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The Management and Use of Bahiagrass

Dennis W. Hancock, Forage Extension Specialist, Crop & Soil Sciences Dept.
R. Curt Lacy, Agriculture & Applied Economics Dept.
R. Lawton Stewart, Extension Beef Nutritionist, Animal & Dairy Science Dept.
R. Scott Tubbs, Cropping Systems Agronomist, Crop & Soil Sciences Dept.
Jeremy Kichler, County Extension Coordinator, Macon County
T. Wade Green, County Extension Coordinator, Twiggs County
Ray Hicks, County Extension Coordinator, Screven County

Introduction

Bahiagrass (Paspalum notatum Flugge) is a long-lived, perennial warm season grass that is grown extensively in the southeastern United States (Figure 1). It is most commonly used as a pasture species, but can be used for hay production, erosion control, and wildlife habitat. Bahiagrass can also be used in "sod-based rotation" sequences that have been found to suppress pest problems (nematode and disease issues) in crops such as peanuts.

Bahiagrass is a deep-rooted, sod-forming species that is well adapted to a wide range of soils and conditions in this region. It spreads by short, stout stolons and is a prolific seed producing plant. Bahiagrass will grow on soils too poorly drained for bermudagrass, is more shade tolerant than bermudagrass, and can be used in woodland pastures (silvopasture).

Bahiagrass has many desirable characteristics such as: (1) tolerance to close grazing, (2) general freedom from severe disease and insect infestations, (3) good drought tolerance, (4) adequate forage quality, and (5) a low to moderate fertility requirement for the maintenance of good stands. Though it persists in pastures with a low level of management, it responds well to proper fertility and management.

Bahiagrass is particularly well suited for use in pastures (Table 1). It produces forage earlier in the spring and later in the fall than bermudagrass since it is less affected by decreasing day lengths and cool temperatures. Unfortunately, bahiagrass forage is less digestible than ‘Coastal’ bermudagrass of the same age (maturity). The use of good grazing management to keep the bahiagrass between 2 and 6 inches will keep the quality relatively high (54 to 56 percent TDN and 10 to 11 percent CP) and allow for better utilization.

Table 1. Typical fertilizer and lime recommendations, and the approximate forage quality, carrying capacity, and stocker gains that can be expected when recommended varieties of bahiagrass, bermudagrass, and tall fescue are used as the primary pasture species.
Fertilizer Recommendations 1 Annual Lime Needed Typical Forage Quality 2 Range in
Forage
Quality
Carrying
Capacity
Average
Daily Gains –
Stocker Cattle
N P2O5 K2O
— (lbs/acre) — (tons/acre) — (RFQ)— (AU 3 /acre/yr) (lbs/head/day)
Bahiagrass 75-175 40 40 0.3-0.5 85-90 75-110 0.75-1.25 0.7-1.0
Bermudagrass 150-250 30 65 0.3-0.5 90-100 80-140 1.00-1.50 1.5-1.8
Tall Fescue 4 50-100 40 40 0.3-0.5 100-120 80-150 0.50-1.00 1.8-2.5
1 Assumes medium levels of phosphorus and potassium in the soil test.
2 The forage quality values here are estimated based on NDF and digestibility estimates in the published literature. (RFQ = Relative Forage Quality)
3 AU = Animal Unit. One animal unit is equivalent to 1,000 lbs.
4 Tall fescue is not recommended for pastures in the Coastal Plain. Approximations for animal performance for tall fescue in this table assume the use of a recommended novel-endophyte infected variety.

Origin and Types

Bahiagrass is native to South America and is widely distributed in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Several types of bahiagrass have been introduced into the United States since 1913 and differ in cold tolerance, growth characteristics, and forage production.

Common bahiagrass was first introduced into Florida in 1913. It has short, broad leaves and stout stolons. Common is relatively slow to establish and less productive and cold hardy than the later introductions. Common may be found growing in old pastures in some areas, but is no longer planted.

Pensacola bahiagrass was introduced into the United States from South America in the late 1930s (probably in ballast discarded from ships visiting the port at Pensacola, Florida). E. H. Finlayson, a county Extension agent, found this cultivar growing in streets and vacant lots near Pensacola’s docks. It is now the most widely grown variety in the United States. Compared to common and other varieties, it has longer and narrower leaves, taller seed stalks, and produces seed earlier. It is more winter hardy than the common and Argentine varieties. Growth begins early in spring and continues until mid-summer when the seedheads mature. Late summer growth is slow and low quality. Pensacola is fairly resistant to ergot, a smut disease affecting the seedheads of some grasses and causing health problems in cattle. Use Pensacola on less fertile soils and in pastures that will not be well managed. Once Pensacola is established, it can be maintained more easily than most pasture grasses.

Argentine was introduced from Argentina in 1944. It has wider and darker green leaves than Pensacola (Figure 2). It is also less cold tolerant and a poorer seed producer than Pensacola. Argentine starts growth later in spring but produces more forage in late summer and early fall than Pensacola. Argentine may also be better adapted to poorly-drained soils than some other introductions. It is less frost tolerant than Pensacola and is very susceptible to ergot.

Paraguay 22 is so named because it is believed to have been introduced from Paraguay. It is a short, coarse, narrow-leaved variety and is less productive than Pensacola. It has been used as a general-purpose turfgrass but seed are no longer available. It is similar to Argentine in growth habit but slightly more upright and more productive than Paraguay. It is not as cold tolerant as Pensacola.

Tifton-9 was a selection from Pensacola that was released in 1987 by the Georgia Coastal Plain Experiment Station. Compared to Pensacola, it is less tolerant of close grazing. However, Tifton-9 has much greater seedling vigor, a more upright growth habit and generally produces up to 25 percent more forage with digestibility equal to Pensacola. Tifton-9 does not develop a dense sod like the other bahiagrasses and can be established with 8 to 10 pounds of seed per acre if drilled. A higher seeding rate may result in quicker stand development.

