The time has come to make peace with Bermuda grass

How to handle Bermuda grass

wtopstaff | November 14, 2014 7:52 am

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Mike McGrath,

Timing is Everything in the Fight Against Bermudagrass

Kathy in Gaithersburg writes: “HELP! How can I get rid of Bermudagrass permanently? Last year, we killed our Bermuda infested lawn with Roundup, left it alone over the winter, then tilled it up and planted new seed this spring. But the Bermuda is back and spreading again! What can we do?”

Eh, find a time machine, Kath, so you can go back and ask me this question before you wasted your time and money and killed off all the amphibians in your area with that Roundup.

Bermuda is a warm season grass. It and its warm season cousins like zoysia, should be installed in the spring. But the seed you sowed this spring was that of a cool season grass (it had to be – warm season grasses are grown vegetatively, not from seed), and cool season turfs like bluegrass and the fescues only establish well if you plant them in the fall.

As the weather warms up the Bermuda in your lawn – which isn’t killed by herbicides like Roundup – gets stronger, while cool season turfs like fescue and bluegrass get weaker. Like it or not, your lawn will probably be all Bermuda by late August.

Bermuda Taking Over in Shade? Surrender, say the Experts

David in Sterling writes:”Bermuda has completely taken over the yard on the side of our house that gets less sun. It looks pretty at times when seen from a distance, but I wouldn’t call it a lawn grass. How can I get rid of it and keep it from coming back?”

You’re in a tough spot, David. The only safe way to get rid of existing Bermuda grass is to solarize the soil. That means tilling the area up now, leveling it, saturating the soil until it can hold no more water and then covering it tightly with clear plastic for the entire summer. Here are detailed solarization instructions.

But your area sounds like it might not get enough sun to cook the Bermuda to death. I know you don’t want to hear this, but lawn care experts are advising people like you to make peace with the Bermuda. It loves our climate, does well in shade, is almost impossible to eradicate once it shows up and seems fated to be the grass of the future in our area.

One Day our Lawns will be Bermuda

Robert in Woodbridge writes: “How do I rid my lawn of Bermudagrass? Moving is not an option!”

Unfortunately, one of the premier turf grass experts in the United States, Dr. Nick Christians of Iowa State University, tells me that moving may be your only option, Bob.

Bermuda, a warm season grass that survives winter in in the D.C. area, is the most aggressive spreader of all the grasses, tolerates shade well and can come up on the other side of a 12-inch deep barrier. And, being a heat loving species, it grows ever stronger as our climate warms.

And many homeowners in the D.C. area unwittingly make it easier for Bermuda to move in by caring for their cool season lawns incorrectly in summer. If you want a cool season grass to be able to (at least try) and compete with an invader like Bermuda, it should never be cut below 3 inches, should be fed only in the spring and fall — never in the summer — and should only be watered deeply and infrequently. Cut it too short, shock it with fertilizer when it’s already heat stressed, and water it for short periods of time frequently and it won’t have a chance. But warm season grasses like Bermuda thrive with summer feedings and a short cut.

So, what’s a lawn owner in the ever warming D.C. area to do when Bermuda invades? Christians says some tips:

“Make peace with it. Yes, it goes dormant over the winter just like zoysia, but it greens up again in the spring, spreads rapidly to fill in its own bare spots, and crowds out every known weed. And the more our climate heats up, the more it becomes the most successful grass in the D.C. area. If you don’t like the type or texture of the Bermuda that’s taking over your lawn, tear it up and replace it with an improved variety next spring.”

“To try and install a new cool season lawn like bluegrass or fescue (which you would attempt only in the fall), you’d first have to have the old turf chemically sterilized to kill the Bermuda, which costs a fortune, must be done by a licensed professional, uses the kind of chemicals that Mike has been railing against for decades and ignores the fact that the climate is greatly favoring warm season grasses in these regions.

“Even when people don’t mind using herbicides, I strongly advise going with a warm season grass in these situations,” concludes Christians. “Because no matter what you do, in the long run my money’s on the Bermuda.”

Pruning Rose Bushes: Be a Deadhead(er)

Ed in Fredericksburg writes: “When is the best time to trim rose bushes?”

Well, Ed, the first pruning of roses should be done in the spring, about two weeks after new growth appears and after all chance of a hard frost is gone. But now is the time many of us are doing our second, and even third, pruning. As soon as a run of roses is finished, you should immediately use pruners to remove the hips, those big bulges where the flowers used to be. The more promptly you perform this “dead-heading,” the more the plant will be able to keep pumping out new flowers.

And while you’re out there, prune away any dead, damaged or diseased canes. And if the center of the plant is crowded, take a few out from there as well. You can continue to do this all summer, but no pruning of anything after September.

If you Planted Garlic Last Fall, Get Scaping

Bob on Hawaii Avenue in the District made a rookie mistake last year, and I promised that his sacrifice would not be in vain. I would use his experience to help others, so if you planted garlic cloves last fall, listen up!

The most popular type of garlic, the hardneck varieties, produce a central stalk in May that develops a little bulge know as a scape at the very tip. If you haven’t already, go out and cut off the tops of those stalks and remove every scape. This will make the underground bulb – that you’ll harvest toward the end of this month, when the bottom third of the plants have turned brown – much bigger, and prevent the formation of a pestiferous seedhead that would otherwise spread garlic grass throughout your landscape.

Stir fry the scapes if they’re small or pickle them if they’re big; they have a mild and delicious garlic flavor.

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