Did you know that there are approximately 1,400 species of grass in the United States alone?
With that many species of grass, it can be daunting to learn how to tell each species apart, much less pick the right one for your lawn without the help of a professional. Luckily, as far as landscaping goes, there are about eight tried and true grass species that reign supreme. One of which is a trendy species that you've most likely heard of— Bermudagrass. But how much do you know about Bermudagrass?
Common bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon) is native to tropical and subtropical areas of the world. Some documents state that bermudagrass made its entrance into the United States as far back as the year 1807 when it became an established grass in the Southern United States.
Since then, bermudagrass has become one of the most popular warm-season grasses, and for a good reason! With few downsides, bermudagrass is an excellent choice for those looking for a lush, healthy lawn that is resistant to the heat of summer. While it often isn't a great choice for lawns above the transition zone, bermudagrass is a natural choice for homeowners in the south, all the way to California.
What are Warm-Season Grasses?
If you live in the southern part of the United States, chances are pretty good that you have warm-season grass. But, if you’re unsure, ask yourself a few questions:
- Does your lawn turn brown at the first sign of cold temperatures (below 50°F)?
- Does your lawn thrive in the hot, humid summer months?
- Does your grass turn brown during droughts but then green again once appropriately watered?
If you answered yes to the questions above, congratulations, you have warm-season grass! Let’s take a look at three warm-season grasses perfect for lawns in the southern United States.
Another heat and drought-resistant grass, zoysia is one of the most durable warm-season grasses, resisting wear and tear and crowding out weeds. This grass type is often planted as sprigs or plugs or with rolls of sod. Zoysiagrass thrives with a lot of sunlight, but is tolerant to light shade, unlike its counterpart, bermudagrass. It is more tolerant of winter cold but grows much less vigorously than bermudagrass, as well.
Also known as the “sports turf of the South,” bermudagrass is a popular lawn choice because it adapts well to many soil types, and if taken care of properly, it will take over the yard. However, that's not always ideal, especially if you have gardens or flower beds near your lawn. Bermudagrass is a very invasive species and needs to be dealt with properly if you want to keep it contained.
3. St. Augustinegrass
As the name might tell you, this grass is widespread in coastal areas of the south where moist, sandy soil is common, and salt is in the air. It's another type of grass that does very well in the heat, and it also grows nicely in the shade, as opposed to most other warm-season grasses. If you live in an area that receives 20 inches of rainfall or more each year, this grass typically needs little to no care. However, white grubs are a common enemy that may require attention.
Why is Bermudagrass So Popular?
Bermudagrass has an exceptional texture and ability to perform as a beautiful turf grass for golf courses, athletic fields, and lawns, especially in the south.
If you spend a lot of time on southern golf courses, chances are you’re very familiar with bermudagrass, and its beautiful, lush green color. It's exceptionally hardy to damage and heat, making it perfect for areas where it's likely to receive wear and tear regularly. Luckily, bermudagrass can recover and heal quickly from any such damages, making it ideal for any area with lots of action, including playgrounds and schoolyards, too.
How Do I Know If I Have Bermudagrass?
Bermudagrass blades are typically gray-green, and you can identify them by their coarse texture and the aggressive, above-ground roots called stolons. Its seed heads are also said to resemble a bird’s foot, which often makes bermudagrass easily identifiable to both homeowners and lawn care professionals.
Bermudagrass roots can dig into the soil and grow very deep. This is a serious advantage when erosion is a concern and is one of the reasons bermudagrass can survive so well through droughts and hot summer temperatures. However, this can also make it hard to get rid of, as well.
Bermudagrass: A Blessing or a Curse?
For as many fans that bermudagrass has, there are just as many who say that bermudagrass is a weed. Bermudagrass can be not only a nuisance but also deadly to crops such as sugarcane, cotton, corn, and vineyards.
A common misconception about bermuda is that pulling out grass shoots by the roots will eradicate it from the area. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Because bermudagrass seeds are so small, they can be deposited in other places by birds, lawnmowers, or on the bottom of your shoe! And once planted in the ground, Bermuda grass is hard to remove entirely. Therefore, we recommend doing your homework before planting bermudagrass. The same goes for establishing flower beds and gardens around bermudagrass. Researching ahead of time and putting the proper safeguards in place will allow you to enjoy your beautiful lawn and garden without having them invade the other’s space.
Dos and Don’ts: Keeping Your Bermudagrass Healthy
- DO keep bermudagrass at 1½” to 2 ½” in height. Mow twice a week during the peak growing season to keep your grass short and free from disease.
