DALY: Bermudagrass one of the best turfgrasses for our area

The lawns in our area consist of several different species of turfgrasses. All have advantages and disadvantages. One of the most popular among homeowners is bermudagrass, and it comprises the majority of the lawns in the county. It grows vigorously, varies in color from light to dark green, and it forms a dense turf. Bermudagrass is well adapted to our weather conditions and is easy to maintain once established. You can have an attractive and healthy bermudagrass lawn by following some simple steps.

Bermudagrass is a warm season grass meaning that it grows during the warm weather months. It then turns brown and goes dormant in the winter. Bermudagrass thrives in hot weather, and can handle prolonged periods of dry conditions. It has a fibrous root system and spreads by both above ground and below ground runners. The grass establishes rapidly if planted properly, has a fast growth rate, and can recover from diseases and damage relatively quick. However, it requires at least eight hours of sunlight a day and declines in shade. Also, bermudagrass can be invasive and grow into the beds of ornamental plants and vegetable gardens.

Bermudagrass consists of into two categories: common and hybrid. Common bermudagrass can be planted by seed and is less expensive. However, it does not produce a dense stand of turf, is light green in color, and is not overly attractive. It also produces unattractive seeds heads that require frequent mowing. The hybrid varieties produce a thicker stand of grass, have a finer texture, improved color and increased resistance to drought and diseases. These hybrids do not produce any viable seeds, and they must be installed by vegetative means such as sod, sprigs or plugs.

Many hybrid varieties of bermudagrass are available. Tift 419 is one of the older and most commonly used ones. It has a low growth habit, dense growth and dark green color. ‘Tifton 10’ has a coarse texture and blue to green color. ‘Tiftsport’ has improved cold tolerance, dense growth habit and can tolerate being cut at a low height.

The best time to plant bermudagrass, either by seed or vegetative methods, is when conditions are conducive for growth, roughly May through September. Installation of sod during the cold weather when it is dormant is not recommended. The quality of the sod is difficult to determine, and the chances of it taking root are less due to the colder temperatures. When purchasing sod or seed, it should be certified as pest free by the Georgia Crop Improvement Association. If you hire a landscape company to perform the work, then they should produce proof the material is certified.

Before installing, have the soil tested through the Gwinnett County Extension office. Remove debris and spray out undesirable vegetation with a non-selective herbicide such as RoundUp. Wait a couple of weeks, work the soil and smooth it. Apply the sod and make sure each piece if fitted tightly together. The sod should then be rolled with a sod roller to make good sod to soil contact. Apply water frequently to keep the sod moist until it has taken root.

Both newly installed bermudagrass lawns and existing ones require appropriate maintenance. Apply fertilization based on the soil test. Irrigate the grass thoroughly once or twice week long enough for the water to get down deep into the root zone. The grass should be mowed one to one and a half inches for the hybrids, and one to two inches for common bermudagrass. Use a sharp blade when mowing. Remove no more than one third of the grass blade. Thatch, which is a layer of dead grass between the soil and the grass blades, becomes problematic when it is over one half of an inch thick. It inhibits water and air infiltration, and increases the likelihood of pests. Hybrid bermudagrasses are susceptible to this problem especially if they have been over fertilized. Several ways exist in combatting the problem. In early spring as the grass begins to green up, use a lawn mower and scalp the grass down a half inch lower. Another method is using a hollow tine aerator, which reduces thatch and soil compaction.

Bermudagrass is an excellent choice for lawn grass. It attractive appearance, hardiness, and relative ease of maintenance make it one of the most popular grown turfgrasses. When installed and maintained properly, bermudagrass will be an asset to your home landscape for years to come.

Timothy Daly is the Agricultural and Natural Resources Extension Agent with Gwinnett County Extension. He can be contacted at 678-377-4010 or tdaly@uga.edu.