Bermudagrass for Florida lawns

Bermudagrasses (Cynodon spp.) are among the
most widely used warm-season grasses. Improved,
fine-textured bermudagrasses are used throughout the
south on golf courses, athletic fields, and in
high-profile residential and commercial landscapes
where a fine-textured, dense ground cover is desired.
Because of the high maintenance requirements of the
improved bermudagrasses, however, they are not
generally recommended for use as a home lawn-grass.
Common bermudagrass varieties are often found as
pasture and roadside grasses; these coarse-leaved
varieties do not provide the high quality nor do they
require the high maintenance of the fine-textured
types.

Advantages

Bermudagrass produces a vigorous, medium
green, dense turf that is well adapted to most soils and
climates found in Florida. Bermudagrass has
excellent wear, drought, and salt tolerance. It
establishes rapidly and is able to outcompete most
weed species. It is readily available as sod or plugs,
and some improved cultivars are available as seeded
varieties. Common varieties are available as seed, sod, or plugs.
 

Disadvantages

Improved bermudagrasses require high levels of
maintenance. They have poor tolerance to many
insect, disease, and nematode pests, which limits their
use in home lawn sites. They grow very aggressively
from stolons (aboveground stems) and rhizomes
(belowground stems) and can rapidly invade flower
and landscape beds. This aggressive growth also
fosters thatch buildup. Bermudagrasses generally
have poor to medium cold tolerance and relatively
poor shade tolerance. Since bermudagrass performs
best with higher levels of fertilizers and chemicals
than other Florida lawngrasses, a professional lawn
care company may best handle maintenance of this
Species.

Varieties

Common

Common bermudagrass is a coarse-textured,
low-density cultivar often found in pastures or on
roadsides. It has a lighter green color and overall
lower visual quality than the improved cultivars. It is
available by seed or as sod, and is often mixed with
bahiagrass for low-utility usage.

These newer seeded varieties have a darker green
color, deeper roots, more shoot density, and a less
coarse leaf texture than common bermudagrasses.
While these varieties are suited for lawns, sports turf,
parks, or roadsides, their performance and overall
quality are comparable to common bermudagrass.

It is generally of intermediate quality and
maintenance between the seeded varieties and the
improved cultivars. It has lower fertility and water
requirements than other hybrid varieties and remains
green for more of the year. It is medium in leaf
texture and shoot density. It produces numerous
seedheads but is less susceptible to dollar spot
disease and bermudagrass stunt mite.


Maintenance of Bermudagrass

Establishment

Bermudagrasses are established vegetatively by
planting sprigs, sod, or plugs. Each of these methods
can be equally successful if the site is properly
prepared before planting and if correct establishment
practices are followed. For detailed information on
lawn establishment, refer to the Edis publication
LH013, "Establishing Your Florida Lawn." The best
time to plant bermudagrass is when plants are
actively growing, normally April through September.
Other times may be suitable if sufficient care is given
to prevent desiccation and cold damage in North or
Central Florida.
 

Sprigging

The most common method of planting
bermudagrass is by sprigging. This is done
mechanically over large areas or by hand in small
areas. Fresh sprigs are rhizomes and stolons that have
at least two nodes or joints. Sprigs are usually
broadcast over an area at a rate of 200 to 400 bushels
per acre, or 5 to 10 bushels per 1000 square feet, then
pressed into the soil. Sprigging is less expensive than
sodding, but does not produce an instant lawn as does
sodding. An alternative method of establishment is to
plant sprigs end-to-end in furrows 6 to 12 inches
apart, but this will take longer to establish.

Sodding

Establishment of bermudagrass by sodding
produces an instant turf surface. Sod should only be
laid over bare moist soil, with pieces laid in a
staggered brick-like pattern and the edges fitted tightly
together to avoid any open cracks. Rolling and
watering thoroughly will ensure good contact with
the soil for fast rooting. Sodded areas should be
watered two or more times per day with 1/4 inch of
water until the sod is held fast to the soil by roots
(usually 2 to 3 weeks). After the root system has
established itself, watering should be reduced to
longer, less frequent waterings on an as-needed
basis.

Plugging Sod can be cut into round plugs with a golf green
cup cutter or into small squares with a machete.
Spacing of plugs varies from 12 to 24 inches, with the
closer spacing covering in 3 to 6 months and the
farther spacing covering in 6 to 9 months.

Seeding

Only common-type bermudagrasses can be established from seed. Bermudagrass seed should be planted at a rate of 1 to 2 pounds of hulled seed per
1000 square feet.

