Bermudagrass is a warm-season perennial. Normally long-lived, the species perpetuates by both underground rhizomes and aboveground stolons. As such, it should be a pretty easy task to both establish and maintain a stand.
With all of its reproductive attributes, bermudagrass stands are still lost and attempts to establish new fields sometimes fail. Though extreme weather events such as drought may contribute to stand decline, there are also many instances when controllable factors are the culprit.
In a recent Southeast Cattle Adviser webinar, University of Georgia Extension Forage Specialist Dennis Hancock outlined some of the do’s and don’ts associated with bermudagrass maintenance and establishment. Here, we’ll focus on some of the most common mistakes made with the forage species that is a staple livestock feed throughout the South.
1. Failure to adjust soil pH. Low soil pH limits the availability of key nutrients needed to establish and maintain bermudagrass stands. It also may be responsible for aluminum toxicity, which affects root growth and nutrient uptake. Low pH may also predispose soils to compaction caused by animal and machinery traffic. Hancock likes to see potential bermudagrass fields limed to a pH of 6.5 and maintained above 6.0. Lime needs to be applied 12 to 24 months prior to establishment.
2. Low soil potassium. Hancock noted that a vast majority of the farm calls he’s involved in dealing with bermudagrass decline trace back to low soil potassium. These are often in combination with low soil pH. Apply potassium based on soil test results, but split the total into a spring and late summer application. Annual applications totals of 150 to 200 pounds of K2O per acre are not uncommon.
3. Weed competition. Both winter annuals and ryegrass can compete with bermudagrass coming out of winter dormancy and in new stands that are in early establishment phases. Use approved herbicides or grazing strategies that will give bermudagrass a fighting chance to establish or re-establish in spring. Make sure fields are clean of weeds before either seeding or sprigging new fields.
4. Bad timing. If sprigging hybrid bermudagrass, there’s little time to waste between digging or cutting fresh sprigs and placing them in moist soils. Excessive heating and/or moisture loss will kill fresh sprigs. Hancock recommended no more than a 24-hour window between digging and planting for dormant or spring-dug sprigs. Sprigging tops should be accomplished within four hours of cutting.
5. Never had a chance. Poor-quality sprigs or seeds that are placed too shallow or deep in a dry, fluffy soil have little chance of establishment. Hancock noted that sprigs need to originate from a well-fertilized nursery that is free of common bermudagrass or weed species. If possible, plant certified sprigs or seeds. For sprigs, plant into moist soils or when rain is imminent.