Yearly Maintenance Plan for Bermuda Grass

Here is a month by month plan to care for your Bermuda grass lawn.  Here are the specific lawn care and management practices recommended for you to use so your turf will be all that it can be.

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January Through April

Mowing

This time is crucial for your grass because it undergoes the drastic changes that come along with exiting its dormancy.  Depending on your geographic region, your lawn will begin to show green signs of life in April or May. It's not unusual for the grass to not begin exhibiting signs of new growth and changes in color until the middle of May in the more temperate climates.  

Before you perform the first mowing session of the growing season, you should be certain that your area has experienced the final frost at the end of winter.  Oftentimes, your grass will green-up just to be burnt back by a late-season frost.  

Once you are sure that the final frost has come and gone and the new growth and color are set in place for the growing season, you can fire up your lawnmower for the first cut.  For the lawnmower's premiere, take care to set the blade a little lower than usual at 1" of clearance and attach a bag if one is available.  These changes in clearance and the addition of the bag are only for the first mowing session.  This is because you need to clear the damaged, diseased, and dead material that has collected on your lawn through the winter.

Thatch Layer

If you notice a thatch layer that has become too thick, use a dethatching blade or a vertical mower to remove the problem.  For Bermuda grass, a thatch layer that is thicker than ½" could prove to be very problematic.  Once you have run the appropriate attachment through the thickened layer to loosen it from your healthy grass plants, run a lawnmower with a collection bag through the material to remove it from your lawn.  If a bag is unavailable, you can always rake and collect it by hand and dispose of the material properly once the job is complete.

Aerating

As you prepare your lawn for the growing season, it's a good idea to synchronize aerating your lawn and dethatching it (if it is necessary) into a joint effort.  Combining the tasks makes sense because compacted soil and a problematic thatch layer cause similar problems in your yard.  They both inhibit air and nutrient circulation and cause drainage problems and water retention.  You might as well kill two birds with one stone.

Aeration can take place once the last frost event of the new year has passed.  Be mindful and keep track of all the lawn care duties you perform.  Because if you apply a pre-emergent herbicide in late February or early March, you'll need to postpone any lawn care duties that will disturb the soil until just before your next pre-emergent application.

Pre-emergent herbicides work by preventing weed seeds from germinating by creating a chemical barrier on the soil's surface.  Cultivation practices that disturb the soil compromise the integrity of the weed barrier.  This compromise will inevitably result in the opportunistic plants exploiting the barrier's flaws, finding a way to germinate, and take root.  

Fertilization

This timeframe is the perfect time to perform a soil test and determine what your lawn's deficiencies are.  The soil test will give you the insight you need to select the perfect fertilizer to support the healthy and vibrant growth of your grass and other ornamentals.  

Fertilizing your lawn with products containing nitrogen is not recommended during this period of time.  The primary reason for holding off on fertilization is caution.  If the new growth of your Bermuda grass in the early spring is a result of early fertilization you run the risk of causing very real and lasting damage to your grass if an unexpected late-season frost were to occur.  While it's great to be pro-active, be measured and deliberate in your decisions.  Choices made in haste with the best of intentions could wind up backfiring and setting you back weeks (if not months).

Watering

Although your Bermuda grass turned brown at the first sign of colder weather, it's still alive.  In dormancy, the moisture needs of all plants are lessened a great deal.  But the plants still have to receive moisture to continue living.  

During the winter dormancy, extremely dry winters can cause desiccation that can damage or kill the plant.  As such, it's important to prevent the grass from experiencing excessive or prolonged dehydration.  If your lawn is not receiving adequate moisture from the environment, you will need to water the lawn to ensure its continued survival.  

Besides, preventing the grass from experiencing drought stress will help curtail problems with winter turf loss.

May Through August

Mowing

The optimal mowing height for Bermuda grass is between 1" and 2".  This height is only a recommendation as every lawn has its own unique set of environmental factors, lawn care practices, and growing conditions.  Every lawn should be dealt with in a manner that is specifically tailored to its unique conditions.  These suggestions are a broad-stroke guide that will take you in the right direction.

The fact is that some Bermuda grass lawns look picturesque at 2", and others have never looked better at ¾".  The best way to determine the height that best fits your lawn is to start at a benchmark setting of 2" (a benchmark setting is the measured distance from the lawnmower blade to a solid surface and can easily be determined with a ruler).