AU Sand Mountain was developed and released by Auburn University. It was originally selected from a patch of Pensacola that had been planted in the early 1960s on what later became the Sand Mountain Research and Extension Center in northeast Alabama. This variety is more winter hardy than any other bahiagrass variety evaluated in Georgia. It performed and persisted well in yield trials at the Northwest Georgia Research and Education Center near Calhoun. When planted farther south, AU Sand Mountain has forage production between Pensacola and Argentine.

TifQuik, a variant of Tifton-9, is a newly released variety that has proven to have superior seedling vigor and quicker stand formation. The yield potential and other characteristics of TifQuik are essentially the same as Tifton-9.

UF-Riata was developed and released by the University of Florida. It is more cold tolerant in Florida and tends to grow later in the fall and earlier in spring. In central and south Florida, UF-Riata stays green much of the year and may provide slightly better disease resistance than other varieties. It has matched the yield of Tifton-9 and TifQuik in trials at Tifton and has been observed to stay green a few days longer than the other varieties in the trial. However, UF-Riata has not yet been well studied in more northern locations in Georgia.

Other varieties that have been used or previously studied but are currently of minor importance include Tifhi-1, Tifhi-2, Paraguay 22, Riba, and Wilmington.

Information about currently recommended varieties of bahiagrass may be found on the Forage Species and Varieties Recommended for Use in Georgia web page.

Establishment Recommendations Timing

The best time to plant bahiagrass is in the early spring on upland soils or in late spring on low, moist soils. Plantings made later in the summer can be successful but weed competition (primarily aggressive summer annual grasses, such as crabgrass, goosegrass, and crowsfootgrass) can be a problem. Dry weather can also slow bahiagrass establishment. Bahiagrass can be successfully seeded in early fall in south Georgia.

Seed Size and Dormancy

Bahiagrass seed are small and should be planted shallowly, no more than 1/4- to 1/2-inch deep. This will allow for quicker emergence and promote seedling vigor.

Bahiagrass seed have variable germination rates. Some seeds germinate quickly after planting while others may not germinate until the following year. Generally, 50 to 60 percent of the seed will germinate within 30 days. TifQuik is the exception, as most of its seed will germinate readily within one to two weeks after planting if soil conditions are favorable.

Variable germination is the result of a waxy seed coat that limits potential uptake of water. The seed coat has a germination flap through which the seed absorbs moisture for germination. The opening of this germination flap depends on soil temperature, seed production conditions, seed storage conditions, and other factors. In many cases, seed stored for a year have a higher germination percentage than when the seed are first harvested. Seed scarification improves germination for common bahiagrass, but it is usually not necessary for the other bahiagrass varieties.

Seed dormancy is often much lower in some varieties than in others. As a result, seeding rates are higher for some varieties than others (see "Seeding Rates" section).

Planting Methods

Bahiagrass may be planted in several ways. No-till planting methods should be employed if there is a risk of soil erosion (e.g., sloping land). Many local conservation districts or similar organizations may have a no-till drill that can be rented or borrowed. No-till establishment methods can result in an acceptable stand of bahiagrass, but often require high seeding rates (see "Seeding Rates" section) and control of existing vegetation. It is critical that the existing stand/crop and any weeds are destroyed. Sometimes this requires two applications of a non-selective herbicide (four to six weeks apart).

If the risk of soil erosion is minimal, conventionally-tilled seedbed preparation can be used to establish bahiagrass. When conventional seedbed preparation and establishment techniques are employed, it is recommended that the "stale-seedbed" method be used. In this method, the first step is to destroy the existing vegetation by spraying with a non-selective herbicide. Next, recommended levels of lime and/or nutrients (based on soil test results) should be added so that they can be incorporated into the soil during the tillage phase. The land can then be tilled, disced, and packed. This also allows for any leveling or smoothing of the soil surface that may be necessary. The tillage and packing steps should be completed at least one month prior to planting so that the soil can settle/firm before planting. Properly packing and firming of the soil is necessary to prevent the seed from being planted too deeply. As a rule of thumb, footprints left in prepared soil that are approximately 1/4-inch deep indicate a firm seedbed. In addition to allowing the soil to become firm, this will allow many of the weeds in the disturbed soil to germinate and emerge. These weeds can then be destroyed using a non-selective herbicide within a few days of planting. 1

Once the seedbed is prepared, seeds may be drilled into the soil or broadcast on top of the soil. When broadcasted, the seed must be covered with soil (no more than 1/4- to 1/2-inch deep) with either a light disking or a cultipacking. Seeding and cultipacking at the same time using a cultipacker-seeder (e.g., Brillion seeder) also works quite well. Seeds can be more precisely placed into the seedbed when drilled. However, the small seedbox attachment must be used to plant bahiagrass because the seed are too small to be accurately measured in the grain drill seed cups.

1 Check the herbicide label for restrictions on how quickly bahiagrass can be planted after application.

Seeding Rates

Seeding rates vary with variety and planting method. When using Pensacola or a Pensacola-type variety, the seeding rate should be 12 to 15 pounds of seed per acre when the seed are drilled into a prepared seedbed. When broadcasting seed onto a prepared seedbed or using no-till methods, increase the seeding rate of Pensacola-type varieties to 18 to 20 pounds per acre.

Tifton-9 and TifQuik have much better seedling vigor than other Pensacola-type varieties and lower seeding rates can be used for these varieties. As a result, the seeding rate for Tifton-9 and TifQuik is 8 to 10 pounds per acre on prepared seedbeds and 12 to 15 pounds per acre when broadcasting or planting with a no-till drill.

