded or sprigged.

Many times we hear the question “Should I overseed my bermuda lawn?  After you kill all the weeds, I won’t have much left!” or “I don’t think I have any grass, it’s all weeds!”  You’d be surprised.  Even neglected, very thin bermudagrass will spread (those rhizomes and stolons at work) when we kill the weeds and start fertilizing, so seeding shouldn’t be necessary.  Proper mowing and watering will further thicken it up.  Mowing short and frequently will encourage it to grow sideways.  Once bermuda is established, you should never have to overseed it.

In our transition zone, bermuda may be susceptible to winterkill.  If we get unusually cold winters, or if you have bermuda that is thinning due to shade, or weakened from drought, you might see dead areas in the spring from winterkill.  If the areas are large, you may have to lay down a few pieces of sod for quicker recovery.  Small areas will recover on their own, once the bermuda is actively growing (with fertilization, frequent mowing, and watering.)

Bermuda may go into premature dormancy from lack of water, during the heat of the summer in drought conditions.  Many people allow their lawns to do this, because they don’t want to (or can’t) keep them watered in the absence of rain.  Brown grass doesn’t look very nice in the summer, but the bermuda will be fine.  It shuts down and takes a nap until it starts getting water again. 

Bermuda should be scalped in the spring after all chance of frost has past, and then mowed at 1.5 to 2.5 inches for common bermuda, or one half inch to 1.5 inches for hybrid bermuda.  During the fall, you should raise your mowing level, and leave the grass longer the last couple of mowings to better insulate it from the cold winter temperatures.  Also, refrain from trimming or edging as your grass heads into dormancy.  Areas next to concrete sidewalks and driveways are the most susceptible to winterkill.

Bermuda won’t grow in the shade.   If you start out with a full bermuda lawn and then your trees grow and it gets shadier, the bermuda will thin out and become invaded by weeds.  Killing the weeds won’t keep them out if your bermuda is too thin.  At this point, you will need to seed a shade grass under the trees (like fescue) or implement another solution like ground cover, or a flowerbed.  Our page on shade solutions may give you some ideas.

Bermuda can be susceptible to damage from insects and diseases like chinch bugs, sod webworms, leafhoppers, armyworms, Spring Dead Spot, Dollar Spot and Fairy Ring. 

Don’t overseed your bermuda with fescue or rye so you’ll have a green lawn year round, unless you’re retired or have a REALLY green thumb.  An all-year green lawn sounds like a good idea in theory, and some people do it with beautiful results, BUT – in our 30+ years of experience, we have found that the average person who tries this ends up with a mess.  The rye will die in the heat, but not all at once, and the fescue will end up in clumps, looking like weeds in your bermuda.  Unless you’re prepared to babysit your lawn, it’s best to leave that stuff to the professionals on the golf courses.

Good things about bermuda:

  • Best full-sun grass for our entire service area: Arkansas, Oklahoma,Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi.
  • Very heat and drought resistant.
  • Hardy and durable and can stand up to traffic.
  • Can be absolutely gorgeous when well-maintained.
  • Recovers quickly when damaged.
  • Grows well in a variety of soils and is fairly easy to establish.
  • Spreads vigorously & chokes out weeds when well-maintained.

Bad things about bermuda:

  • Turns brown in the winter.
  • Requires the most nitrogen fertilizer during the summer to keep it green of all other turfgrasses
  • Really hard to weed out of your flowerbeds!
  • May go dormant without water in drought conditions
  • You must edge around concrete because long stolons will creep out onto your driveway and sidewalks.
  • If you want grass under your trees when they get bigger, you will have to plant a shade grass which will be a different color than your bermuda.
  • Susceptible to diseases like Spring Dead Spot and Dollar Spot and insects like chinch bugs and armyworms.

Bermudagrass trivia: 

The name “Bermudagrass” comes from its being an invasive grass on the island of Bermuda, where it landed with traders from Africa, and also possibly from seeds blowing in with tropical winds.  The funny thing is that on the island of Bermuda, the locals call it “Crab Grass” because of the way it spreads sideways.

Bermudagrass came to the U.S. from Africa in the mid-1700’s.  When cotton and corn became the most profitable crops, bermudagrass was a complete nuisance, and something of a threat, due to its ability to spread quickly into the fields.  Later, in the 1940’s, someone figured out that it was great foraging material for livestock and developed a cultivar for pastures.  Bermudagrass is still used for forage.

In Australia, bermudagrass is called Couch grass.  Bermuda is found in over 100 countries.

Many of the low-growing hybrid cultivars were developed especially for the purpose of improving golf greens, such as Tifgreen 328, which is mowed at 5/32”.

One of the reasons that bermuda is best established from sod is that the cultivars grown from sod are propagated vegetatively (not from seed) and are sterile.  If you buy seed, then your bermudagrass will seed.  If it seeds, it has pollen. (Sniff, sniff…)

Additional resources:

Lawn Care Calendar for Bermudagrass  - pdf file from the University of Arkansas

Selecting a Lawn Grass For Oklahoma - pdf file from Oklahoma State University has info on different bermudagrass varieties

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