Love it or hate it, the opinion is divided on Bermuda grass. For some, it’s the gorgeous lawn used on southern PGA tour golf courses. For others, it’s the most vicious weed in their yard. Is Bermuda grass right for your lawn? Read on to find out.
What Is Bermuda Grass (Cynoden spp.)?
|USDA 7 – 10
|Full sun, low shade tolerance.
|Can grow in all soil types
|5.8 – 7.5
|Mow to 1 – 2 inches with rotary or reel mower
|Excellent heat tolerance.
Medium cold and salt tolerance, insect and disease resistance.
Low shade tolerance.
|7 to 14 days
Known as the Kentucky bluegrass of the south, Bermuda grass is one of the most common grass in the south and transition zones. Originating from tropical regions of Africa, it’s able to endure high heat and humidity with relative ease. It even has some drought resistance and endures salt well, making it suitable for coastal regions.
Bermuda grass grows faster than the other warm-season grasses because it can spread through both aboveground stolon’s and underground stolon’s. This makes it able to stand up to hard wear, and is a popular choice for athletic fields and golf courses.
Because of its aggressive spreading, Bermuda grass may become your most challenging weed. In fact, Bermuda grass is also known as couch grass, devil grass, wiregrass, or dogtooth grass. Consider carefully whether Bermuda grass is the right grass before planting. Once installed, it’ll be really difficult or downright impossible to remove. Combined with its high maintenance, you may end up spending half your weekend caring for your lawn and the other half keeping it from spreading.
As a warm-season grass, it stays green so long as there’s no frost. When there’s frost (as in most of its growing region), it’ll go dormant (brown). Some people over seed every year with the cool-season annual ryegrass for winter color. Make sure you use annual instead of perennial, as due to its root structure, only annual ryegrass can grow with a Bermuda grass lawn.
If you’re looking for a low-maintenance lawn, look elsewhere. Like the cool-season Kentucky bluegrass, Bermuda grass is hungry for nitrogen. It needs 4 to 5 pounds of nitrogen per thousand square feet. In comparison, the next highest St Augustine only needs 3 to 4. This hunger has a ton of drawbacks – not only do you have to spend a lot of money if you’re using synthetic fertilizer, but that extra nitrogen also attracts pests like sod webworm and increases thatch problems. Synthetic fertilizers also are not environmentally friendly.
But if Bermuda grass is your dream lawn and/or it perfectly suits your needs in other ways, you can grow Bermuda using compost instead of synthetic nitrogen. It’s better for the environment, but it’s also better for you and your lawn. While synthetic fertilizer causes nitrogen spikes, compost is a lot more consistent, keeping your lawn fed for longer and not attracting so many pests.
When your soil is healthier, your lawn is better able to fend off pests and disease, and better able to break down thatch before it becomes a problem.
Pros and Cons of Bermuda Grass
|Attractive dark green color with medium leaf texture
|Requires the highest concentration of nitrogen, adding to maintenance labor and costs, being an environmental hazard, and attracting pests
|Growth habit allows it to self-repair, filling in holes without the need to over seed.
|Spreads like a weed and may end up being your (and your neighbors’) biggest weed
|Thick sod helps keep weeds at bay
|Prone to insect invasions like sod webworm
|Salt resistant, suitable for coastal regions
How To Grow Bermuda Grass
The best time to seed is in April, or after getting a few weeks of consistent 70F or above weather. (Soil temperatures need to reach 80F for germination.) This will give the grass enough time to establish before the high heat of summer. Cover seeds lightly to help keep in the moisture during germination.
Bermuda grass is excellent at self-repair (you’ll probably spend more time trying to keep it out of the garden than anything else), so you likely won’t need to over seed for repairs. If you can’t tolerate your lawn turning brown over the winter, then you may want to over seed with an annual ryegrass for winter color.
You’ll need to do this each year, as the perennial ryegrass’ root structure competes with Bermuda grass’ roots. Annual ryegrass seed is usually less expensive than perennial ryegrass seed.
Mow Bermuda grass to between 1 to 2 inches long. If your variety is partial shade tolerant, it’s best cut to 2 inches. When temperatures reach scorching levels or there’s been no rain for a while, allow the grass to grow a ½ inch longer to give your grass the extra resources it needs to survive. You can use either a rotary mower or a reel mower.