Fertility at Establishment

Prior to planting, apply any needed lime, P, or K (according to soil test recommendations). Avoid applying N before or at planting, as this may increase annual grass emergence before bahiagrass. Apply 35 to 50 pounds of N per acre after the seedlings emerge and start to grow. With early planting dates, a second application of 50 to 75 pounds of N per acre in early- to mid-summer may be necessary to promote rapid coverage.

Weed Control during Establishment

Good weed control during the establishment phase is essential. Newly-established bahiagrass may be less competitive with annual grasses and broadleaf weeds. A thick cover of weeds slows stand establishment by shading the emerging bahiagrass seedlings. Weak stands due to poor seedling establishment can thicken over time. If plants are well distributed over the field, managing the stand to reduce weed competition will increase the opportunity for stand improvement.

Once the bahiagrass seedlings reach a height of 8 inches, broadleaf weeds can be controlled with 2,4-D. Care should be taken when using 2,4-D in new plantings since this herbicide does have some pre-emergence activity on grass seed germination and may adversely affect bahiagrass seeds that have not yet germinated.

Currently, there are no herbicides that selectively control annual grasses in newly established bahiagrass. Mowing is the only option when these grasses are a problem in a newly-established field. The mowing height should be adjusted such that little (if any) of the bahiagrass foliage is cut. Mowing once a month (or more frequently) may be necessary, depending on the level of grass competition. Once established, bahiagrass can suppress most weeds and mowing may or may not be necessary.

Carefully managed rotational grazing can accomplish a similar effect, but the animals must be managed to minimize grazing pressure put on the bahiagrass. Cattle should not be allowed to graze new plantings of bahiagrass in the spring months. Heavy trampling may result in destruction of the young plants.

See the Georgia Pest Management Handbook and check with your county Extension agent for additional information and current recommendations.

Fertility Management

Though it will persist in low-fertility soils, bahiagrass is responsive to good soil fertility. When it is used in a livestock operation, a good liming and fertility program is essential to the production of good forage yields and to economic returns.

Bahiagrass is very responsive to N fertility (Table 2). After establishment, annual applications of 100 to 200 pounds N per acre should be used for good forage production. For better distribution of forage growth, divide the N into two or more applications during the growing season. Higher rates of N per acre should only be used in very intensive grazing or hay production systems.

As in all good fertility programs, soil testing should be the basis for making amendment decisions. Apply lime, P, K, or any other needed soil amendments based on soil test recommendations. All of the P can be applied at any time during the year. Apply half of the K in the early spring and the other half in the summer to prevent luxury consumption of this nutrient by the plant.

Bahiagrass is less sensitive to soil pH than many crops. Applying lime to maintain the soil pH at 6.0 ensures that pH will not be a limiting factor for the bahiagrass, any crops that are overseeded into the bahiagrass, and any crop that may follow bahiagrass in the rotation.

Using Bahiagrass in Sod-based Rotations with Agronomic Crops

Improvements in nearly all facets of crop production have been reported when row crops are grown after bahiagrass compared to following other row crops (Figure 3). This includes the most important factors to producers—yield and crop quality. Yet, there are other proven improvements that result from such rotations. In terms of soil environment, which greatly contributes to the sustainability of agricultural systems, factors such as reduced erosion, build-up of soil organic matter, root growth and depth of penetration by the succeeding crop, water infiltration, earthworm population, and soil tilth all change for the better. From a row crop standpoint, the most important benefit is usually from reduced incidence of numerous pests. Research results have shown a reduction in early and late leaf spot (Cercospora arachidicola and Cercosporidium personatum, respectively) diseases in peanut, decreased southern blight/stem rot/white mold (Sclerotium rolfsii) in peanuts and cotton, and fewer thrips (Flankliniella fusca), leading to less tomato spotted wilt virus (Tospovirus) in peanuts and tobacco. In addition, it is reported that peanut and soybean root-knot nematode (Meloidogyne spp.), reniform nematode (Rotylenchulus reniformis), and soybean cyst nematode ( Heterodera glycines Ichinohe) infestations may decline following bahiagrass since it is a non-host to these pests (McGlohon et al., 1961; Rodriguez-Kabana et al., 1988; Rodriguez-Kabana et al., 1989; Johnson et al., 2000; Katsvairo et al, 2006). Collectively, these factors can result in savings from reduced inputs such as a less frequent need for irrigation, elimination of one or more fungicide spray events, and potentially reduced applications of expensive specialty herbicides due to bahiagrass outcompeting weeds.

In addition to the potential for improved yields and reduced inputs for the row crop enterprise, the inclusion of livestock can be a very successful capital venture that diversifies the farm operation and may serve as a profit center. This can buffer and insulate the farm operation from market fluctuations and, perhaps, catastrophic weather events. Even operations that do not wish to incorporate ownership of livestock could still benefit from similar systems (e.g., contract grazing, selling hay/seed of pasture grasses to nearby cattlemen, etc.). Though an economic analysis should be conducted to determine if a sod-based rotation using bahiagrass is economically feasible in a specific scenario, this may be a profitable rotation system for some farms in the Southeast.

If bahiagrass is to be used in the rotation, it is recommended that it stay in stand for two years, followed immediately by peanuts or soybeans, then by a subsequent cotton crop (Do not plant cotton immediately after bahiagrass, since there are reports of excessive and rank vegetative growth in cotton that followed bahiagrass).

Utilization

Bahiagrass has many uses, but it is most commonly used as a pasture species or as a hay crop. Bahiagrass is also an excellent grass species for erosion control and wildlife habitat. Bahiagrass also been increasingly used in "sod-based rotation" sequences (see inset, "Using Bahiagrass in Sod-based Rotations with Agronomic Crops").

