Friday, April 9, 2010

Bermudagrass is Evil

Bermudagrass, Cynodon dactylon, is probably the most popular turfgrass in my area. It is also evil and I hate it.

Strong words?

Perhaps, but there's a reason gardeners call this stuff "Devil's Grass". It's not even FROM Bermuda! It's called Bermudagrass because it's a serious invasive species on Bermuda. That's weird to think about, considering all those sacks of seed at the hardware store with "Bermudagrass" on the label like they're proudly saying, "This stuff has taken over Bermuda and will take over your land too!"

I hate Bermudagrass because once it gets established on your land, it's almost impossible to get rid of, and it's so popular here that pretty much every new garden I've ever had was put where a Bermudagrass turf used to be. I just emptied about 3/4 of a bottle of Roundup in my garden trying to kill all the tufts of Bermudagrass poking up through every single crack and crevice between my limestone rocks lining the beds, the landscape fabric, the cardboard, and whatever else I piled on top of it trying to smother it. If there's even a tiny tear in the landscape fabric, or a crack along the edge of a bed, it will find it, send out runners, and next thing you know the entire garden bed is covered in that ugly, wiry grass.

Usually I stick to organic methods, but when faced with something this invasive, I finally caved and went for the Roundup, even though it's a bit evil itself. I tried solarizing it, smothering it, and dousing it in organic weed killer made of strong vinegar and orange essential oil that I got from the local nursery, but the Bermuda just keeps coming back, and as the weather warms up, it just grows faster and faster.

While I was staring at the Wall of Poison at Home Depot, I was tempted to go with Ortho Grass-b-Gone instead. I had a thought that perhaps a specific grass killer that supposedly doesn't kill other types of plants would be better than a broad-spectrum herbicide like Roundup. However, upon a close reading of the label, I changed my mind when I found that they recommend waiting a whole year after treatment with Grass-b-Gone before planting edible plants, while Roundup said it's safe after 3 days. I knew one of the good things about Roundup is it breaks down very quickly in the soil, but I had no idea it was that big of a difference! Goes to show you how little I know about herbicides.

I feel bad about resorting to this, but I feel the Bermudagrass leaves me no choice. Which of course makes me hate it even more, because without the invading Devil's Grass I could be organic.

If you have a lawn, please don't plant Bermudagrass! Whatever you do, please consider your neighbors and plant something less invasive. Even if Bermuda wasn't already growing here, it spreads by both runners and seeds, so it can always blow in from nearby lawns or creep across property lines.

St. Augustine (Stenotaphrum secundatum) is probably the second most popular turfgrass around here. This is the grass we always had when I was a kid. My mom prefers it because it's much softer than Bermuda, with broad blades that form a thick, carpet-like lawn that even people like me with sissy, sensitive feet can walk on barefoot. It's also much less invasive, though this is partially because it's less drought tolerant, so it doesn't do well in wild areas where it's not being taken care of. I don't think it makes viable seeds either; it just spreads by runners. When I was a kid taking care of the family vegetable garden, our St. Augustine would send runners into the veggie garden, but they were a hundred times easier to pull out than Bermudagrass runners. I'm not sure why. I guess they have shallower roots and they seemed thicker and easier to grab hold of. They just pulled cleanly out, while Bermuda runners will usually end up just breaking off in your hand, leaving most of the plant behind still in the soil.

However, even though I have a soft spot for St. Augustine, what I think is the absolute best thing to do (besides not having a lawn at all) is plant a native grass! Plant the grass that's supposed to be there! Why get imports from Africa when Mother Nature has been planting perfectly good grass right here for millions of years?

For my area, the native turfgrass of choice is Buffalograss. This company sells a nice native turfgrass mix that's 2/3 Buffalograss and 1/3 Blue Grama. However, if my yard wasn't already grassified, I would probably go with some of their other land coverage options. Maybe some Little Bluestem, which is probably my favorite native grass, with some sort of wildflower mix added in for color and biological diversity. I already planted a mixture of their shade wildflower mix and shade grass mix in the back under the elm trees where hardly anything was growing (Bermudagrass doesn't like shade), which I think is much more interesting than any monoculture lawn. Besides, if you don't have a lawn, there's no need for a lawnmower, and does anybody actually like mowing lawns? No, I didn't think so.

By the way, I don't work for Native American Seed or anything. I just think they have some great products for any native plant enthusiasts. They seem to have the biggest selection of native grass and wildflowers for my area that I've seen. There are some garden centers and nurseries here and there that also sell natives, but I haven't yet found a better internet store.

Now of course, I live in Texas, so the plants that do well here might not be the same as somewhere else. If you live in a completely different climate than me, you might need to look elsewhere for plants native to your area.

But if you live in the southern United States, PLEASE DON'T PLANT BERMUDAGRASS! Almost anything else would be better than that! I beg you. Do it for us poor gardeners who have to dig or pull up every last little bit of that stuff because even the tiniest bit of root grows into more grass, and then we have to burn it because if you put in the compost, it'll grow out and cover it up. Really, this stuff is evil, make it go away!

1 comment:

  1. I loathe Bermuda grass. The previous owners of this house tried to get it established, but thankfully it was unsuccessful. The wind just blew it all away. We're going to plant a mixture of Blue Gramma and Buffalo grass towards the middle of May. Buffalo grass I know is native to this area. But, when facing down sandspurs and tumbleweeds, any grass that will choke out just about anything else is awesome.