Sprigging bermudagrass is an expensive investment, but, if done correctly, it will quickly pay for itself. Here are some recommendations to reduce the risk of stand failure.
Bermudagrass is a perennial warm-season grass. Therefore, it will be in production for many years after establishment. Soil type is important to the amount of forage produced through the life of the stand. One would not want to invest in a new high-yielding, expensive variety if it is going to be established on a highly eroded upland soil with poor production potential. Instead, look to establish these varieties on highly productive soil, which will provide a greater return over time. Use your county soil survey to determine which soil types on your operation would be best for bermudagrass production.
Once a site is selected, choose a variety that fits your production goals and climate. Consider whether the pasture will be hayed or grazed. Also, some varieties have very good cold tolerance (i.e. Midland 99 and Tifton 44). These varieties will work well north of the Red River while others (i.e. Coastal and Tifton 85) work better south of the Red River. We strongly recommend that you do your homework before deciding on a variety. Most land grant universities in the South, along with the Noble Foundation, have bermudagrass variety testing programs. The results of these field trials are published annually and are available through county extension offices and/or the Noble Foundation. Once a variety is selected, locate a grower in your area and make arrangements for delivery of sprigs. It is a good idea to go ahead and find a custom sprigger as well (often the two come hand in hand).
Before breaking ground, be certain to soil test. A soil test provides information regarding the plant nutrient supplying power of the soil. It identifies soil pH and plant nutrients which are sufficient, as well as those which are deficient. Fertilizer recommendations will be given to correct any nutrient deficiencies. By soil testing early, you can apply and incorporate immobile nutrients (i.e. phosphorus and potassium) while preparing the seedbed. Soil testing is a great tool to reduce the risk of stand failure and bring the stand into production quicker.
There are several ways to establish a good seedbed, including no-till. However, this article will cover the conventional method. The number one goal in establishing a good seedbed is to make certain the soil surface is clod free and firm. A firm seedbed allows for better sprig-to-soil contact and improves the use of soil moisture. Begin in the winter with primary tillage. Primary tillage is typically deeper and is accomplished by using an offset disk for one to two passes. The next step is secondary tillage. Secondary tillage will be dependent on the soil type and the amount of large clods caused by primary tillage. Heavy-textured soils may need one to two passes using a tandem disk followed by a field cultivator or spring-tooth harrow. Sandy soils may only need to be field cultivated or harrowed. Secondary tillage is the best time to apply any needed fertilizer to allow for shallow incorporation. In both instances, a culti-packer can be used just prior to sprigging (late February to early March) to assure firmness.
For best results, sprigging should occur in early spring (March for southern Oklahoma). It is critical to make certain that the sprigs are fresh upon delivery. Do not allow sprigs to sit on a truck or trailer for very long before sprigging. Ideally, sprigs should be put into the ground the same day they are dug. Sprig no less than 25 bushels per acre (30 bushels per acre is recommended) at a depth of 2 inches. We recommend applying 50 pounds actual nitrogen once sprigs green up and again when stolons (runners) are four inches long and are beginning to cover the soil surface.
First Year Management
Management in the first growing season is crucial to the survival of the stand. Often, weed control is needed in year one. Before applying herbicides, make certain that bermudagrass is well rooted and that weeds are heavy enough to inhibit stand establishment. Usually, one quart of 2,4-D per acre is enough to reduce weed competition. If other hard-to-control weeds need attention, products such as Grazon P+D and Banvel can be used (recommended only when stand is severely threatened). Also, we recommend limiting haying or grazing the stand through the first growing season. Hopefully, the summer after you sprig will provide great growing conditions, such that the stand completely covers the soil surface and a fair amount of excess forage is produced. If so, either hay or lightly graze the new bermudagrass late in the growing season (August and September), taking care to not take forage below a stubble height of 5 inches. Remember, the goal for the first year is to get a good stand — anything more should be considered a bonus.
Beginning in the spring of the second season, management can be increased. Always fertilize to meet a yield goal. A yield goal can be either tons of forage per acre or simply fertilizing to meet current livestock demand. Remain current with soil testing by sampling at least once every three years. We recommend controlling weeds by implementing sound soil fertility and grazing programs. Should a herbicide be needed to control encroaching weeds, products such as Grazon P+D can be used beginning in year two.
These recommendations are provided to help guide you through the bermudagrass establishment process. Should you have any questions regarding this article or a situation encountered while establishing your bermudagrass, call a Noble Foundation soil and crops specialist at (580) 224-6500.