Spring Bermudagrass Management

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by Tiffanee Boone

With the cold weather, it may seem early to start thinking about Bermuda grass management, but successful farmers plan ahead and realize that timing is critical. Controlled burning of Bermuda grass pastures and hayfields is one of the oldest management tools, but still useful today. The most common reason to burn is to remove the standing grass from last season. Last year’s grass will prevent sunlight from getting through to the new grass trying to break dormancy as well as decrease the quality of your first harvest if you are cutting it for hay. Burning also successfully removes late summer weed residue, such as spiny pigweed or sandspurs. Finally, the removal of dead thatch on the ground will not only allow sunlight to get through, but also help the ground to warm up more quickly. Warming up the ground will help your Bermuda grass to break dormancy sooner.

Burning is risky, so don’t burn unless you can do so safely. You will need to be able to control the fire if it gets out of hand. Also, you never want to burn when it is windy. High winds can carry burning embers onto rooftops of houses and barns. Also do not burn too close to your fence. A fire will melt plastic insulators. Check local burning laws and consult the North Carolina Forestry Service to ensure no burning bans are in effect.

Weed control is also important to your Bermuda grass during the spring. If you are a hay farmer, you can improve the quality of your first cutting and save on your April or May herbicide bill by spraying earlier in the year. A glyphosate treatment in February or early March can stop early spring weeds from ever becoming a problem. When thinking about glyphosate applications, timing is everything. If you spray too early, you might miss most of the weeds you are hoping to control because it doesn’t have any residual effects. Spraying too late will hurt your emerging Bermuda grass as much as the weeds.

Once your Bermuda grass comes out of dormancy, you are limited to what you can spray on the weeds that will not harm your grass. Always read the label and follow directions exactly. If you have Bermuda grass in your yard, you have many more choices in herbicide products than pastures and hayfields. Pasture and hay products are limited to protect the safety of the animals consuming them.

When fertilizing Bermuda grass in the spring, consider what variety you have. The newer, more cold tolerant varieties, such as Ozark, Tifton 44, and Midland 99 break dormancy much earlier and can therefore use fertilizer earlier in the growing season. For Bermuda grass varieties that are not as cold tolerant, such as Tifton 78 or 85, it is better to wait until later in the spring to fertilize. Fertilizing and applying herbicide at the right time for your grass variety and burning last year’s residue will help maximize efficiency and profits in the new growing season.

For more information on pasture management, contact Anthony Growe, Livestock Agent for the N.C. Cooperative Extension, Richmond County Center at amgrowe@ncsu.edu or 910-997-8255.

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