Where coastal bermudagrass is commonly called "the queen of forages," bahiagrass is often considered the unwanted offspring.
But in these times of expensive fertilizer, bahiagrass in some areas, under some conditions, ˆcan be a wise addition to a forage program,” says Gerald Evers, Texas Agricultural Experiment Station forage researcher.
In considering bahiagrass, growers must consider soil types, available moisture and stocking rates. Yet the “degree of management the producer can afford plays a major role,” Evers says.
"Bahiagrass primarily gets bashed because it invades bermudagrass pastures if they haven't been fertilized properly," he adds. "Another disadvantage is that it lacks drought tolerance compared to hybrid bermudagrasses."
Yet bahiagrass offers advantages. It will survive on sandy, acid, infertile soils and can be as productive as bermudagrass with little or no fertilizer – unless moisture is limited, he says.
Many producers may need to cut back on fertilizer applications and could damage hybrid bermudagrass stands. "With bermudagrass, you've got to apply some fertilizer every year to maintain the stand," Evers says.
Given moderate amounts of fertilizer, a bahiagrass stand will make a good recovery after a forced hiatus. Hybrid bermudagrass pastures may be slow to come back or need to
be re-sprigged if an annual fertility program is interrupted, Evers says.
Bahiagrass grows best south of the Lufkin/Crockett area in East Texas because of milder winters and more-level ground where sandy soils will be slower to dry out, Evers says.
"North of that, the area is too sandy and drought-prone for good bahiagrass production.”
In northern counties, bahiagrass may have success as long as moisture is good. But Evers doesn't recommend starting new stands. "If they don't have it already, they may not need to plant it, but (even north of Lufkin) producers can learn to manage it for better productivity."
Evers offers a few points about bahiagrass:
• When its growth is less than four weeks old, its nutritive value is usually close to that of coastal bermudagrass.
• It needs only limited fertilizer; 50-70 lbs/acre/year, spring-applied, are sufficient.
• It forms a thick, tight sod that tolerates continuous grazing and makes it competitive with weeds.
• It greens up earlier in spring than bermudagrass and stays green later in fall, until temperatures drop to 29º or below.
Evers has been comparing four new and experimental varieties with Pensacola bahiagrass under East Texas conditions the past few years. They are: Rapid Germination Tifton 9, a new variety from Georgia not yet on the market; Tifton 9; Sand Mountain, an experimental variety from Alabama; and Argentine, a South American variety.
Weather and weed competition hampered the tests. Even so, Bahiagrass yields ranged from 2,100 lbs of dry matter per acre for Pensacola to 3,400 lbs for Rapid Germinatin Tifton 9. Argentine yields were a little more than Pensacola, but not significantly so.
“Argentine production was probably limited by its lack of cold tolerance," Evers says.