Eddie Baggs: Establishing Bermuda grass: to seed or not?

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February through May is the time of year we think of establishing, improving or renovating our Bermuda grass pastures. With 10 soil types in Denton County —ranging from stony clay to fine sandy loam — this can be a challenge. And when you consider there are 12 varieties of hybrid Bermuda grass — such as Coastal, propagated from sprigs — and many seeded Bermuda grass varieties and blends — such as common, propagated from seeds — the question of which one to use gets complicated.

Let’s go back to 1943, when coastal Bermuda grass was introduced. Named for the Georgia Coastal Plain Experiment Station where it was developed, coastal Bermuda grass is an F1 hybrid. It does not produce a viable seed, and is a cross between tift Bermuda grass (found in an old cotton patch near Tifton, Ga.) and an introduced variety from South Africa. It seems all the new Bermuda grass hybrids are compared to the original coastal variety, during testing and yield evaluations.

A second type of Bermuda grass is “common,” which is propagated by seed. The seeded varieties do not germinate well at low temperatures, usually when the mean soil temperature is 60 degrees Fahrenheit or above. This is usually around April or early May. When planting in May you can run the risk of missing the rainy season, which is important when trying to establish Bermuda grass. The seeded varieties produce less forage and do not spread as quickly as their hybrid counterparts, but cost much less to establish.

If you are a small-acreage owner and are just looking for grazing pasture or conservation ground cover, then a seeded variety such as Wrangler, NK-37 or Giant, or a blend of varieties work well. These grasses have a more upright growth habit than common Bermuda, and are propagated by seed. With minimal equipment you can seed these yourself, without having to hire a custom sprigger, which is needed to plant the hybrid sprigs.

Hybrids are sterile and will not produce viable seeds; therefore, they must be propagated with sprigs, which are root pieces, rooted stolons or runners. This is done in late winter to early spring into moist soil. This type of planting is usually reserved for larger acreage due to expense and special equipment needed.

Selection for a soil type should not be a problem. Most of the varieties are adapted to a wide range of soils. But as with any crop, to get the full potential, it should be planted on a clean, well-prepared seedbed that is free of other plant competition.

 

EDDIE BAGGS, extension agent with the Texas AgriLife Extension Service in Denton County, can be reached at 940-349-2880. 


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