With each new mowing session, lower the blade in the smallest possible increments and note your freshly cut lawn after each shearing.  When the grass is cut to where it appears thin, sparse or just plain unsightly, you'll know that is your aesthetic threshold.  You determine what specific setting was most pleasing to you.

If you determine that your perfect mowing height falls below 1", then you'll likely have to change your mowing equipment from a blade to something with a reel.  This will prevent you from tearing and damaging your yard.

Bermuda grass is popular with homeowners and athletic directors because it is well suited for conditions of intense heat and drought.   However, its raised tolerance should not be mistaken for invincibility.  

Bermuda grass does have a breaking point in such conditions.  When environmental stress begins to affect its health and vigor, you should allow the blades to grow taller than usual.  Eventually, its healthy and strong growth habit will overcome the stress caused by the unfavorable weather.  

Fertilization

Bermuda grass has an affinity and grows best in soils that are slightly acidic.  Perform a soil test to determine if your pH level falls between 6.0 and 6.5.  If your pH range falls above these levels, it's best to add some sulfur to your soil to lower the number and create the conditions that Bermuda grass will thrive in.  

Sulfur should only be applied when the temperatures dip below 75°F.  Wait 3 months after the application to retest the soil.  You should see a measurable change in the soil's acidity for moderately sized areas.  Larger areas, however, could require several years to change the pH level in a significant way.

If you find that your soil is excessively acidic, lime applications will move the soil's numbers up as the content becomes more alkaline.

Over the course of an entire growing season, the total weight of nitrogen per 1000 square feet of Bermuda grass should total between 2 and 4 pounds.  The marked difference in the amount of nitrogen is based entirely on the density of the soil in question.  

Lawns that rest on sandy soils could have issues with nutrient runoff.  To counterbalance the potential loss of nutrients, the amount of nitrogen used should fall nearer to the maximum of 4 pounds per 1000 square feet.

Conversely, lawns with dense clay soil retain water and could have difficulty circulating the nutrients effectively.  This drainage and circulation issue is addressed by using nitrogen that weighs in nearer to the lighter 2 pounds per 1000 square feet.  

The nitrogen fertilizer should be dispersed through this period of time in the following manner:

● Early Summer

Depending on the soil density, apply between ½ and 1 pound of actual nitrogen per 1000 square feet after the lawn is fully covered in new green growth.  The soil test will reveal other nutrient deficiencies in the soil.  If the earth is in need of phosphorus or potassium, seek out a product with an NPK ratio that will meet all of the lawn's nutrient requirements.

● Middle Summer

In late June or early July, apply between ½ and 1 pound of actual nitrogen per 1000 square feet.  Again, the appropriate weight is determined by the soil density.  This nitrogen fertilizer should also be high in potassium content.  NPK ratios of 20-0-15 or 15-0-15 are appropriate.  Determine whether phosphorus is needed from the results of the soil test.

● Late Summer

Before August 15, apply ½ to 1 pound of nitrogen fertilizer per 1000 square feet.  The product also needs a higher potassium content.  The NPK ratios from the mid summer's application will work in this instance too.  As the growing season comes to an end and the grass begins to move its carbohydrate and sugar reserves from the leaves to the roots and rhizomes, sufficient potassium content is essential.  Potassium promotes cold weather survival and defends against disease.

It is not uncommon for your grass to experience a certain degree of yellowing on your grass blades.  This discoloration is likely due to a combination of factors that are easier to prevent than they are to correct.

The yellowing could occur because the pH level is too alkaline or because there is an iron deficit caused by the presence of too much phosphorus.  To change the pH level of the soil requires a plan that must be followed for several months if not years into the future.  

The discoloration, however, can be remedied rather quickly by adding iron to your turfgrass between the spring and summer applications.  At least your lawn will stay green while you work tirelessly to correct the pH balance in the soil.

Watering

Bermuda grass' drought tolerance affords you the luxury of not having to spend as much time irrigating your lawn.  You should regularly inspect the grass for signs of drought and heat stress and to assess the necessity of irrigation.  

