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Bermudagrass Establishment

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Posted Feb. 1, 1998

Bermudagrass is a deep-rooted, warm-season perennial grass grown throughout the South for pasture and hay. Bermudagrass is adapted to a wide range of soils and responds well to fertilizer. Well-fertilized bermudagrass can provide more grazing than any other warm-season grass. Bermudagrass is also more tolerant of frequent and/or intensive grazing. However, bermudagrass is not as productive or persistent under limited management as other grasses.

Establishment of bermudagrass is a major expense. Care should be taken to do everything possible to ensure success. When planting an improved variety, any common bermudagrass present should be sprayed with Roundup before planting. There are many named varieties available, all of which can be established with sprigs or fresh hay clippings.

A few varieties, such as common and Guymon, can also be seeded. Hulled seed should be planted at 5 lb PLS (pure live seed) per acre in April or May. Sprigged varieties should be planted beginning in late winter through May. Sprigged varieties should be planted at 30 to 40 bushels of moist, freshly dug sprigs per acre. A bushel is 1.25 cubic feet. When planting fresh tops, they should be mature (six weeks old or older) and planted at about 1500 lb per acre.

Sprigs are usually planted in rows 2-3 feet apart or broadcast and covered with a disc. Clippings can be spread with a manure spreader or by hand and covered with a disc. Planting depth should be near 2 inches. Planting in rows with a sprig planter is the preferred method, although good success can be obtained by broadcast planting with higher planting rates and favorable rainfall.

After planting, the use of a cultipacker helps to firm the seedbed, eliminating air-pockets in the soil and ensuring good sprig-to-soil contact. Whatever the planting method, the importance of preparing a firm seedbed cannot be overemphasized.

Well ahead of the expected planting date, a soil sample should be taken and sent to a soil test laboratory.

If the soil pH is below 5.5, lime should be applied and incorporated in the fall before planting in the spring. All other nutrients except nitrogen should be applied at recommended rates and incorporated before planting or banded when planting. Nitrogen should not be applied until planting or shortly after growth of the new plants has started.

Weeds can be controlled by applying Karmex as soon as possible after planting but before emergence of the bermudagrass. On deep sands this herbicide can damage bermudagrass and its use should be avoided. Escaped broadleaf weeds can be controlled with 2,4-D applied four to six weeks after emergence of the bermudagrass. Remember to always read and follow the label when using herbicides. Competition from escaped annual grasses such as crabgrass can be reduced by grazing the field with a large number of animals for a short time period (one to two days).

With favorable rainfall and good management, a new planting of bermudagrass may be lightly grazed or hayed toward the end of the first growing season. However, at least six inches of top growth should be left prior to the first frost.