Because Bermuda grass grows thickly, it naturally resists weeds – there’s just no place for them to grow. If you do get weeds, hand pulling is the best option. You may even choose to allow nitrogen-fixers like clover and trefoil to grow instead of weeding to help with Bermuda grass’ high nitrogen needs.
Bermuda grass itself may become your biggest weed as its rhizomes sneak into your garden beds and between flagstones, and it’s near impossible to eradicate. When hand weeding Bermuda grass, dig at least 6 inches down to make sure you’re removing the entire plant – including the rhizome. In the hot summer months, try using soil solarization to fry the grass.
Bermuda grass is hungry for nitrogen, needing 4 to 5 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 sq ft. High amounts of nitrogen (especially from the spikes that synthetic fertilizers cause) can attract pests like sod webworm and cause thatch problems.
You can still use natural methods to maintain your Bermuda grass rather than reach for expensive synthetic fertilizers:
- Use compost or compost tea to provide nitrogen and build healthy soils.
- Amend your soils or homemade compost using natural materials like alfalfa meal, blood meal or fish meal.
- Leave your grass clippings on your lawn to break down (grass clippings can return 25% of nutrients back into the soil!).
- Or even let clover and trefoils grow as they please in your lawn – these “weeds” store nitrogen in their roots, which are released back into the soil when they decompose.
If you’re using synthetic fertilizer, you’ll need to fertilize every 6 to 8 weeks until the grass’ growth slows in the fall.
Bermuda grass needs 1 inch or more of water per week. If you have clay or silt soil, water deeply and less frequently. If you have sandy soil, you may need to water less deeply but more frequently. If you live on the east coast, you may not need to irrigate at all if you get enough rain (keep a rain gauge or an eye on precipitation levels in the app).
Bermuda grass has some drought tolerance. You can tell when your lawn needs water as Bermuda grass gets a grayish cast to it and doesn’t bounce back immediately when you walk on it.
Core aerate your lawn if your soil has become compacted. The best time to aerate is in the spring. If you plan to use a pre-emergent herbicide, core aerate before then, since aeration will open up new soil that’s not affected by the herbicide for seeds to germinate. Core aeration will help ease thatch problems and open up new space for over seeding.
Avoid core aeration if your soil is not compacted enough to warrant it, as it will damage your lawn (by pulling out plugs of grass) and opens up new soil for weed seeds to germinate.
Because of its rhizome/stolon’s growth habit and its high nitrogen requirements, Bermuda grass is especially prone to thatch. You will need to dethatch if the thatch grows thicker than ½ inch and/or starts to mat, preventing water from reaching the roots. If the thatch is easily removed, you can use a rake to remove the excess thatch.
If it’s more matted, then you’ll need to use a dethatcher. If you also need to core aerate, do so first, then decide whether there’s enough thatch left to warrant dethatching.
Dethatch only in the summer, when your lawn is growing vigorously. Dethatching damages your lawn, so it needs this time to regrow.
Using compost and compost tea instead of synthetic nitrogen and carefully managing soil health will help reduce thatch.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does Bermuda grass come back every year?
Yes, Bermuda grass is perennial, meaning it comes back every year. If your climate doesn’t have frost, then Bermuda grass stays active all year round. In places that get frost, Bermuda grass will go dormant (turn brown) over the winter. It grows most vigorously in the summer during the heat.
Will Bermuda grass fill in bare spots?
Yes, Bermuda grass will fill in bare spots without over seeding, given enough time. Spreading through both rhizomes and stolon’s, Bermuda grass spreads aggressively. (In fact, Bermuda grass may become your biggest weed.) If your grass is struggling to grow, or the bare spot is very large, it may take longer.
Why do you put sand on Bermuda grass?
People put sand on Bermuda grass (and other grasses) to fill in low spots and divots in the lawn that are less than an inch deep (for deeper divots, it’s better to lift the sod and level the soil). These low spots could be caused when installing sod incorrectly or from heavy equipment on the lawn when the soil is waterlogged.
The best time to sand is in May when Bermuda grass grows vigorously. Use a mix of 1:1 sand and topsoil and apply no more than ½ inch at a time in low spots (allow most of the grass blade showing). If the divot is not level, wait four weeks for the grass to grow, then apply another layer no more than ½ inch. If the divot is still not level, wait until next year to apply again.
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.