What is Bermuda grass and how is it bad for your yard?

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Cynodon dactylon, better known as Bermuda grass, is a perennial warm-season grass that is widely used as both lawn grass and pasture grass. Its toughness, adaptability, and creeping growth habit attract either appreciation or disdain from the homeowners, gardeners, landscapers, and others who plant it or are invaded by it.

A grass lover’s dream

Bermuda grass can help you achieve a lush green lawn. It quickly grows from seed or sod into a dense lawn that is capable of out-competing weeds and is highly tolerant of insect and disease pests. It thrives in heat and is drought tolerant. It grows roots deep underground to access hard-to-reach moisture and simply goes dormant in the driest of weather. And Bermuda grass is extremely resilient. If a large patch is damaged, it has an incredible ability to regenerate from the deep, creeping roots, and via mower clippings that land on bare soil and then root in. This kind of tough resiliency makes it a grass lover’s dream, but the adjacent landscape, and adjacent landowners, may disagree.

Collateral damage

Ornamental beds, vegetable gardens, paver patios, driveway, and other lawns adjacent to Bermuda lawns are at risk of invasion. Typical maintenance includes regular mechanical and chemical edging during the growing season when Bermuda grass creeps out of bounds both above and below ground. Homeowners and landscapers use lawn edgers to sculpt crisp edges along driveways and lawn borders, then follow behind with glyphosate weed killer to prevent Bermuda shoots from sprouting in mulched areas, pavement cracks, and other non-lawn areas. Unfortunately, that’s not the end of it.

Neighbors of Bermuda grass owners, who don’t wish to grow it themselves, must contend with it. A real challenge ensues, since the chemical controls, both conventional and organic, that kill Bermuda grass also kill other types of lawn grass. Getting rid of Bermuda grass is not an easy task, and it is a task that is never finished.

Bermuda grass growing in concrete
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Are salt and vinegar an eco-friendly way to kill Bermuda grass?

Salt and vinegar are more eco-friendly than pesticides, although they aren’t as eco-friendly as other solutions. A mixture of 1 cup salt and 1 gallon of vinegar will kill any plant, and it’s so effective that if it soaks into your soil, nothing will grow there for a long time. Spraying a light mist over the plants is safe, as only a few drops will make their way into the soil, and such small quantities will neutralize and disperse quickly.

Do not dispose of any leftover mixture by pouring it into the soil. Vinegar is acidic, which kills plants but can also cause chemical burns on skin in high concentrations, so wear safety gear when mixing and applying vinegar as an herbicide. The acidity of salt and vinegar will kill any plant when applied to it, not just Bermuda grass, so this is best for killing a broad area. Otherwise, you’ll need to target the Bermuda grass specifically, which can be tedious.

Can you dig up Bermuda grass?

You can dig up Bermuda grass, but it can be difficult. Digging up Bermuda grass is only the best solution if the grass is in a small area and no other options are available. Bermuda grass doesn’t just have its roots underground, but it also has rhizomes. Rhizomes are thick, underground stems that grow sideways. New grass shoots can grow from them, so if the rhizomes are left behind, your work will have been for naught. When digging up Bermuda grass, you want to dig at least 6 inches, to make sure you’re getting the entire plant. The part of ginger that we eat is the rhizome, so be on the lookout for anything that looks like ginger or an oddly shaped potato.

Think control not eradication

Owners of zoysia, centipede, and fescue lawns often battle Bermuda grass. Unfortunately, it is impossible to kill Bermuda grass organically when it invades another type of lawn without killing both types of grass. Organic herbicides only “burn out” the foliage, leaving the energy stored in the roots to regenerate new foliage. 

However, there are systemic lawn herbicides that can help. A systemic herbicide is absorbed through the foliage and then translocates throughout the tissue of the weed to kill the plant. Fluazifop is an active ingredient that kills Bermuda grass and is safe for use on fescue and zoysia lawns. Use a product with the ingredient Sethoxydim to control Bermuda grass in centipede lawns. Be sure to follow the label instructions, including concentration rates, precisely to avoid damaging the good grass.

How to kill Bermuda grass organically

It takes patience and persistence to kill Bermuda grass organically, and these methods are non-selective, which is to say they kill off all vegetation in the area. The most effective ways to organically kill Bermuda in large areas, such as a lawn renovation or preparing a garden bed, are soil solarization and smothering. 

Soil solarization must be done at the hottest part of the summer. It requires at least four weeks with daytime high temperatures above 85°. Hotter and longer is even better. Mow the grass as short as possible. Rototill the area to a depth of 12 inches. Slowly irrigate with one to two inches of water. Cover the area, plus a 2-foot margin all around, with a single sheet of clear plastic. Anchor the plastic in place with landscape staples or by shoveling soil onto the entire perimeter (a good seal is required for the best effect). Leave the plastic in place for four to six weeks. 

To smother Bermuda grass, begin by scalping the upper layer with a garden spade or sod cutter. You can rent a sod cutter from your local power equipment rental place. Pile the sod in an out-of-the-way location and cover it with a heavy plastic tarp to decompose. Cover the scalped ground with three or four layers of heavy-duty cardboard. Then cover the cardboard with four to six inches of mulch. Leave everything undisturbed for six months before planting. 

After removing Bermuda grass, stay vigilant. This tough grass is capable of reestablishing as quickly as before by roots, stems, mower clippings, and seeds. Learn to recognize it, and dig it out whenever you spot it. It is impossible to eradicate troublesome Bermuda grass, but with constant suppression, you can keep it under control.

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