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How to defeat the attack of wild Bermuda

Posted Tuesday, September 6, 2005 - 10:18 am

By Durant Ashmore

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In continuing our discussion on lawns, there are several tricks of the trade that I want bring to everyone's attention. These are the use of rye grass in the winter and the elimination of unwanted wild Bermuda in existing lawns.

You can create a lawn with only a lawn mower. If you have a bare spot of dirt it will eventually grow over in weeds. If you mow the weeds you have created a lawn. From a distance it will look like any other lawn.

Seventy years ago, my ex-father-in-law maintained the lawn on his family farm in Tennessee by getting down on his hands and knees and cutting the weeds with a hand-held sickle.

The same lawn still exists today and I doubt it has ever been graced with a grain of grass seed. The only difference is that it now is maintained with a riding lawnmower from Sears.

Charlie Smith was a landscaping customer who was as meticulous about his yard as anyone ever was. He hand-pruned an English ivy vine into intricate topiary pattern over his garage door. His shrubs, plants and vegetable garden were always in the best of shape. His front yard was always nice and green. If you looked closely, Charlie's yard was a combination of crabgrass, wild Bermuda, nut grass, dallis grass and chickweed. It was always mowed and held its own with the other lawns in his upscale neighborhood.

In the summertime, a mown lawn looks maintained. It is in the winter that deficiencies show up. There will be patches of evergreen where fescue has been attempted. There will be swaths of brown where wild Bermuda has gone dormant. Fescue and Bermuda are both green in the summer and sort of peacefully coexist; not so in the winter.

Charlie's solution was to overseed his yard with rye grass every fall. Rye is a winter grass that thrives in cold weather; 80 degrees kills it. It readily germinates with aeration and fertilization. Charlie kept his yard looking good by mowing it in the summer and planting rye grass in the winter. Unfortunately, Charlie succumbed to a brain tumor a few years ago. His legacy in other more important areas and his technique for lawn care continue on.

Many folks who like the advantages that warm season grasses provide abhor the dull, drab look that they possess in the winter. This problem can be eliminated in the fall by overseeding the warm season lawn with rye. Hybrid Bermuda and centipede grasses tolerate this the best. Zoysia grasses are usually too thick for the seed to have proper ground contact for germination.

There is one drawback to this approach. The rye will thrive in April and May before the temperatures reach 80 degrees. The warm season grass is trying to break dormancy at this time. These grasses compete with each other, and the warm season grasses may come in spotty. In late May the rye starts to die out and the dead patches of rye are visible. There is about a month-long transition period when a lawn managed in this manner is not in its full glory.

What I like in a lawn is a uniform texture. I don't care if it is tall or short, green or brown or soft or spiky. Of course, a uniform texture is probably the hardest goal to achieve in any lawn. It is primarily the presence of weeds that detract from uniformity, though the mixture of different types of grass to find a dominant grass is a close second. The shotgun approach to choosing a lawn type leads to a mess that will be expensive to rectify in a few years. (See previous columns to choose the right lawn the first time.)

Fall is the optimal time of year to deal with one of the most egregious offenders in the scourge of nonuniform lawn texture. This villain is wild Bermuda in fescue lawns and in the winter its presence is particularly notable. Wild Bermuda is a wiry, spiky grass that has leaflets along the entire stem. It spreads by runners above and below the ground and will not go away. It dominates like kudzu on a fence pole until it chokes out everything desirable.

You can't dig Bermuda out of an existing lawn. The only solution is to spray this scoundrel with Roundup. Unfortunately, any surrounding fescue will fall victim to Roundup's deadly spray as well. Don't despair, spray away. You may have a spot 10-feet square here, or you may spray half your yard there. Spray away. Now is by far the best time of year to ban this dastardly curse from your lawn.

What to do about the patches of dead Bermuda? Now is the time to aerate and overseed with fescue. Your fescue will come in strong, and the wild Bermuda will be gone. It you miss spraying a spot of Bermuda you will have to wait 12 months before you have this opportunity again. Editor's note: Columnist Durant Ashmore, MLA, of Fountain Inn, is certified by the South Carolina Nursery Association. He can be reached at 243-3446 or

Wednesday, June 23  

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