If you notice that the lawn appears dry upon inspection, return the following morning and apply 1" of water to the entire lawn.  Do not over-water the grass and always try watering the lawn in the early morning hours between 7 and 8 am.  This will allow the water to saturate the soil before it evaporates, and it avoids the scorching heat of the day that is known to burn wet grass blades.

Two ways to test the grass to see if it does or does not need to be irrigated:

1. Monitor the lawn daily.  Dry Bermuda grass that needs moisture will appear to have a bluish hue.

2. Walk across the lawn barefoot in the late evening.  If the grass blades spring right back up into place as you lift your foot, there is sufficient moisture in the plant.

Weed Control

Hopefully, you planned accordingly for the inevitability of weeds and used a selective pre-emergent herbicidal treatment in late winter or early spring.  If so, your efforts will still be working to control weeds this late in the year.  

However, if you neglected to use a pre-emergent herbicide, you're going to have to battle the broadleafs (and narrow) with a post-emergent product.

If your problem is with grassy weeds and you neglected to plan ahead with a pre-emergent product, your options are limited with post-emergent herbicides.  Most post-emergent herbicides for grassy weeds are quinclorac applications.  Although effective, quinclorac has been known to cause yellowing in Bermuda grass.

Broadleaf summer weeds are controlled by using a 3-way herbicide developed for broadleaf weeds.  These solutions usually contain mecoprop, dicambra, and 2,4-D.  

Take care during the hotter months to not apply herbicides if the temperature climbs above 90°F.  

Repairing

It's not recommended to overseed any part of a Bermuda grass lawn.  Bermuda grass is divided into two broad categories:  hybrid and common.  Even with these broad designations, there are still more varieties that fall outside of their umbrellas.  The point is, Bermuda grass seed is relegated to common Bermuda grass varieties.  Modern Bermuda grass lawns, however, consist mostly of hybrids.  It wouldn't be so problematic if the physical appearance of these grasses weren't noticeably different.

So, if you have patches or thinned areas of Bermuda grass on your lawn, it's best to reparir those areas with sod, plugs, or by sprigging.  These methods will provide you with the more uniform look you are doubtlessly going for.

September Through December

Mowing

When you notice the thick, hot air of summer begin to turn cool in the fall, the time has come for you to change your mowing habits just a little bit.  When a marked difference in evening temperatures is evident (when they drop into the 60's), you'll need to raise the blade on your lawnmower.

The seasons are beginning to change and the best thing you can do to prepare your Bermuda grass is to allow it to grow and expose its larger surface area to the changing elements.  Over time, the larger grass blades will begin to acclimate to colder temperatures.  This is the best way to prepare them for the first frost of the year.

Fertilization

Alright, for the foreseeable future, you can keep the nitrogen stored in the shed.  Take the time to perform another soil test.  If you find that your pH level is skewed in one direction or the other, add the appropriate amount of lime or sulfur to amend the imbalance.  

If the soil shows insufficient levels of potassium, you'll need to add a sufficient amount of potash a month or month and a half before the first frost of the season.  Remember, potassium is essential for bracing your plants against the harsh winter weather.  1 pound of potassium-rich potash, K20, per 1000 square feet of ground should do just fine.  

To disperse the desired pound, you'll actually need to spread 2 pounds of potassium sulfate or 1.6 pounds of muriate of potash.  Within those prescribed weights of their respective compounds is the desired 1 pound of potash.

Watering

Prior to your lawn entering dormancy, you'll need to water the lawn sufficiently enough to avoid drought stress.  Remember that your grass is preparing to go dormant; a time where the grass is vulnerable and weakened.  Any stress that can be avoided leading up to its dormancy should be avoided.

Once the grass has entered its dormancy, monitor the lawn for signs of drought stress or excessive dehydration.  If the environment is not providing the dormant plant with adequate levels of moisture, you'll need to supplement the grass' needs with irrigation.

Weed Control

It's never too early to begin thinking and planning for the upcoming growing season.  With visions of a beautiful green expanse in your mind, go ahead and apply the first application of a pre-emergent herbicide in September.  A follow-up application will come 8 to 10 weeks down the road.  

Many pre-emergent products are granular and must be watered in to be activated and do their job.  Double-check the label on the herbicide so you know exactly how long you can let your pre-emergent product rest on your lawn before it's too late to water it in.