If you live in the Southeastern US and are tired of spending your weekends nurturing your lawn to grow in sandy soil, then take a look at Bahiagrass. It’s a low maintenance grass that can handle part shade, rarely needs to be watered or fertilized, and is pest, disease, and thatch resistant.
What Is Bahiagrass (Paspalum notatum)?
USDA 8 – 10
|Full Sun to Part Shade (at least 4 hours of sun)
|5.5 – 7.2
|Nitrogen (lb/1,000 sq. ft.)
|1 – 2
|Mow to 2 – 3 inches
|High resistance to insects and disease.
Good tolerance to heat and shade.
Poor tolerance for salt and cold.
|14 – 28 days
Medium establishment time
Bahia grass is a low-maintenance grass that needs little water or fertilizer. Its deep roots make it drought-tolerant even in very sandy soils, and since it needs little nitrogen, it can thrive even in nutrient-poor soil. Unlike Bermuda, it can also handle some shade. It’s a great grass to grow through Florida to to the Texas Gulf Coast, where sandy soil makes it hard to grow anything else.
While Bahiagrass is easy to grow, it’s not going to grow into an award-winning lawn. It grows more sparsely and coarsely than other warm-season grasses like Bermuda and it’s often dismissed because some people find its Y-shaped seed heads unattractive. Seed heads pop up above the grass every 12 to 14 days unless mowed frequently, which makes it more high maintenance.
If Bahiagrass suits your soil but you’re looking for a more traditional lawn, the Argentine variety forms a denser, more uniform turf with less seed heads. If you need a variety that can tolerate colder temperatures or if longer-lasting color is more important to you, then go with Pensacola.
Bahiagrass is also sensitive to herbicides and especially cannot endure weed-and-feed, but this only matters if you’re planning to use herbicides. An organic lawn is much healthier for you and becomes less expensive and less work in the long run.
Pros and Cons of Bahiagrass
|Low maintenance and easy to germinate from seed.
|Uneven and sparse appearance, although this is better in the Argentine variety.
|Requires little water and is drought-tolerant. Can be used in a non-irrigated lawn.
|Y-head seeds can look unattractive to some people and will pop up every 12 to 14 days during the heat unless you mow frequently.
|Grows well in sandy and nutrient-poor soils that are challenging to grow other grasses on.
|Cannot handle cold, although the Pensacola variety can survive lower temperatures and stay green longer.
|Highly resistant to pests and disease.
Common Bahiagrass is not suited for turfgrass, as it grows sparser than the other varieties and is very susceptible to cold temperatures. Common is also very coarse-textured and light-colored, so it’s not attractive either.
Argentine Bahiagrass is the preferred variety for turfgrass, as it grows into a denser sod and features a dark-green color. The seed heads grow smaller and less dense than other varieties and because the seeds are biologically identical to the maternal plant, new seed grows into a uniform lawn.
However, Argentine has a shorter growing season than Pensacola, so the grass turns brown earlier in the year and takes longer to turn green.
While not being as dense and uniform as Argentine grass, Pensacola comes with its own benefits. Its extensive root system makes it better at withstanding drought, stress, heat, and cold. This increased cold-tolerance means that Pensacola lawns have a longer growing season, turning green earlier and staying green longer.
Pensacola grows more seed heads than Argentine and it looks less uniform because its seeds are not identical genetically, but a mix of the parent plants’ DNA. However, genetic diversity improves the resiliency of your lawn as it allows your lawn to adapt to changing conditions faster.
How To Grow Bahiagrass
Establishing & Overseeding
You can start a new lawn either through seed or through sod. Bahiagrass seeds germinate well, although it is slower than other grasses, so it’s pretty easy to start yourself and save money. Cover the seed lightly to help keep moist and keep weed seeds from germinating.
Sod will establish a new lawn sooner at a higher cost, but most Bahiagrass sod is harvested from pastures, which means potentially introducing difficult to control weeds to your new lawn. Bahiagrass also doesn’t grow into uniform sod like other grasses can, so the sod may fall apart when you install it. This isn’t actually as big of a downfall as you’d think, since the broken off pieces will still grow pretty well.
The best time to start a new lawn or to over seed a thin one is in the spring or early summer, weeks before cooler temperatures arrive. This is especially important in areas with cooler winters like North Florida. Like other grasses,
Bahiagrass will initially need more frequent and more shallow watering’s as it germinates and gets established. As the Bahiagrass gets established, you can taper off waterings to encourage deeper roots and help your lawn become more drought-tolerant.
Bahiagrass doesn’t grow very tall, so your mowing schedule depends on how fast seed heads pop up and how much you care. To keep seed heads from appearing, you’ll need to mow weekly during the summer months, as seed heads will pop up every 12 to 14 days. If you don’t mind the look of the seed heads (and there are no local ordinances), you can mow less often.
The best height for Bahiagrass is 3 to 4 inches tall. The higher growth encourages it to grow deeper roots. Bahiagrass grassblades are tougher, so you will need to keep your mower’s blades sharp. Leave cut grass on the lawn to break down into nutrients (this doesn’t create thatch problems).