Fertilizing

 

Proper fertilization of any lawngrass is an
important component of the best management
practices for your home lawn. Fertilization and other
cultural practices can influence the overall health and
quality of your lawn and will reduce its vulnerability
to numerous stresses, including weeds, insects, and
disease. It is advisable for homeowners to have soil tests
done annually. Your local Cooperative Extension
Service office has recommendations and bags for
taking soil samples and submitting them to the
Extension Soil Testing Lab for analysis. In particular,
phosphorous levels are best determined by soil
testing. Since many Florida soils are high in
phosphorous, little or no phosphorous may be needed
for satisfactory lawn growth. Maintaining a good-quality bermudagrass turf requires a properly planned fertilization program. Fertilizer timing and amounts for bermudagrass are
based largely on the turf use. Generally, bermudagrasses require higher levels of fertilizer than other warm-season grasses for acceptable growth, durability, and appearance. Bermudagrasses can be maintained at moderate maintenance levels in areas
such as lawns, athletic fields, or golf course
fairways.
 

In general, two weeks following spring regrowth, apply a complete fertilizer such as 16-4-8 at the rate of 1/2 (water-soluble) to 1 (slow-release) pound of nitrogen per 1000 square feet. The three numbers refer to the percentages of nitrogen,
phosphorus, and potassium, respectively. For example, a 50-pound bag of 16-4-8 contains 16% nitrogen or 8 pounds total nitrogen. This bag will fertilize 8000 square feet at the rate of 1 pound of nitrogen per 1000 square feet.
University of Florida guidelines for lawn-grass fertility show a range of fertilizer application rates for various areas of the state that enable different species to grow successfully. These ranges are included to account for individual homeowner preferences for low-, medium-, or high-input grass. Additionally,
localized microclimatic effects can have a tremendous effect on turfgrass growth, and a range of rates allows for these environmental variations. An example of this would be a typical home lawn that is partially shaded and partially sunny. The grass
growing in the shade should receive lower rates of fertilizer than that growing in full sun. The guidelines are also separated into three geographical locations statewide as indicated in the table below. All rates are in pounds of nitrogen per 1000 square feet. For questions on how and when to apply these amounts, refer to Edis publication LH014, "General Recommendations for Fertilization of Turf-grasses on Florida Soils."
Fertilizer should be applied to bermudagrass in three to seven applications from spring green-up through fall. Do not apply nitrogen too early in the growing season, particularly in North Florida, or subsequent frosts may damage the grass. Likewise,
don't fertilize too late in the year, as this can slow regrowth the following spring. If applying water-soluble forms at the lower application rate, it will take more applications to apply the total amount of fertilizer needed for the year than if applying a
slow-release fertilizer form.
 

Mowing
 

Proper mowing practices are necessary to keep
any lawn healthy and attractive. Both height and
frequency of cut need to be adjusted for the level of
turf management and season of the year. Under low
to moderate levels of management, bermudagrass
should be cut at a height of 3/4 to 1 1/2 inches, which
may require mowing one to three times per week.
Common bermudagrass should be mowed at the
highest recommended heights. This will help the
Bermudagrass for Florida Lawns 4 grass develop a deep root system and give it a better appearance. Under higher levels of management, bermudagrass can be maintained at a height of 1/2 inch if the turf is mowed daily during the growing season. Mowing at this height and frequency requires more fertilizer and water to maintain an attractive and durable turf. It should be noted that low cutting
heights and high maintenance levels predispose the
turf to many weed and pest problems. Under low to
moderate management practices, mowing frequency
should be adjusted to the amount of growth. Remove
no more than 1/3 of the total leaf blade with any
mowing. A reel mower is preferred for cutting
bermudagrass. This gives a cleaner cut, and these
mowers can also be more accurately adjusted to low
heights. In a home lawn situation, a rotary mower
may be used if the blades are sharp and well-adjusted
to get a clean, smooth cut and if the cutting height is
high enough for the mower. Grass clippings can be
left on turf maintained with low to moderate fertility
levels if mowed at the proper height and frequency.
The clippings do not contribute to thatch, and they
provide supplemental sources of nutrients. Remove
the clippings only if the amount is so excessive that
clumps form, or if appearance is important.
 

Watering

 

An established bermudagrass turf should be
watered as needed. Irrigation is needed when leaf
blades begin to fold up, to actually wilt, to turn
blue-gray in color, or when footprints remain visible
after walking on the grass. Apply 3/4 to 1 inch of
water per application. This will apply water to
roughly the top 8 inches of soil, where the majority of
the roots are. To determine how much water a
sprinkler system is providing, place several coffee
cans throughout the irrigation zones to find out how
long it takes to apply this amount of water. This is
how long your irrigation system should run for each
application. During prolonged droughts, bermudagrass may
go dormant if it does not receive irrigation. The grass
will turn brown and stop growing during this dormant
period, but it will revive and resume growth upon
irrigation with sufficient amounts of water.
 

Information provided by the University of Florida's IFAS Extension