Grazing

Well-managed pastures can carry about one animal unit (e.g., a cow-calf pair) per acre from April to mid-October under typical growing conditions. The quality of grazing is highest during the early spring and begins to decline during mid-summer.

Improved varieties such as Tifton-9, TifQuik, and UF-Riata produce 10 to 15 percent more total forage and provide a slightly higher carrying capacity than Pensacola. However, bahiagrass varieties do not differ substantially in forage quality (Muchovej and Mullahey, 2000).

All bahiagrass varieties produce most of their forage close to the soil surface, regardless of fertilization (Table 3). In fact, approximately 60 percent of the total forage produced is within 2 inches of the soil surface. Thus, bahiagrass pastures should be grazed close for best forage production and animal performance.

Though overgrazing is undesirable, most bahiagrass varieties can withstand intense, close grazing pressure. Bahiagrass generally grows more prostrate under close grazing and becomes even more compact. Under extremely high grazing pressure, bahiagrass will produce almost all of its leaf area so close to the soil surface that the animals cannot defoliate it (i.e., below the level at which the animals can graze). As a result, bahiagrass is the most grazing-tolerant species used for forage production in Georgia.

By overseeding winter annual grasses and legumes into bahiagrass, the grazing season can be extended and the quality of the forage can be increased. Unfortunately, the compact and dense nature of bahiagrass sods is generally not as good for overseeding as bermudagrass sods. Overseeding with winter annuals such as rye, oats, annual ryegrass, crimson, and arrowleaf clovers can be successful if the soil fertility and weather provide a favorable environment for winter annual growth. However, it is necessary for the bahiagrass sod to be mowed or grazed as short as possible in early October and lightly disked prior to establishment. Winter annuals should not be overseeded until late fall, just prior to the first frost.

During the spring transition, when bahiagrass begins to regrow, winter forages should be removed either by grazing, haying, or mowing. This reduces the competition from winter forages for light, moisture, and soil nutrients when bahiagrass begins its spring growth.

Table 2. Average yield (over 2 years) of Pensacola bahiagrass at different nitrogen (N) levels and clipping frequencies.
Clipping Frequency N Rate (lbs N/A)
0 50 100 200
Forage Yield (lbs of dry matter/A)
(week)
1 960 1580 2020 3500
2 1220 1940 2560 4260
3 1340 2080 3080 5520
4 1320 2160 3120 5600
6 1400 2460 3580 6420
Avg. 1240 2040 2860 5060
Source: Beaty et al., 1963.
Table 3. Forage availability from Pensacola bahiagrass at various heights as affected by N rate.
N Application Rate (lbs N/A)
Percent of Forage at Cutting Height (%)
Cutting height in inches 0% 75% 150% 300%
5+ 9.4 10.3 14.7 16.3
4-5 8.1 7.6 8.4 9.1
3-4 9.8 8.5 8.9 9.1
2-3 11.9 10.6 12.2 9.4
1-2 18.0 18.2 17.2 16.3
0-1 42.7 44.8 38.6 39.7
Source: Beaty et al., 1963.

Conserving as Hay

Bahiagrass can make moderate quality hay (50 to 56 percent TDN and 9 to 11 percent CP) if it is cut before it becomes overly mature (cut on less than five-week intervals). Since the majority of bahiagrass forage is located below the typical 1.5- to 2-inch cutting height of most hay harvesting equipment, bahiagrass is generally not considered a good species for hay production (Gates et al., 2004). If hay is a goal, the newer or improved varieties will provide higher hay yields han Pensacola since they grow more upright and more of the available forage can be harvested. Still, bahiagrass may not be able to produce the high yields that improved bermudagrass varieties are capable of producing, even if it is well fertilized (Figure 4). Therefore, bahiagrass is not recommended for new plantings when hay production is planned.

Commercial hay producers should be aware that bahiagrass is often invasive in bermudagrass stands. When dry, bahiagrass is darker in color than bermu-dagrass, which may reduce the value of the hay. However, the bahiagrass contamination is typically of little nutritional significance. Thus, such mixed hay can still be fed as part of a balanced ration. Producers seeking to remove bahiagrass from bermudagrass need to first identify the type of bahiagrass that is present. Pensacola bahiagrass and varieties derived from Pensacola (which tend to be more aggressive and, therefore, most commonly found as a contaminant in bermudagrass stands) can be selectively removed from bermudagrass using metsulfuron (Cimarron).

Seed Production

Bahiagrass seed production can be another source of income in addition to hay or grazing. Some of the newer varieties are plant variety protected (PVP) and seed harvested from these varieties cannot legally be sold. However seed harvested and sold from varieties like Pensacola and Argentine often help cover fertilizer or other annual production costs.

Seed yields may range from 150 to 400 pounds per acre. Growth of tillers (which later develop seed heads) is stimulated by removing accumulated forage either through grazing or mowing in the spring and theapplication of up to 100 pounds of N per acre (Gates and Burton, 1998). It is difficult to judge the best time to harvest seed since all the seed do not mature at the same time. A good technique to determine timely seed harvest is to grasp the stem below the seed head and strip the head through moderately tight-closed fingers. Mature seed will easily release from the head. Check multiple heads. When the majority of seed are mature, begin harvest. Do not determine seed harvest by color since many seed are fully mature while still green.

Combined bahiagrass seed are of various stages of maturity, so dry seed as quickly as possible to avoid heat development that reduces germination and quality. In most cases, only one seed harvest is obtained. The time of harvest varies by season, fertility program, rainfall, and utilization or management prior to stem development. Generally, bahiagrass seed can be harvested as early as mid- to late June in the Coastal Plain of Georgia.

