photo by Dennis Hancock
Bermudagrass, a staple forage in Southern forage programs, comes in a couple of primary flavors: common and hybrid. From a productivity standpoint, hybrids are the preferred option but they possess a physiological trait uncommon to most forage species — little or no viable seed is produced.
Hybrid varieties such as Coastal, Tifton 85, Tifton 44 and Jiggs must be established by sprigging, the process of planting green plant material (including stolons and rhizomes) into a prepared seedbed. It’s a process much different than dumping a bag of seed into the grain drill.
According to Dennis Hancock, forage specialist at the University of Georgia, there are three proven methods of hybrid bermudagrass establishment. Each has it’s own advantages and disadvantages.
“Dormant sprigs can be planted January through March,” notes Hancock. “It’s less risky if you wait until at least February. This reduces the competition from winter weeds and, more importantly, helps minimize the risk for winter injury.”
With dormant sprigging, 40 to 70 bushels of viable sprigs per acre need to be planted and covered with at least 2 inches of soil; this helps protect the dormant sprigs from freezing. “Even so, expect 50 percent or more of the sprigs not to emerge,” says Hancock. Dormant sprigs need to come from fields that were managed in the fall for maximum root reserves. This can be accomplished by not cutting or grazing fields after early September.
Waiting to plant sprigs after the threat of a freeze has passed offers another establishment option. Spring sprigs that have green tops and stolons can be planted up until August. “The earlier you plant, the better your chances for the stand to establish and survive the first winter,” says Vanessa Corriher-Olson, extension forage specialist at Texas A&M.
Hancock also prefers the early planting option but cautions that planting too early, March to early April, is stressful on sprigs that have just come out of winter. “Root reserves are initially low, so make sure the sprigs are vigorous and healthy before digging. Planting sprigs with green leaves and stolons helps ensure sprig survival,” says Hancock, who suggests a planting rate of 40 to 70 bushels per acre.
The final sprigging option is to plant green tops (stolons). This is done during the summer (June and July) with stolons that are 18 to 24 inches in length and having six or more nodes. According to Hancock, the best success with this method has been experienced with Tifton 85, while results with Tifton 44 are more variable.
Establishing hybrid bermudagrass with green tops is accomplished by spreading the plant material on top of a prepared seedbed, then lightly disking them into the soil; finish by firming the soil with a cultipacker.
“Fields that are used to harvest tops need to be cut and immediately baled. The bales, small square or round, should be quickly spread on the seedbed to prevent them from overheating and dying before being planted,” notes Hancock. Green tops can be spread by hand or by using a tops spreader when small square bales are used.
For more information on establishing hybrid bermudagrass, see this UGA extension bulletin or this recent Texas A&M Forage Fax.
Let the sprigging commence.