What is wrong with my Bermudagrass lawn?

Home Grown  by Keith Reed
Calls and concerns about the condition of Bermudagrass lawns have been the dominate theme coming into the Extension office the last few weeks. Here’s a summary of what is happening, what you can expect, and suggestions on moving forward if your lawn is in bad shape.

We have at least two issues working against bermuda lawns this year. Remember we had a cold and dry winter. This has caused significant winter injury, i.e. winter kill to be more prevalent than we’ve seen in many years. Also, the average temperatures for April were well below normal, delaying normal spring greenup.

How do you know which one has affected your lawn and what difference does it make? As long as you have some green plant shoots coming up all over the lawn, it is simply running behind. Look for this bermuda to respond well now that the temperatures have come up. If you have not applied nitrogen fertilizer this year, do so now. Note: early applications of nitrogen fertilizer were probably not helpful, once again, because of low soil temperatures.

If you have large areas of lawn that are showing no signs of green tissue, you have winter kill and/or spring dead spot (SDS). If the dead grass is in circular patches (from a few inches to a foot or two in diameter), SDS is the culprit. This is a soil-borne fungal disease that be very difficult to control. From a homeowner standpoint, the best thing that can be done to minimize this in the future is to avoid late season nitrogen application (say after the first week of September) and raise the mowing height slightly as we move toward fall.

While lawns with SDS will recover by mid-late summer on their own, it is possible to speed recovery by placing a healthy plug of bermudagrass in the affected area. Since SDS is a soil fungus, do not put the soil removed to make room for the plug back into an area with healthy Bermuda as you could spread the problem.

If it is just winter kill, you can either do nothing or start over with a new lawn. Bermudagrass is an incredibly tenacious plant, and as long as there is some living tissue remaining, it will eventually cover the dead area. If you choose to start over, options include doing so by seed, sprigs, plugging or sod. For more information on establishing a new lawn, see OSU Fact Sheet #HLA-6419 Establishing a Lawn in Oklahoma

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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