Economics

Bahiagrass can be an economical forage, especially for cow-calf producers with limited capital. It can work especially well for cattlemen who are leasing land for pasture production that was previously in agronomic crops. Also, if silvopasture production is a possibility, then bahiagrass will perform better than bermudagrass once the trees produce a canopy.

Bahiagrass is relatively inexpensive to establish and maintain (Tables 4 and 5). By comparison, hybrid bermudagrass would cost approximately $200 to $30 more per acre to establish and annual expenses would be about $50 to $150 more than bahiagrass. Some cattlemen considering which type of grass to plant may be comparing bahiagrass, bermudagrass, or tall fescue. Based on the forage production information in Table 1, annual maintenance costs were estimated using the low, mid-point, and high values for nitrogen fertilization as recommended in Table 1, while keeping the P and K fertilization values constant (Figure 5). These values were then used to calculate annual cow carrying costs at various stocking rates (Figure 6), assuming the low, mid-point, and high stocking rates reported in Table 1.

For example, the mid-range nitrogen fertilization for bahiagrass is 125 pounds and the corresponding carrying capacity is 1.0 AU per year. In this instance, the cost of the bahiagrass will be $123 per acre and the annual cow cost for bahiagrass pasture would be $123. Conversely, at the high rate of 150 pounds of nitrogen per acre and a carrying capacity of 1.5 AU per acre, bermudagrass has cost of $208 per acre and a cow cost of $139 per cow per year.

Pest Management

Weeds

The best defense against weeds is to implement cultural practices that promote dense, vigorous bahiagrass growth. Once it is well-established, properly maintained bahiagrass is an excellent competitor with weeds due to its thick, dense sod (for weed control recommendations during establishment, see the “Weed Control during Establishment” section). Occasionally, broadleaf weeds can become problematic.

Broadleaf weeds are easily controlled in bahiagrass with several different herbicides. During establishment, bahiagrass seedlings can easily be injured by 2,4-D, so delay applications until the bahiagrass is several inches tall (at least 8 inches) and has formed tillers. At this time 2,4-D can be used at rates of 0.5 to 0.75 pounds a.i. per acre. If tall-growing broadleaf weeds develop prior to the time that 2,4-D can be used, mowing can prevent shading of small bahiagrass seedlings. In established bahiagrass, many broadleaf herbicides are now available. A complete list of herbicides that are labeled for use in bahiagrass can be found in the current Georgia Pest Management Handbook.

Weedy grasses, particularly vaseygrass and smutgrass, occasionally cause problems in bahiagrass. If vaseygrass or smutgrass become a problem, an application of hexazinone (Velpar) can be made from April to late July at a rate of 0.67 to 1.12 pounds of a.i. per acre. Applications should only be applied when soil moisture is sufficient for good growth (i.e., translocation of the herbicide), humidity is high, and when air temperatures are above 80° F. Best results occur when 1/2-inch of rainfall occurs within two weeks of application. Hexazinone will moderately injure bahiagrass, but it will recover from temporary burn and yellowing within two to four weeks of application. Hexazinone should only be used on bahiagrass that has been established for one year or more.

Table 4. Estimated bahiagrass establishment costs.†
Variable cost item Unit Units per acre Total quantity (units) Unit price ($/unit) Total amount
Lime Ton 1.00 1.00 $30.00 $30.00
Fertilizer – Prior to Seeding
Nitrogen Lb. 30.00 30.00 $0.65 $19.50
Phosphate Lb. 20.00 20.00 $0.35 $7.00
Potash Lb. 20.00 20.00 $0.75 $15.00
Fertilizer – After Mowing
Nitrogen Lb. 110.00 110.00 $0.65 $71.50
Phosphate Lb. 0.00 0.00 $0.35 $0.00
Potash Lb. 0.00 0.00 $0.75 $0.00
Herbicides – Preplant
Roundup Qt. 1.00 1.00 $10.00 $10.00
Gramoxone Extra Pt. 1.50 1.50 $5.85 $8.78
Herbicides – Postplant
2,4-D Ester Pt. 1.50 1.50 $1.50 $2.25
Seeding Acre 15.00 15.00 $4.25 $63.75
Machinery
Fuel Gal. 2.00 2.00 $2.50 $5.00
Repairs and Maintenance Acre 1.00 1.00 $18.00 $18.00
Land Rental Acre 0.00 0.00 $0.00 $0.00
Labor Hrs. 2.00 2.00 $6.00 $12.00
Other $ 0.00 0.00 $0.00 $0.00
Interest on Op. Cap. $ 262.78 262.78 8.00% $10.51
Total Variable Cost: $273.29
† Input prices from autumn, 2009.
Table 5. Estimated bahiagrass maintenance costs.†
Item Units Units/Acre Total Units $/Unit) $/Acre $/Ton
Variable Costs
Fertilizer
Nitrogen lb 125.00 12,500.00 $0.65 $81.25 $21.19
Phosphate lb 40.00 40.00 $0.35 $0.14 $0.04
Potash lb 40.00 40.00 $0.75 $0.30 $0.08
Lime lb 0.33 33.00 $30.00 $9.90 $2.58
Crop Protection
Herbicide apps. 1.00 100.00 $12.00 $12.00 $3.13
Other apps. 0.00 0.00 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
Machinery
Fuel gal. 1.00 100.00 $2.50 $2.50 $0.65
Repairs and Maintenance acre 1.00 100.00 $8.00 $8.00 $2.09
Land Rental acre 1.00 100.00 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
Labor hrs 0.50 50.00 $9.00 $4.50 $1.17
Other $ 0.00 0.00 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
Interest On Op. Cap. $ 11,859.00 8.00% $4.74 $1.24
Total Variable Cost $123.33 $32.16
Fixed Costs
Establishment Costs year 0.10 100.00 13.66 $13.66 $3.56
Annual Fixed Costs year 1.00 1.00 $26.01 $6.78
Management % of rev. 1.00 12,333.00 6.00% $7.40 $1.93
Land acre 1.00 100.00 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
Total Fixed Cost $47.07 $12.27
† Input prices from autumn, 2009.

