Bermuda – Identification

Q: My yard is in great shape but my goal is to have shorter bermudagrass that stays green. I have tried to train it shorter but no matter what, when I cut it low, it is brown underneath. Some in my neighborhood have that very low cut putting green look and I want to work towards that appearance. I may need a hybrid. If so, could I seed my lawn with it?

A: Close your eyes and visualize a grass plant. Right at soil level is the crown (brown); extending above it is the stem (brown/yellow)and above that is the blade (green). The rule of thumb for cutting any grass is to mow when you need to remove a third of its height to bring it down to the recommended height. For common bermudagrass, the recommended mowing height is between one and two inches because the stem is approximately an inch long. Generally you’d let the lawn grass grow to three inches high and cut it weekly back to two inches.

Years ago, turfgrass researchers found that they could breed bermudagrass to have a low crown and a shorter stem. The shorter stem led to lower mowing heights. Hybrid bermudagrass can be mowed as low as one-half inch and still have thick green foliage left. Therefore, with the hybrids you schedule a mowing when the grass is two inches high.

That said, here is your problem: if you have common bermudagrass in your lawn, it naturally has a long stem. It is difficult to train to be green close to the soil unless you’re willing to mow every couple of days. The difficulty with your plan to overseed with hybrid bermudagrass is that the hybrid types such as ‘Tifway’ and ‘Tifgreen’ do not produce seed. Your only hope to have a hybrid bermudagrass lawn would be to dig everything out and lay sod. Try a three-day mowing schedule on your common bermudagrass for a couple of weeks and see how it looks. If the lawn is always brown after mowing I think you’ll be better off learning to live with a higher cut.

Q: How can you tell if you have common or hybrid bermudagrass?

A: Even an expert would have a hard time telling them apart if presented with just a blade or two. The difference is most obvious to me when a patch of Bermudagrass is allowed to grow un-mown for a week. Common bermudagrass will quickly send up seed heads that stand above the level of grass leaves. Hybrid bermudagrass will send up fewer seed heads. Dr. Wayne Hanna, a USDA grass geneticist in Tifton says that one way to tell them apart is to tap a seed head from each onto a piece of black paper. Common bermudagrass will release a tiny yellow cloud of pollen on the paper. Hybrid Bermudagrass is sterile, it does not produce pollen. My personal observation is that if you can see the two growing near each other, the hybrid grass will have a deeper green color when compared to the common type.

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