Yoana Newman, PhD, with the University of Florida IFAS Extension, names bermuda grass (Cynodon spp.) as one of the most important grasses in the United States for livestock forage. Many different types of bermuda are suitable for planting in fields. Considered a warm-season grass, bermuda is primarily found in southern areas of the United States. However, improvements to the cold tolerance of bermuda have made it possible for certain varieties to thrive as far north as southern Missouri and into the Carolinas.
Common bermuda encompasses all types of bermuda that have not been identified as a cultivar which has been genetically improved. According to the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, common bermuda includes a wide range of ecotypes. Due to the general nature of what is classified as common bermuda, its characteristics vary; they are mostly dependent upon the seed source. Common bermuda is one of the few types of bermuda that is grown from seed; all hybrid varieties must be sprigged or planted as sod. In general, common bermuda is a useful forage, even though it is shorter than hybrid bermuda grass. It withstands high traffic, close grazing and is drought-tolerant.
Coastal bermuda was released in 1943 by the Georgia Coastal Plains Experiment Station and the USDA. This hybrid provides protection against root-knot nematodes, making it an ideal co-planting for legume crops. Coastal tolerates heavy, close grazing. Field production yields up to two times as much forage compared with most common bermuda ecotypes. On a scale of 1 to 9, with 1 being the best rating, the University of Florida IFAS extension reports Coastal bermuda has a score of 3 when it comes to winter survival in the South. Coastal is the most commonly planted type of hybrid bermuda.
Tifton 44 features a finer stem than Coastal bermuda, as is exhibited in all of the Tifton varieties. The University of Florida IFAS extension reports that Tifton 44 has the highest rating on the cold hardiness scale for bermuda in the South. With a higher cold hardiness, Tifton 44 often greens up seven to 10 days earlier than Coastal bermuda. According to the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, when properly managed, Tifton 44 in the field will produce a 15 to 20 percent higher average daily gain in cattle grazing during the summer months.
The Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station, in cooperation with the USDA, released Grazer bermuda in 1985. Growing in a prostrate fashion, grazer was developed primarily for grazing. The persistence, cold hardiness and drought tolerance are similar to those of Coastal bermuda. Grazer produces a short, dense sod.
The Alabama Cooperative Extension System considers Russel to be either a mutation of Callie bermuda or a natural hybrid between Callie and common bermuda grass. With forage similar to coasta, it has a better yield, spread rate and winter hardiness. Producing both rhizomes and stolons, Russell roots well from clippings. Russel forms a dense sod that withstands heavy grazing and is effective in erosion prevention.