When that furry groundhog Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow on February 2, intimating six more weeks of winter, your first reaction may not have been so positive. But there is a silver lining! Now, you have plenty of time to lay the groundwork for a beautiful, verdant lawn this Spring.
The first thing you need to know is that no grass is created equal, and certain species thrive better in different regions. For residents of the southeastern U.S., one turf type has risen above the rest since the early 1900s – Bermuda Grass.
Here to provide an expert perspective on the benefits of Bermuda Grass is Georgia’s leading lawn care specialist, King GREEN.
What is Bermuda Grass?
Unlike its name, this turf type does not hale from the British island. Rather, it was introduced to United States from Africa in 1751.
It’s distinguished by these telltale traits:
- “Warm season” grass, meaning it thrives in hot, tropical climates with an ideal temperature range of 75-90 degrees Fahrenheit, while easily tolerating extreme heat up to 110
- Fine-to-medium leaf texture
- green blade color
- Extensive rhizomatous root system that can grow 47-59-inches deep
- Hardy and tough, resistant to drought, fire, and stress
- Self-propagating, so doesn’t require seeding
- Used in recreational landscapes and residential lawns across the South East for its ability to withstand heavy foot and vehicular traffic
- Prefers regions with more than 16-inches of rainfall a year (Georgia receives an average 49-inches)
- Completely intolerant of shade. Bermuda grass will struggle without constant and consistent daylight
What are the most popular types of Bermuda Grass?
Common Bermuda: Grown from seed
Hybrid Bermuda: Sprigged or sodded. While more expensive, this variety is bred to optimize all the desirable features of seed Bermuda without any of its drawbacks and is most commonly installed in Gerogia. Such as:
- Less aggressive and invasive. A lawn of seed Bermuda can grow 5-10 inches in two weeks if left un-mowed. That same lawn, with Hybrid Bermuda, would grow only 2 inches.
- Thicker texture
- More vibrant, blue-green blade color
When is Bermuda Grass’s Growing Season?
You could easily call Bermuda Grass “bear”-muda grass, since it literally hibernates during the colder months. From late fall to the end of winter, this grass remains dormant, its leaves brown or grey in color.
Then, as temperatures heat up in spring, it matures to its peak reproductive and growth phases known as “greening up,” which accompanies a dramatic growth spurt and change in blade color.
King GREEN reveals the critical, three-part process to ensuring your Bermuda grass is nursed to its full glory.
Part 1: Scalping
What is it? This is a mowing procedure that removes winter’s dead growth by cutting Bermuda grass down to ½-1-inch.
When is scalping done? Right before “green up.” Beware, scalping too soon could cause turf damage, so make sure the risk of one last hard frost has passed (usually, mid-March to early-April).
Notes King GREEN, “it’s a laborious task, and you may want to gradually bring the lawn down over a two or three-week period instead of all at once.”
Also, while it’s not necessary to do so during normal mowing, bagging the clippings during scalping is highly recommended.
Part 2: Aerating
What is it? Perforating the soil with thousands of small holes using either a solid tine, spike, or fork; plug aerator, or core aerator. King GREEN endorses the latter, as it contains hollow spoons that pull up soil plugs as it moves around the yard.
When is aerating done? Once a year, in April to late spring.
Here, King GREEN expounds the benefits of aeration:
- Better turf grass rooting
- Helps increase thatch breakdown. (Note: Thatch is a layer of organic debris that sits between the grass and soil. It’s made up of roots, stems, fibers and shoots which are resistant to decay by micro-organisms. You never want a thatch layer greater than 1 inch).
- Improves air exchange between soil/atmosphere
- Increases fertilizer uptake and use
- Increase lawn’s drought tolerance and overall health
- Reduces soil compaction
- Reduces water runoff
Myth dispelled: Aerating your lawn will not degrade weed or pest control barriers.
Part 3: Top-Dressing
What is it? The application of a very fine, ¼-inch, and even layer of sand, soil, and lime supplements to the surface of the Bermuda lawn.
When is top-dressing done? Ideally, right after aeration at the onset of the growing season.
Why is it done?
- It filters nutrients directly into the holes opened by the aeration process, expediting the recovery and rejuvenation process
- Repairs winter damage
- Softens clay-heavy soil
- Reduces thatch build-up and facilitates decomposition
- Balances the pH level of the soil (ideal pH level of Bermuda Grass: 6.5-7.0)
Once you’ve completed the three steps to a successful “green up,” follow these guidelines for maintaining a beautiful and controlled Bermuda lawn:
Ideally, mother nature will do this job for you but in case of dry-spells, a Bermuda lawn should receive 1-inch of water, 1-2 times a week. Test: If you can stick a screwdriver in your lawn and it will soak down to 6-inches without difficulty, then it’s sufficiently hydrated.
Spring and summer: Once scalping is complete, raise the mower one notch and commence regular mowing once a week, to 1-2 inches in grass height. If you notice the green color being cut out, especially in summer, raise the mower height one notch again. Taller grasses will aid in moisture retention during the peak of heat.
Fall and winter: King GREEN emphasizes, “you should mow Bermuda grass about once a month during these cool months.”
Heed these handy tips:
- Keep your mower blade sharp
- Change your mowing pattern often
- Follow the One-Third Rule: Never remove more than one-third of the grass blade on each mowing.
- Use a Reel/Push Mower verses a rotary mower for a smoother lawn.
Pest and Weed Control
King GREEN encourages a proactive lawncare plan, which entails:
- Broad-leaf weed treatment at regular intervals, especially prior to germination (early spring) and winter dormancy (late fall). This will protect your lawn against common Bermuda weeds like Crabgrass and Bluegrass.
- Herbicides and pesticides: Make sure you do as King GREEN does: use only “environmentally responsible products registered with the Environmental Protection Agency.”