For more information on the effectiveness of these herbicides on problem weeds, refer to the Georgia Pest Management Handbook (http://www.ent.uga.edu/pmh/) and check with your county Extension agent for additional information. Always read the herbicide label to determine application rate information, specific weed control recommendations, and any grazing and haying restrictions that pertain to the herbicide.

Insects

While several insects, such as white grubs and spittlebugs, may occasionally cause problems in bahiagrass, the most serious threats are fall armyworms and mole crickets. Fall armyworms feed on all above-ground parts of grass plants. Most severe outbreaks occur in early fall following periods of dry weather. Fall armyworm feeding can result in significant reduction in hay yield or available grazing, but these pests usually do not threaten the grass stand in established fields. Late-season infestations may not cause enough loss to justify treatment.

While fall armyworms may be found throughout the state, mole crickets cause problems only in the Coastal Plain region of south Georgia. Of the species of mole crickets that may be found in bahiagrass, the tawny mole cricket is the most serious pest. This insect feeds on all parts of the plant. Severe infestations can eliminate bahiagrass and any other pasture grass from a field, leaving only the toughest weeds. The release of a parasitic nematode that attacks the mole cricket has helped to reduce the problems from this pest, but the risk of damage is still present.

Current recommendations for insect control (biological and chemical) and insecticide rates for permanent pastures are listed in the current Georgia Pest Management Handbook. Again, read the insecticide label to determine application rate information, specific control recommendations, and any grazing and haying restrictions following application.

Diseases

Diseases can occasionally cause significant prob-lems in bahiagrass. Root diseases, leaf blights, or leaf spots have been cited as occasional problems. Generally, well-managed bahiagrass fields are relatively free from most disease problems. There are no cost-effective pesticides for the control of disease in bahiagrass, and none are labeled for use in such an application.

Summary

Bahiagrass is a well-adapted, warm season perennial grass widely used for grazing and hay throughout the Coastal Plain and into the lower Piedmont. It is also an excellent rotation crop for other agronomic or horticulture crops. By selecting the best variety, establishing a uniform stand, fertilizing properly, and controlling weeds, bahiagrass will persist and provide forage for many years

Acknowledgements

The authors gratefully acknowledge the use of the copyrighted (2007) bahiagrass photograph on page 1, which is used with permission from the book Southern Forages (4th Edition). The photograph has been adapted for use by the authors of this publication, who wish to acknowledge and express their appreciation to Drs. Don Ball, Carl Hoveland, and Garry Lacefield, authors of Southern Forages, 4th Edition, and Don Armstrong of the International Plant Nutrition Institute for their willingness to allow the use of this photograph. The authors further acknowledge that parts of this publication consist of revised portions of Extension Bulletin 1145, “Bahiagrass Production and Utilization” and the University of Georgia Agronomy Department Leaflet 258, “Bahiagrass.

References

Beaty, E.R., J.D. Powell, R.H. Brown, and WJ. Eth-eredge. 1963. Effect of nitrogen rate and clipping frequency on yield of Pensacola bahiagrass. Agron. J. 55:3-4.

Beaty, E.R., R.L. Stanley, and J.D. Powell. 1968. Ef-fect of height of cut on yield of Pensacola bahia-grass. Agron. J. 60-356-358.

Gates, R.N., and G.W. Burton. 1998. Seed yield and seed quality response of Pensacola and improved bahiagrasses to fertilization. Agron. J. 90:607-61l.

Katsvairo, T.W., J.R. Rich, and R.A. Dunn. 2006. Pe-rennial grass rotation: an effective and challenging tactic for nematode management with many other positive effects. Pest Management Sci. 62:793-796.

McGlohon, N.E., J.N. Sasser, and R.T. Sherwood. 1961. Investigations of plant-parasitic nematodes associated with forage crops in North Carolina.North Carolina Ag. Exp. Station Tech. Bul. 148.

Muchovej, R.M., and J.J. Mullahey. 2000. Yield and quality of five bahiagrass cultivars in Southwest Florida. Soil and Crop Sci. Soc. of Florida Proc. 59:82-84.

Rodriguez-Kabana, R., C.F. Weaver, D.G. Robertson, and H. Ivey. 1988. Bahiagrass for the management of Meloidogyne arenaria in peanut. Annals Appl. Nematol. 2:ll0-114.

Rodriguez-Kabana, R., C.F. Weaver, R. Garcia, D.G. Robertson, and E.L. Carden. 1989. Bahiagrass for the management of root-knot and cyst nematodes in soybean. Nematropica 19:185-193.

Status and Revision History
Published on Mar 15, 2010
Published with Full Review on Mar 01, 2013
Published with Full Review on Mar 28, 2017

How to Care for a Bahiagrass Lawn

Originally introduced from Brazil as a roadside and pasture grass during the early 20th century, bahiagrass' self-seeding, low-maintenance characteristics thrived in the scorching heat and sandy soils of Florida. Scientists took notice of this and developed improved cultivars for homeowners.

Many homeowners throughout the southern United States now use one of the modern bahiagrass (Paspalum notatum) cultivars as a lawn grass. Few insects harm bahiagrass, limiting insecticide treatments. Homeowners without an irrigation system, or those who live in an area with water restrictions, often pick bahiagrass over other warm-season turf types because of its ability to quickly recover from drought.

