How To Get Bermuda Grass To Spread

There are a few reasons you may want to push lateral growth. Maybe you removed a tree that caused damage from the shade, or maybe you recently did a repair to your irrigation.

Step 1: Address The Problem

Maybe it was a temporary problem, like a utility company dug up your yard, or you removed a flower bed, but in many cases, homeowners are trying to fill in a spot that they don’t know the cause of. Common causes include too much shade, too much traffic or debris in the yard. Trim or remove the trees causing shade. Reroute foot traffic to alleviate the constant wear. Check for debris as it can be commonly found in new construction. Beer cans, extra concrete and bricks, is all commonly found in yards. Most builders don’t clean up the yard when done, but actually just dump top soil on top of everything, spread it around and then sod. Rather than having the extra concrete dry in their wheelbarrow, they dump it in your yard and call it a day.

Photo credits to Christopher Burns who was aerating by hand and came across an object in his yard. Screw driver test confirmed the cause if this weak spot in his yard which is otherwise healthy.

Step 2: Road To Recovery

Now that you’ve addressed the cause, it’s time to fill in those thin spots in your yard.

Place Plugs

The first step is to only expect it to spread 12 inches per 3 months. By that I mean, if you give your grass what it needs, it can spread thick in a radius of about 12 inches. There are more stolons that will spread beyond 12 inches but it will likely be thin beyond 12 inches until you give it more time. In a single season, bermudagrass can spread 3 feet horizontally.

So use a Pro Plugger to ensure the grass is only needing to spread 12 inches.

Photo by Philippe DeLobbe

Fertilize With Fast-Release Nitrogen

It’s important if you want fast growth, to use a fast-release nitrogen. This means the far majority of fertilizers won’t cut it. The good news is, synethetic sources are cheaper so get used to using them anyways.

Go to SiteOne and buy urea. If you have high pH, use ammonium sulfate instead of urea. If you have low pH, drop lime.

There’s a great study published in the Revista Brasileira de Ciência do Solo.

The study concluded: “an estimated rate of 355 kg ha-1 N, resulting in a maximum amount of stolons, rhizomes and roots, may be recommended for Bermuda grass sod production of good quality.” Any nitrogen beyond that reduced the formation of runners and increased leaf production, which of course isn’t ideal. 100% coverage was realized after 5.5 months.

Study: Bermuda grass sod production as related to nitrogen rates

Translating all this into quantities we can understand in a residential lawn, about 7.2 to 7.4 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet was ideal, spread over 3 applications at a 35-50 day interval. This means, apply about 1.3 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per month. They applied 2.4 pounds every 5-7 weeks rather than doing monthly applications.

Fertilize Weekly

Fertilizing is so essential to this, I wanted to make this a separate point. So instead of dropping 1 pound of nitrogen per 1000 sqft at the start of the month and waiting for 4-6 weeks to do it again, although it’s perfectly fine, consider fertilizing 0.25 to 0.5 pound of nitrogen and do it again in 7 days. This will ensure your grass always has nitrogen available. The growth will be more consistent and you can actually give it more in the end. They call this spoon-feeding.

In one application, you shouldn’t give your grass more than 1 pound of nitrogen, but if you spread out apps, you can actually do more than 1 pound of nitrogen per month. I’ve heard of people going up to 4 pounds per month but it’s both risky and not worth the money. By doing 0.5 pounds every 7-10 days, your lawn is likely fill in quickly.

Avoid Cheap Herbicides

People love to recommend the cheap $20 bottle from Home Depot containing 2,4-D. Sure, it will kill many weeds, but it kills a lot of grasses and can harm your Bermuda. If you’re looking to push growth, avoid cheap herbicides. Pay a bit extra (and it’s not much, we did the math) and get something that won’t stunt growth.

Disclaimer: Not all cheap herbicides stress grass, just many do.

Photo by Kevin Grimes showing quality herbicides, fertilizer and bifen.

Adjust Height of Cut

Depending on whether you have common or hybrid, your optimal height of cut will differ. However, when pushing growth in sunny areas, a lower height is going to encourage more growth. However, in shady areas, the reduction in height decreases leaf surface areas and can limit growth.

Ensure Sunlight and Water

I’m putting this last because it’s boring but it’s absolutely a non-negotiable requirement. Bermuda can’t grow in too much shade. Some varieties like Tahoma 31 can do okay in part shade but plants need sunlight. It’s hard to limit such a core component and expect similar results as a full-sun lawn. If you have any shade, your lawn will always be weaker.

For water, I like 1 inch a week, but I might water a bit more frequently when I’m pushing growth. Of course watering infrequent (see the watering guide) will make the roots strongest but that’s not priority right now.


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