Bermuda grass general information

General Information on Bermuda Grass

Bermuda grass is not native to Bermuda.  Figure that one out.  Scientifically it is known as Cynodon dactylon and has a host of aliases.  These "also known as" names are:  

● Bermudagrass

● Dhoob

● Dūrvā Grass

● Ethana Grass

● Dubo

● Dog's Tooth Grass

● Wiregrass

● Scutch Grass

● Bahama Grass

● Devil's Grass

On the island it is named for it is considered an invasive species because of its aggressive growth.  The islanders also refer to it as crabgrass which, as fate would have it, is the name of one of the most common narrow-leaf weeds that you have likely come across in your lawn care journey.

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Physical Description

The fibrous root systems of Bermuda grass plants can grow into the earth to a depth of over 6 feet.  However, this depth is not where the veritable mass of the roots is located.  Generally, the densest part of the root system is found no more than 2 feet below the surface.  

The exceptionally deep reach of the root system is one of the primary reasons that this warm-season grass plant can survive so well through drought conditions.  The roots of Bermuda grass can penetrate the soil and reach water that is decidedly unavailable to the roots of other plants.  This adaptation of the grass plant is one reason for the virile, vibrant, and dense growth that has made it one of the more commonly used grasses in residential lawns and other applications.

The grass blades of bermudagrass possess a dark green color with edges that are rough to the touch.  The blades can vary from ¾" to 6" in length.  The stems of the plant often have a purplish tint and appear to have been slightly flattened.  

Buds develop at the nodes of the plant to produce ascending stems that can grow as tall as 12".   During the growing season, wherever a node of the plant touches the ground, its roots and stolons will grow outward along the ground to form a thick mat.

Growing Conditions

Bermuda grass is a warm-season perennial narrow-leafed plant that originated in tropical or subtropical climates.  The optimal growing conditions for this warm-season plant are prolonged periods of higher temperatures with rainfall that averages between 25" and 100" per year.  The optimum daytime temperature for the plant to exhibit its healthiest growth is in high temperatures between 95°F and 100°F.  This species experiences the greatest periods of growth when the average temperature for the entire 24 cycle is 75°F.

These optimal temperatures and low cold tolerance limit the geographical zones that Bermuda grass can take root and exhibit healthy, vibrant growth.  Temperature is the biggest factor in determining where Bermuda grass will take root and grow.  The geographical range for this warm-season grass covers all of the southern states of this nation; from Florida across the breadth of the nation to southern Arizona.  This grass is so common in the warmer regions of the South that it is often called the "South's grass."  

Bermuda grass is one of those rare warm-season grasses that can extend its geographical reach further to the North and into areas where you would begin to find cool-season grasses.  Although Bermuda grass was originally averse to the colder temperatures you would find in the transition zones, advances made in the development of cold-tolerant Bermuda grass seed varieties have extended the northernmost reach of this plant into the transition zone that has temperatures that remain above 10°F.  This turfgrass has been found thriving as far North as New Jersey and Maryland.

Research has shown that temperatures that fall below freezing will kill the grass blades and the stems of the plant.  The root systems of the Bermuda grass plant can remain alive in the soil if the air temperature falls below freezing.  

Although certainly not ideal for optimal growth, Bermuda grass has shown the ability to continue growing at night in temperatures as low as 35°F.  This active growth can take place provided that the average temperature during daylight hours is at or near 70°F.  

When the average air temperature drops below 50°F, Bermuda grass will enter its dormancy and the grass blades will begin to discolor.  At this point, the reserve carbohydrates and other sugars begin being transported from the leaves and into the stems and rhizomes of the plant in preparation for its impending dormancy.  Dormancy is officially entered into following the first frost that kills vegetation.  This frost will cause the leaves and the stems of the turfgrass to remain dormant until the average daily temperatures reach a consistent 50°F.

True to its warm-season heritage, Bermuda grass needs the soil to reach a consistent temperature of at least 65°F before it will exhibit significant growth of its rhizomes, stolons, and roots.  With the soil at 80°F, the root systems of this turfgrass plant reach the optimal conditions for strong and healthy growth.  

Bermuda grass grows best in conditions of full sun.  Exposure to high-intensity heat combined with an extended period of sun-exposure positively influences the growth rate and healthy development of the grass plant.  

The growth and development of the plant are weakened and thinned in areas with less than 60% exposure to sunlight.  The shade conditions, whether caused by structure or by a canopy, result in sparse and patchy growth.  The stems become thinner, the leaves will narrow, and the roots and rhizomes will not readily absorb and transport essential nutrients.

Bermuda grass is adapted to grow in an assortment of different soil consistencies.  It is equally suited to thrive in dense clay soil or porous sand.  For ideal growth, Bermuda grass prefers well-drained soil in areas that are not prone to flooding.  Its high nitrogen content affords it the ability to grow in soils with lower fertility.  The Bermuda grass plant is tolerant to salt exposure and prefers slightly acidic soils.  A pH level of lower than 5.8 would be too acidic for the plant to thrive.

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