Common Cultivars

  • Common Bahiagrass: The original Brazilian cultivar grows unevenly spaced clumps of coarse-textured light-colored blades. A close cut exposes bare spots of soil between the grass patches. It holds up well under moderate grazing pressure. Older pastures may contain common bahiagrass, but over time, modern cultivars largely replaced it.
  • Argentine Bahiagrass: This cultivar forms a dense turf and with dark green blades, making it an attractive lawn covering. An established lawn usually crowds out most weeds. It grows deep roots, which enhances drought tolerance. Few diseases or insects affect the Argentine variety.
  • Pensacola Bahiagrass: The Pensacola cultivar forms a turf with longer and narrower leaf blades than Argentine. It also tolerates cold temperatures better than Argentine. However, it produces noticeably more seed heads than the Argentine variety. This reduces its desirability as a lawn turf, but makes it more desirable as a pasture grass.
  • Tifton-9 Bahiagrass: A fine-blade bahiagrass cultivar with a high cold tolerance. It grows fast and establishes seeds quickly. Commonly used in more northern climates as erosion control along roadways and in pastures due to its high forage percentage.

When left unmowed bahiagrass reseeds itself.

How to Establish a Bahiagrass Lawn

Due to its popularity, many home improvement stores and nurseries in the bahiagrass-growing regions of the country carry either sod or seed. The advantages of planting sod include rapid establishment and fewer weeds. Starting a lawn from seed generally costs less than sod and it uses far less labor, however, seed takes longer to become established.

Kill any old grass and weeds with a herbicide about two weeks before planting, using the manufacturer's directions as a guideline. Rake or till the yard, removing debris and softening the top layer of dirt. Consider topping the native soil with a 1/4-inch thick layer of garden or lawn soil. These soils contain more nutrients and less weeds than top soil. Level the surface with a garden rake.

Lay bahiagrass sod in a brick pattern. Give the sod multiple 15-minute watering sessions throughout the day for seven to ten days. During the following week, gradually cut back the frequency to twice a day. About two weeks after laying the sod, gently lift up on one corner of a piece of sod. If the roots firmly grip the soil, reduce the frequency to once every other day for a week then water as needed going forward. If the roots failed to grip, maintain the twice a day watering schedule for a week and test again. Do not mow bahiagrass sod until the roots grip the soil, generally two to three weeks after laying. Likewise, avoid applying fertilizer until the roots establish and use a light application of a balanced fertilizer, such as 10-10-10, for the initial treatment.

Bahia Grass Care Guide

This plant leads a double life. In one life, it is a desirable lawn grass that is valued for its ability to thrive in conditions that force other plants to wave the proverbial white flag in surrender to the elements. It is tolerant of drought. It can deal with both hot and cold temperatures. And it can grow in some seriously inhospitable soils.

In its other life, it is considered a weed that is invasive and unwelcome in areas where other common desirable grasses make their homes. It infiltrates lawns and becomes extremely difficult to eradicate once it sets up shop.

So, whether you want to plant bahia in your yard or want to make this nuisance plant disappear from your lawn, you’ve got to read this article. We’ll take a look at how to do both.

While you are taking care of your lawn, you will also want to make sure that your arborvitae trees are not turning brown. If they are, our guide on why your arborvitae are turning brown will help you fix your issues.

General Information

Bahia grass (Paspalum notatum), also known as Pensacola bahia and highway grass, is a low-maintenance warm-season perennial native to South America. It thrives in tropical and sub-tropical climates.

Paspalum notatum is low-growing and creeps along the ground. Its rhizomes have a scaly texture and are wide-spreading. Its stolons are pressed into the soil firmly and readily root from the internodes. It forms a dense sod with a deep, extensive root system.

The hairless leaves are flat and roughly textured. They are between 6 and 30 inches long and between ⅛ and ⅜ of an inch wide. They are folded and in-rolled, tapering to a fine, pointed tip.

It has minuscule flowers, and its seed germinates slowly. Once the seed germinates, though, it establishes itself in the soil quickly. Over time, its steady root establishment forms a dense and resilient turf.

It is often used in lawns from the Florida panhandle through the southern Coastal Plains and to the Texas Gulf Coast. These areas have sandy soils with few nutrients. While other warm-season varieties would wilt and wither in this environment, bahia thrives.

Watering

Because of its wide and deep root system, the plant is very tolerant of drought. It requires little irrigation once it is established. However, newly sodded and newly seeded plants will need some watering.

New Sod

Newly sodded grass has to be watered 1 to 3 times daily for 10 to 14 days. However, each session only requires about a quarter of an inch of water. You only need to soak the top 2 to 3 inches of the sod. Keep two things in mind when watering new sod:

  1. Don’t let it dry out.
  2. Don’t saturate to the point where you have standing water.

After two weeks have passed, cut back on the irrigation. Every 3 to 4 days, moisten the soil to a depth of around 6 inches. Applying 1 inch of water should be sufficient.

Water early in the morning to decrease the chances of losing water to evaporation. You want to ensure the soil gets moist. This is essential for the root system to establish itself.

Newly Seeded

After sowing your bahia seed, immediately water it with a fine mist sprayer. Take care not to wash away the seed or the soil. The seeds are planted at a relatively shallow depth, so avoid using high-pressure sprinklers as they will quickly wash away the seeds.

Water the seeds daily to keep the soil moist. If temperatures rise, water twice a day. If the soil dries out, then the seeds dry out and won’t germinate.

You already know that this particular seed germinates slowly, so don’t be surprised if you have to water daily for about four weeks.

