Maintenance for Bermuda Grass

Overview

Bermuda grass was imported to the New World by colonists because it was a low-maintenance lawn grass that grew well in semi-tropical climates of the South. It was listed as one of the principal grasses in the Southern U.S. in 1807 and currently fills lawns in warm-season grass zones in more than 100 countries. It is also used on golf courses where this traffic-tolerant grass fits well with maintenance requirements.

Features

Bermuda grass (also called "couch grass") forms a heat-tolerant, drought-resistant lawn on almost any soil. It self-sows readily and forms a dense turf by means of spreading rhizomes and stolons. With good cultural practices, maintenance often consists only of keeping Bermuda grass from invading neighboring gardens and lawns, whereas its invasive form is called "wiregrass."

Mowing

Mow Bermuda grass between 0.5 and 1.5 inches tall to control seed-head formation. Use a reel mower for the best cut. Mow Bermuda grass frequently, never removing more than a third of the blade leaves at a time.

Water

Because Bermuda grass grows in a wide range of soils, irrigation needs vary widely. Its roots grow up to 6 feet deep in sandy soils and require 1.25 inches of water a week--more in dry weather. Heavy or clay soils hold water better and require less; soggy soil will lead to thatch development. Whatever the soil type, Bermuda grass requires at least 1 inch of water each week.

Fertilizer

Most varieties of Bermuda grass need 1 to 1.5 pounds of nitrogen (10-10-10) fertilizer per 1,000 feet of turf during the growing season; Common Bermuda grass can do well with less, but sandy soil will require more. Potassium encourages root growth and environmental stress tolerance. Turf with heavy traffic that is kept short needs half a pound of fertilizer per 1,000 square feet each growing month. A soil test from your local state university extension can identify other needed nutrients like copper, calcium or amendments like lime to lower pH.

Pests and Diseases

Proper mowing, watering and fertilizing will limit pests and disease occurrence but cold winter temperatures, too much nitrogen, low mowing, extreme drought or waterlogged soil will weaken its resistance to pests like army worms, grubs, cutworms and sod webworm. Biological controls include beneficial bacteria and parasites. Thatch on heavy soils harbors fungus diseases and nematodes. Chemical fungicides can aid in disease control. Proper potassium levels, especially in sandy soils, discourage nematodes.

Renovation

Renovate thin lawns to improve turf and control weeds. Renovate patchy lawns with the same variety (hybrid or common) of Bermuda grass in spring. Plant Bermuda grass when soil temperatures are 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Supplement hybrid grasses by "plugging" with grass crowns; common Bermuda grass may be over-seeded at a rate of 0.5 to 1 pound of seed per 1,000 square feet. Top-dress clay soil lawns with compost or humus in fall when over-seeding.

Other Cultural Practices

Rake and aerate Bermuda grass in fall before over-seeding with ryegrass. Water and fertilize over-seeded lawns all winter. Water Bermuda grass during cold, dry or windy winter weather to keep from becoming dormant. Dethatch or use a vertical mower in spring if more than half an inch of thatch builds up. Apply pre-emergent herbicides in spring and fall and broadleaf herbicides in summer and winter.

Keywords: Bermuda grass, lawn maintenance, warm-season grasses

About this Author

Chicago native Laura Reynolds has been writing for 40 years. She attended American University (D.C.), Northern Illinois University and University of Illinois Chicago and has a B.S. in communications (theater). Originally a secondary school communications and history teacher, she's written one book and edited several others. She has 30 years of experience as a local official, including service as a municipal judge.