As with all grass lawns, the best way to discourage weeds is by using good lawn care practices that improve the health of your lawn and encourage your grass to grow thickly. If you can limit the amount of weeds that can germinate, then when they do pop up, it’s easy and quick enough to handpull them. With Bahiagrass, avoid excessively watering or fertilizing, as the extra nutrition only goes toward encouraging weed growth.
Bahiagrass is sensitive to herbicides, especially weed-and-feeds which contain atrazine or metsulfuron. If you do use herbicides, check the label to ensure that they can be applied safely to Bahiagrass and only apply as needed onto the weeds themselves. Spot applications limit the effect on your lawn. Avoid using herbicides when possible.
Pests & Disease
Bahiagrass has excellent resistance to pests and disease, and using organic practices and compost fertilizer will improve the health of your lawn. An unhealthy lawn will always be more susceptible to pests or disease.
That being said, the mole cricket poses the most threat to Bahiagrass as they burrow through the soil and damage the roots. Again, the healthier the grass, the more extensive the roots, the more resilient your lawn will be. If you suspect mole crickets, search your lawn for tunnel entrances, then pour a mixture of 1 ounce of lemon-scented dish detergent with 2 gallons of water into their tunnels. This forces the mole cricket out for you to see.
Dollar spot is the only disease you need to look out for. This disease presents as spots several inches in diameter across your lawn. A light application of nitrogen (compost tea helps here) will help Bahiagrass outgrow this.
Bahiagrass needs between 1 to 2 lbs of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per year (not per application), although you may need more or less depending on your situation. Sandy soil, nutrient-poor soil, and newly developed houses will typically be on the higher side. Soils with more nutrients, established houses, and shade areas will need less fertilizer.
If your area has a cooler winter (rather than year-round warmth), then fertilize in the late spring and in the mid-summer when the grass is growing most vigorously. If you have year-round warmth, you can fertilize year-round. Using compost instead of synthetic fertilizer can easily feed your lawn while compost lasts longer, feeds the microbiology in your soil that in turns supports your grass during stress, and reduces thatch.
If you use synthetic fertilizers, check with your local municipal and state regulations for when and how much you can use. Following organic fertilizer methods will mean you stay within the regulations while giving your lawn all the nutrition it needs.
Bahiagrass does not like alkaline soils (Seashore Paspalum or Buffalo Grass will be more suitable), but if you do try to grow it there, you’ll need to watch out for iron deficiency, marked by yellow leaves with green veins. Iron supplements do not replace nitrogen. If you’re growing in sandy soil, which is acidic, you won’t have this problem.
Bahiagrass is more drought-tolerant than other grasses, which means it can survive longer periods of dry weather. Your lawn will survive water restrictions, although without any water, it will go dormant (turn brown) during this time.
For Bahiagrass, the best watering schedule is on an as-needed basis. You’ll only need to add ½ – ¾ inch of water per watering (although this depends on your particular soil!). Too much water will weaken the grass and encourage weeds.
If you have sandy soil, you will not need to aerate as sandy soil rarely gets compacted. That’s one of the benefits of sandy soil. If you do need to aerate, use a core aerator in mid-spring after the grass has started to grow vigorously and the threat of frost has passed.
Because Bahiagrass spreads through underground rhizomes, and not through stolons, it is not prone to thatch. That’s good news, as you can skip renting a dethatcher every spring. A little thatch is good, as it shades the soil, prevents weeds from germinating, and holds water to the soil. It only becomes a problem when it builds up over ½ inch.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Bahia Grass Good For Lawns In Florida?
Bahiagrass is good for lawns in Florida, as it likes the heat and can survive long dry spells. It’s especially good in sandy and nutrient-poor soils that are otherwise challenging to grow grass in. It’s also pretty low maintenance, requires little fertilizer, and has excellent resistance to pests and disease.
What Is The Difference Between Bahia And Bermuda Grass?
While both Bahia and Bermuda are warm-season grasses, they are very different. Bahia is a low-maintenance grass that grows well in the challenging sandy and nutrient-poor soils, requires little fertilizer and water, can grow in part-shade, has excellent resistance to pests and disease, and has few thatch problems. Bermuda is a high maintenance grass that does better in nutrient-rich soils, requires a lot of fertilizer and water, has moderate resistance to pests and disease (which synthetic fertilizers can make worse), and requires dethatching.
Does Bahia Grass Have Runners?
Bahiagrass does not have runners, also known as stolons. It spreads through underground rhizomes or by its distinctive y-shaped seed heads. Bahiagrass can look like it grows in clumps (like many cool-season grasses) because of its sparse growth. The Argentine variety grows in thicker, and over seeding will create a denser sod.
Jamie is the founder of The Backyard Pros. When he was 15 years old he started working at a garden centre helping people buy plants, gardening products, and lawn care products. He has real estate experience and he is a home owner. Jamie loves backyard projects, refinishing furniture, and enjoys sharing his knowledge online.