Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon) is a top choice for lawns across the warm parts of the U.S. because of its wear-resistance, dense texture and simple care requirements. One drawback to Bermuda grass is that it spreads easily and is considered invasive in some areas, including California wild lands. Before planting, check to make sure the grass poses no environmental risks in your area.
Bermuda grass grows best in full sun and will not survive in shade. Most varieties grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 through 10. It prefers well-draining soils. If you have heavy clay soil, adding compost or some other organic matter can improve the drainage. For existing lawns, apply a 1/2-inch layer of finely textured compost to the lawn. Bermuda grass tolerates a soil pH between 5 and 8.5, which means you likely don't have to worry about adjusting pH.
Watering the Lawn
Bermuda grass usually requires water once every five to 10 days, depending on the weather and climate. Water only when the grass begins to show signs of needing it, such as a duller bluish color, less perky leaves and footprints that remain after the grass has been walked on. Overwatering can cause root and leaf death and fungus growing on the lawn. Water so the soil is damp 6 inches down. You can check this by probing the wet soil with a shovel and keeping track of how long it takes to wet the soil 6 inches deep.
Mowing Bermuda Grass
Bermuda grass generally goes dormant and stops growing at some point in the winter, and it will not require mowing while not growing. Once it begins to grow and turn a vibrant green color in spring, usually around March in most climates, it will require mowing again. Cut common Bermuda grass to a height of 1 to 2 inches and mow often enough that each mowing cuts off one-third of the total grass height or less. Once the grass stops growing in winter, stop mowing until spring.
Fertilizing in Spring
For precise recommendations on the specific nutrient amounts a Bermuda grass lawn needs, you can buy a home soil testing kit to give a rough idea of the nutrients available in the soil. In the absence of soil testing, use a complete fertilizer when the grass leaves its winter dormancy and begins growing again in spring -- usually March through May. Select a fertilizer that has more nitrogen than other nutrients, such as a 15-5-10 or 4-1-2 ratio fertilizer, and apply it at a rate of 1 pound of nitrogen for each 1,000 square feet of lawn every four to six weeks. To calculate how much fertilizer to apply to get a pound of nitrogen, divide 100 by the first number in the fertilizer ratio. For example for a 15-5-10 ratio fertilizer you would calculate:
100/15 = 6.67
So, you would apply 6.67 pounds of 15-5-10 ratio fertilizer per 1,000 square feet of lawn. You may also use a slow-release fertilizer and apply 1 1/2 pounds every eight to 10 weeks.
Fertilizing in Summer
During summer -- June through August -- Bermuda grass requires a high-nitrogen fertilizer that has minimal phosphorous. A nitrogen-only fertilizer, such as a 21-0-0 ratio, will work well. You can also use one with a small amount of phosphorous, such as a 21-3-6 ratio. Calculating the amount of nitrogen as before, apply 1 pound of quick-release nitrogen for each 1,000 square feet every four to six weeks or 1 1/2 pounds of slow-release nitrogen every eight to 10 weeks. Do not fertilize Bermuda grass in fall and winter.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Center: Bermudagrass
- University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture: Bermudagrass
- California Invasive Plant Council: California Invasive Plant Inventory
- National Gardening Association: Soil Testing
- National Gardening Association: Improving Clay Soil
- City of San Jose: Compost for Healthy Soil and Plants
- Texas A&M University Texas Agricultural Extension Service: Maintaining Bermudagrass Lawns
- UC Statewide IPM Online: Water Excess or Deficiency
- Clemson Cooperative Extension: Bermudagrass Maintenance Calendar
Lisa Chinn developed her research skills while working at a research university library. She writes for numerous publications, specializing in gardening, home care, wellness, copywriting, style and travel. Chinn also designs marketing materials, holds a Bachelor of Science in psychology and is working toward a PhD in cognitive neuroscience.