Probably the most common question I am asked is, "What bermudagrass variety should I plant?" There is no easy answer to this question. There are numerous varieties to choose from, both seeded and sprigged, and each has its own set of attributes that makes it unique, ranging from growth characteristics, to cold tolerance to drought hardiness. To complicate matters even further, the bigger question should be, "Should I even plant bermudagrass or would I be better off with another species such as one of the Old World Bluestems or native grasses?" The answer might be that you don't need to plant anything at all, but just take care of what you already have.
Bermudagrass was introduced from Africa in the 1700's and is widely used in Oklahoma and Texas for grazing, hay, erosion control and turf. It is a warm-season, perennial grass that is resistant to grazing due to its prostrate growth habit and vegetative means of reproduction. Most importantly, it responds well to fertilizer, allowing producers to increase their stocking rates above the inherent levels of what could normally be produced. For this reason, bermudagrass is one of the most popular hay and forage grass species in our service area. However, bermudagrass also has some negative attributes one must consider:
- It is not a desirable species for wildlife.
- It does not contribute to ecological diversity for a sound ecosystem because it is typically grown as a monoculture.
- It is very difficult to get rid of once it has been established.
- It must be fertilized to truly realize its value in livestock/forage production.
Once you have considered the pros and cons of bermudagrass, your next step will be to decide if bermudagrass is what you wish to establish or encourage. And if bermudagrass is still the species you choose to plant, then we begin the laborious process of answering the original question, which was, "What variety should I plant?"
I would like to refer you to three recent articles in our Ag News and Views. They are:
Bermudagrass Variety Evaluations - Jerry Baker, October 2001
Taking Stock of Your Pastures - Hugh Aljoe, November 2001
Bermudagrass Blues - Matt Mattox, October 2001
The reason I refer to these articles is to decide whether or not new seeds or sprigs should be planted and to give you an idea of the production capabilities for the different varieties. Also, you may be able to simply reclaim a pasture that was once in bermudagrass through proper grazing management and fertility which could prove to be less costly than a newly established pasture.
If establishment is necessary or desired, you will need to choose between seeding and sprigging. As a general rule of thumb, the seeded "common" varieties are not as productive as the "hybrid" sprigged varieties under intense levels of management. However, the seeded varieties are typically easier and less expensive to establish. If you are planting on a shallow, moderately productive soil site, or if you do not plan to use more than 50-80 pounds of actual nitrogen for increased production, I generally recommend seeded varieties for establishment. The seeded varieties I prefer to use include:
- Arizona Common
Arizona Common has been around for a long time and is very inexpensive compared to the other varieties. It is also easy to establish, drought tolerant, cold tolerant, and quite palatable to livestock. However, Arizona Common is not typically as productive as many of the other varieties.
Wrangler was released a few years ago by Johnston Seed Company from germplasm developed at Oklahoma State University and is well adapted to our service area.
It has good cold hardiness, will cover fairly well during the establishment season, and is typically more productive than Guymon. It is probably the most widely recommended seeded variety of bermudagrass in Oklahoma.
Cheyenne was originally released by Pennington Seed Co. in 1989 as a turfgrass, but identified as a good forage producer and promoted as a pasture variety in the mid-90's. It is not as widely recommended in our service area as Wrangler, but its recognition is growing. It establishes quickly, appears to produce well under drier than normal summers, and is rivaling even some of our most popular hybrid sprigged varieties in terms of production. We also think it will have adequate cold tolerance for most of Oklahoma.
Giant has been around for a long time and is quite popular in much of Texas but tends to suffer stand decline as a result of cold winters in much of Oklahoma. However, until Cheyenne came along, it was probably the most productive seeded variety available in our service area.
If you are thoroughly confused at this point as to which variety of seeded bermudagrass might be right for you, then why not consider a blend of two or three varieties. Some blends are already commercially available such as Ranchero Frio, which is a mixture of Wrangler and Cheyenne.
For those of you who are contemplating bermudagrass establishment on a deep, very productive soil and plan to use over 100 pounds of actual nitrogen per acre for increased forage production, you should consider using one of the hybrid, sprigged varieties. The hybrid varieties I typically recommend include:
- Midland 99
- Tifton 44
- Tifton 85
Midland 99, one of our most recent releases, is well adapted to Oklahoma and North Texas. It has consistently been among the top bermudagrass producers in recent years and is cold tolerant.
However, due to its lack of availability it is somewhat expensive. Prices range from $7.00 to $10.00 per bushel of sprigs. Hopefully, the price will come down as its availability increases.
Midland has been the most widely sprigged variety in Oklahoma and is well adapted to a wide range of soils. It has good cold tolerance and is highly drought resistant, but lacks in production capabilities when compared to some of the more recent releases.
Coastal is one of the most widely planted varieties in Texas and consistently a top performer. However, it lacks cold tolerance, and I seldom recommend sprigging it north of the Red River.
Tifton 44 is another well-known variety in Oklahoma and Texas. Compared to Coastal, Tifton 44 is darker green, has finer stems, produces more rhizomes, and makes a denser sod. It also has good cold tolerance but is sometimes slow to cover during establishment.
Tifton 85 is also among the top producing bermudagrass varieties and has generated a lot of interest in our service area. However, its northern limits have not been tested and we are doubtful it will be a variety of choice in Oklahoma.
As you can see, the question, "What bermudagrass variety should I plant?" is not an easy one to answer! And, if you are as confused after reading this article as I am after writing it, please feel free to give us a call and we will discuss what variety is best for you. However, don't be surprised if a three-second question turns into a 30-minute answer.
"Management is equal to or greater than the importance of variety selection." - Dick Bates
In April 2001, we seeded 15 acres to Cheyenne bermudagrass and 15 acres to Wrangler bermudagrass at our Pasture Demonstration Farm. Both varieties were seeded at a rate of three pounds of pure live seed per acre and fertilized with 50-50-0. Pigweed was very prevalent in May so we applied 1.5 pints per acre of 2,4-D.
From my visual observations, the Cheyenne was quicker to establish and seemed more upright in its growth habit. By late June, I had a 60-70 percent stand with the Cheyenne and only a 40-50 percent stand with the Wrangler. Both fields were severely drought stressed from mid-May to the end of June when we finally received a good rain. After the rain, crabgrass inundated both fields so we grazed them to a four- to six-inch stubble height. The fields were drought stressed again until September when we received nearly 10 inches of rain for the month. The bermudagrass grew very well, only to be invaded by a heavy infestation of armyworms. My intentions were to not graze the bermudagrass until after the first frost. However, I grazed the bermudagrass again instead of letting the armyworms have all the forage.
With the help of good fall moisture and mild temperatures through November, both fields had an 80-100 percent stand and were clipped in late November to measure stockpiled forage. We also analyzed the stockpiled forage clipped in November for crude protein (CP) and total digestible nutrients (TDN). The Wrangler was 17.6 percent CP with a TDN of 65.3 percent while the Cheyenne was 14.8 percent CP with a TDN of 60.0 percent. The cows were again given access to both fields in December to make use of the standing forage. For the year 2001, both fields were very comparable with the Cheyenne field producing 4,735 pounds of forage per acre and the Wrangler field producing 4,135 pounds of forage per acre.