Once the seeds have germinated and sprouted, slowly decrease the number of watering sessions to once or twice a week. Continue watering weekly through the first growing season.

Make sure to check out our article on what to do about dead grass if it is becoming a problem on your property.

Established Lawns

Well-established grass needs only about an inch of water a week. If the environment doesn’t supply this amount, you will have to water with your sprinkler system. Do it all at once. Watering multiple times a week discourages deep root growth.

Fertilizer

How much fertilizer your lawn needs depends on whether it is newly seeded, newly sodded, or established.

Before Planting

The best time of year to plant is in the spring, in acidic soils with a pH level between 5.5 and 6.5. In the fall that precedes your planting, perform a soil test to determine the pH level. If you find that it falls well outside of the desired range, amend the soil as necessary to correct the pH.

Changing the soil’s pH level will take some time, so you have to start about six months before planting.

Amend alkaline soils with sulfur to lower the pH and with lime to raise the pH.

Newly Seeded Lawns

A lawn grown from seed will need two rounds of fertilization early in its life. Once the seeds have germinated, it’s ready for the first fertilizer application.

Use a high-nitrogen fertilizer with an NPK ratio of 16-4-8. If you use a fast-release fertilizer, apply half a pound of product per 1,000 square feet. For slow-release fertilizers, apply 1 pound of product per 1,000 square feet. Always water the fertilizer into the soil to avoid burning the plant leaves.

In mid-summer, you can apply the second round of fertilizer. Use the same nitrogen-rich fertilizer in the same amount per 1,000 square feet you applied the first time.

After these two fertilizer applications, your lawn won’t need to be fed again until it is established.

Newly Sodded or Established Lawns

A newly sodded lawn requires the same amount of fertilization as an established lawn. You want to give the new sod some time to establish its roots before you add fertilizer.

Before you fertilize, perform a soil test to determine the current pH level. If your soil is alkaline, supplement your fertilizer with ferrous sulfate to provide the soil with extra iron. Using a hose-end sprayer, apply 2 ounces of ferrous sulfate dissolved in 3 to 5 gallons of water per 1,000 square feet. Apply the first fertilizer after all danger of frost has passed. Continue fertilizing every 8 weeks through the growing season.

For these follow-up applications, use the same high-nitrogen granular fertilizer you would use for newly seeded grass. Spread 6 pounds of fertilizer per 1,000 square feet with a broadcast spreader.

Mowing

Bahia grows slowly. You only need to cut it every 7 to 14 days while it is actively growing. Mow it to a height of 3 to 4 inches. Taller grass like that will shade the soil and keep it cool and moist. This will encourage deeper root growth. It will also make your lawn look fuller.

During dormancy, maintain a grass height of 2 to 4 inches. Otherwise, you will find have seedheads hanging over your lawn.

Common Problems

Bahia grass is relatively resistant to most common lawn ailments. However, there are some pests and diseases that you should know about.

Insects

The most common insect causing harm is the mole cricket. It burrows into the soil and damages the roots to the point where the grass will wilt and die.

If you suspect you have crickets burrowing into the soil, apply 2 gallons of water mixed with 1 to 2 ounces of detergent soap per 2 square feet to the damaged area. This will flush out any mole crickets that are around.

Insecticides for mole crickets are constantly changing, but bait-type insecticides seem to work best.

Diseases

Occasionally, bahia grass is affected by the dollar spot fungal disease. It will appear as large brown spots on the leaves.

The disease is usually caused by nitrogen deficiency. So, as long as you’re fertilizing your lawn correctly, this should not be an issue.

If the spots do show up on your lawn, a light dusting of 8 ounces of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet should remedy the problem.

Removing Bahia Grass from Your Lawn

If you live outside of the Florida panhandle, Gulf Coast, and coastal Plains, you probably put this plant in the same category as crabgrass: a weed that needs to be eradicated quickly.

There are six different ways to curtail bahia grass. They have to be combined into one holistic care plan to have a fighting chance to get rid of the invasive plant.

1. Manual Removal

If you’re going to pull up this invasive species by hand, you’ll need to do a little digging to ensure that you remove the rhizomes as well.

Otherwise, they spread and sprout new shoots or roots, and all your hard work pulling out the weeds was for nothing.

2. Proper Mowing Practices

Bahia grass that is mowed below its optimal height of 3 to 4 inches will have trouble storing water effectively. It will also disrupt seed production. So, keep your lawn cut very short, to a height of fewer than 3 inches.

3. Deliberate Fertilization

You already know that this plant performs poorly in alkaline soils. If the other plants on and around your lawn won’t suffer in alkaline soil, then raise the pH level above 7.0. The resulting iron deficiency will weaken the undesired weed.

Check with your local agricultural extension to find out the best way of safely raising the pH level of your soil

4. Post-emergent Weed and Feed

The pensacola and argentine varieties have broader and thicker blades than other varieties. You can use a post-emergent weed and feed product to kill this unwanted weed and feed the desirable plants on your lawn at the same time.

For instance, this is a good weed and feed for St. Augustine lawns.

5. Use a Targeted Herbicide

Many varieties of this plant are resistant to herbicide. However, the Tifton-9 variety is very resilient. It can tolerate shade, a short height, and overwatering. To get rid of this type, you will need to apply a herbicide. Make sure you follow the product’s instructions for application.

6. Plant Trees

In general, this plant does not do well in the shade. So if you plant shade trees, shrubs, and bushes that will cast shadows over your lawn, causing the flat crowns of the undesired weed to die off. The new crowns will grow less vigorously, and eventually, the shade will weaken the weeds to the point where the desirable grass wins out.

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About the author: Jeffrey Douglas is a horticultural hobbyist that loves everything related to plants and gardening. He specializes in gardens and houseplants.