Making the decision of whether to establish bermudagrass from either sprigs or seed is not very clear cut. Seeded varieties are easy to plant seed availability is good and per acre establishment cost is generally less than hybrids. However, there are disadvantages that need to be considered in order to make a fully informed decision between establishing sprigs or seed.
Yield Variety trial data collected over four years at the Noble Research Institute compared dry matter yields between three sprigged types (Ozark, Midland 99 and Tifton 44) and 10 seeded types (Giant, Cheyenne, Ranchero Frio, Mirage/Cd90160, Cd90160, Mirage, Wrangler, Common, Mohawk and Guymon). Four-year average dry matter yield for Ranchero Frio, Mirage/Cd90160, Cd90160, Mirage, Wrangler, Mohawk and Guymon showed no statistical difference from common bermudagrass, but yields were statistically lower than sprigged types. Giant was the highest yielding of the seeded types and statistically the same as Midland 99 and Tifton 44. No difference in yield was seen between Cheyenne, Tifton 44 and Giant.
Another study, from 1997 to 2001 at the Texas A&M Agricultural Research and Extension Center at Overton, compared dry matter yields of sprigged bermudagrass (Tifton 85 and Coastal), seeded bermudagrass and bahiagrass. In this study, the seeded bermudagrass yields were similar to Coastal, but higher than bahiagrass. Tifton 85 was the highest-yielding variety in the test. Common and Giant were added in year three of the study, but, by 2001, the Giant stand had thinned to the point that common produced twice the dry matter yield of Giant. In 2000 and 2001, common yields were very similar to some of the named seeded varieties.
Establishment Ease of establishment is touted as an advantage to seeded bermudagrass. It is relatively easy to prepare a firm, weed-free seed bed and broadcast seed, but the rest of what goes into establishment germination, emergence and ground cover can be a real challenge. Bermudagrass seedlings are weak and cannot tolerate weed competition or shading. Many old fields in our area that have been farmed in the past will quickly flush to Johnsongrass or crabgrass when disturbed for seedbed preparation. Both of these can cover quickly and shade out seedling bermudagrass, resulting in stand failure or delayed establishment. There are no labeled chemical weed control options for seeded bermudagrass at establishment. If field history is known and grass competition is anticipated, one option is to prepare the seedbed and allow weeds to flush. Chemically spray out weeds using glyphosate, then seed and roll the field without additional soil disturbance. Seeded bermudagrass should not be planted until soil temperatures have reached 60 degrees F and preferably warmer, which means you will have time to allow a first weed flush to occur. If you sprig, you do have chemical control options at sprigging for grasses as well as broadleaf weeds.
Efficiency By reviewing variety trial data, it appears that many of the named seeded varieties are similar in yield to common and a notch below the hybrids. Variety trials equalize management and give you an idea of yield potential. The take-home point is this: Varieties that have higher yield potential also tend to be more water and fertility use efficient. Efficiency in water and fertility are very important considerations in our environment.
The Future Research at Oklahoma State University investigating the genetic diversity of seeded bermudagrass cultivars used for both turf and forage production found that many of the seeded-type bermudagrasses are not very dissimilar from Arizona common bermudagrass. This could then account for why the named seeded varieties and common perform similarly in variety trials. This narrow genetic diversity can help explain why there has not been a tremendous amount of progress made in yield of seeded varieties. However, preliminary work begun in 2002 at Texas A&M at Overton by Gerald Evers could indicate what the future may hold for seeded bermudagrass. In this study, dry matter production of 166 experimental half-sibling families of seeded bermudagrass was compared to Coastal and Tifton 85. For the two years of data that have been collected and reported on so far, 25 to 35 of the seeded entries were as productive as Tifton 85 each year. This indicates that there is potential to develop highly productive seeded bermudagrass.
The decision Take the above discussion into account and consider your soil type as well. If soils are sandy and droughty, the decision leans toward sprigs because of the drought tolerance due to the deep, massive root system hybrids develop. Are you going to manage to capture the yield potential that hybrids offer? If not, then the case is stronger for seed to lessen the up-front establishment cost. How many acres do you have to establish? Small acreages (20 to 30 acres or less) are easier to seed than to get all the pieces put together to sprig.
Finally, if you have evaluated everything and make the decision to seed, consider using a blend of varieties. Over time, and with cross pollination, an ecotype can develop on your location that could outperform the variety you originally seeded.
Baker, J. 2004. Forage Yields from Bermudagrass Varieties and Strains. Noble Research Institute, LLC NF-FO-05-02.
Evers, G.W. 2003. Seeded Bermudagrass. Texas A&M University Agricultural Research and Extension Center Publication. Overton, TX.
Yerramesetty, P.N., M.P. Anderson, C.M. Taliaferro, and D.L. Martin. 2005. DNA Fingerprinting of Seeded Bermudagrass Cultivars. Crop Science, Vol. 45, pp. 772-777.