- DO keep mowing until your bermudagrass stops growing. Chances are your lawn won't stop growing until mid-to-late fall, and if you want to keep it healthy, your lawn needs to stay well-maintained until dormancy.
- DON’T overwater. Especially in Southern states where pop-up thundershowers are commonplace in the summer, you want to make sure you don’t have any standing water on your bermudagrass if you can help it. This is especially important right before your grass goes dormant for the winter.
Lawn Care Specifically for Warm-Season Grass
The three most important macronutrients for any lawn care plan are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Without the right balance of these three key ingredients, your lawn simply will not survive. The hard part, however, can be making sure you have the right amount incorporated into your lawn care regimen.
Warm-season grasses like bermuda and zoysia thrive on sunlight—lots and lots of sunlight. Because of the amount of sun they thrive in, a good rule of thumb is about six to eight hours of direct sun. Homeowners often mistakenly overwater their lawn. Often the thought here is that because of the scorching sun, their lawn must be too dry, so they overcompensate with too much water. That is not the case with these and other warm-season grasses, though. Making sure that you water sparingly and, in the morning, so the grass has a chance to dry out before nightfall, is essential to keeping bermudagrass disease-free.
Another aspect of lawn care that sets warm- and cool-season grasses apart is when you should fertilize them. Because warm-season grasses thrive and grow once the threat of frost is gone, that's when it makes the most sense to fertilize. Any earlier would just be a waste of money and would likely contribute to potentially hazardous runoff that could contaminate streams and rivers.
When Should I Fertilize Bermudagrass?
The rule of thumb for the proper fertilizing cadence for warm-season grasses like bermudagrass is twice in the spring and once in late summer or early fall. In the spring, your warm-season grass is just waking up from a long winter’s nap, so make sure you wait until it starts to green up before laying on that first fertilizing treatment. Because warm-season grasses do well in the summer untouched, you should plan to fertilize once more before summer’s heat bears down on you and your lawn. Then finally, once the hottest days are behind you, apply your last fertilizing regimen to help your lawn protect itself from dying during the winter.
What Kind of Fertilizer Should I Use on My Bermudagrass?
The first step to fertilizing correctly and effectively is making sure you're aware of where the soil stands—and you can do that easily through a soil test. Whether you send off your soil to a professional lab or buy your kit from the local home improvement store, you'll likely get similar results. Above all, you'll ensure you aren't inundating your lawn with too much of one nutrient and not enough of another!
Once you’ve gotten that out of the way, you’ll need to start searching for a spring or summer fertilizer, because as we discussed, that’s when you’ll be fertilizing. Here are a few tips for picking the right fertilizer for your specific lawn care regimen.
- For your first treatment, you want to pick a reasonably balanced fertilizer, allowing your yard to bounce back from the dormant brown color to the healthy green you know and love. To double down and ensure that healthy green color comes back as vibrantly as possible, you can opt to use a liquid iron product in your lawn care regimen, too!
- Your second treatment is right before the height of summer when your warm-season grass will likely do a lot of growing, so you'll want to prepare it for top growth by selecting a fertilizer that doubles down on the nitrogen and potassium. If you don't yet have a very mature lawn and are looking to get a lot of growth out of this season, you can add in a growth booster after you complete your late spring fertilizing lawn care regimen.
- Finally, before fall and the drop in temperatures, you want to prepare your lawn for a long, cold winter. If you live close to the transition zone and have your fair share of snowstorms, try a fertilizer that focuses on phosphorus and potassium, helping your lawn prepare for the stress brought on during winter dormancy.
Fast Facts about Bermudagrass
You probably think you know everything about bermudagrass, and you might be right! But to recap, let's look at a few of the more exciting facts about bermudagrass.
- Bermudagrass is a warm-season perennial grass, meaning it comes back year after year.
- It has the fastest growth rate of any of the other warm-season grasses.
- Bermudagrass is heat and drought-resistant.
- In climates free of frost, bermudagrass can and does stay green all winter.
- Bermudagrass makes up the bulk of southern golf courses and playing fields because of its hardiness and durability.
- Bermudagrass is one of the few warm-season grass species that you can plant from a seed, which gives you greater flexibility but does require more attentive lawn care as it takes root.
Now that you know the ins and outs of bermudagrass management, you’re ready to put into place the perfect lawn care plan to help your bermuda lawn succeed! Don’t just hope your lawn survives, help it thrive!