Bermudagrass Alternatives for the Home Lawn

Home Grown  by Keith Reed
Last week we discussed some late summer care tips for bermudagrass, by far the most common turfgrass for our area. While bermudagrass is well adapted, it is not the ideal choice for all situations. If bermuda is not working for you, for whatever reason, there are alternatives. Buffalograss and zoysiagrass each offer something unique to the homeowner. However, just like bermudagrass, they are not perfect so give the following information some consideration before choosing either of these turfgrasses for your home lawn or sports turf.

Quite frankly, the biggest stumbling block to either species is often the presence of bermudagrass as a “weed”. Bermuda is extremely competitive and will dominate both of these in most situations. While it is really too late in the season to try to establish buffalo or zoysia, now is the perfect time to begin a bermuda eradication plan so the site will be ready for the new species next season. A combination of repeated applications of glyphosate herbicide in combination with rogueing out the remaining plants is your best course of action for bermudagrass removal.

Bermudagrass plants are working to store up energy for the winter. This allows the herbicide to work better now when compared to the spring or early summer, although it still offers less than 100% success for complete kill. Please contact the Extension office if you would like more information on this process. I can’t emphasis enough how important it is to take care of the bermuda completely before moving on to one of these other species.

Buffalo is the native turfgrass species for our part of the world. Once established, it is quite happy to be left alone although it will response nicely to supplemental water and fertilization. Please understand “left alone” can mean turning completely brown in the heat of the summer. This is a natural plant dormancy response and the buffalo will green up nicely when the rain returns. It’s probably important to mention that “green” is a relative term. While there are differences between cultivars, buffalo is going to be bluer…trending to grey when compared to other turfgrass species.

While buffalo can be established using sod or plugs, it is relatively expensive and can be hard to find. Seeding is generally the preferred method of establishment. This is best done in the late spring-early summer once soil temperatures warm.

Zoysiagrass is similar to bermudagrass in growth habit and general appearance. However, there are some important differences. When comparing the two, zoysia grows slower, requires less fertilizer, is a bit more shade tolerant and tends towards a lighter shade of green (some might say lime green) than bermuda. Those are generally considered positive characteristics. Some negatives are: a tendency to generate excessive thatch especially when over fertilized, significant disease problems in certain conditions, and a dependence on irrigations during drought conditions. Buffalo and bermuda both have the ability to go dormant without moisture, zoysia will simply die.

Zoysia is also more expensive than bermuda to establish. Zoysia’s slow growth characteristics make sodding the establishment method of choice for this turfgrass. Seed is available for a few varieties but successful establishment from seed is the exception, not the rule.

For more information on this or any other horticultural topic, you can contact Keith Reed, the Horticulturist in the Payne County Extension office. Keith can be reached via email at
keith.reed@okstate.edu, phone at 405-747-8320, or in person at the Payne County Extension office, located at 315 W. 6th in Stillwater.

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