Oklahoma County Cooperative Extension Service
Bermudagrass will grow under a wide range of soil conditions, but it is best adapted to well-drained sites. Bermudagrass is less sensitive to soil pH than many forage species but typically responds to lime applications when soil pH falls below 5.0.
Bermudagrass establishment is most successful when a firm, moist, well-prepared seedbed is used. Rolling will ensure good soil contact with seed sprigs and enhance soil moisture conditions during dry weather.
Bermudagrass may be established either by planting seed or sprigs (stolons and/or rhizomes). Seeded varieties of bermudagrass are easily established, and one variety, Guymon, is cold hardy. Vegetatively established varieties such as Midland, Tifton 44, Hardie, and Greenfield have varying degrees of cold hardiness and length of time required for coverage following establishment. Purchase and plant the highest quality seed or sprigs that you can and pay particular attention to the variety. Some varieties, such as Coastal, are only adapted to extreme southern Oklahoma. Sprigs should be moist, fresh, and of the known variety you wish to establish. Seeded varieties are usually planted at 4 to 8 pounds of pure live seed per acre; vegetatively propagated varieties are usually sprigged at rates of 15 to 30 bushels per acre. Higher seed or sprig rates may result in faster stand establishment under some conditions.
Weed control may be important in the successful establishment of bermudagrass. Grazing or mowing bermudagrass during the establishment phase may help control weeds and provide cattle with forage of high nutritive value. In some instances, a pre-emergent herbicide for control of broadleaf weeds may be necessary along with a post-emergent treatment.
Improving Established Bermudagrass
Old bermudagrass stands may be revitalized with less effort and cost than is required for planting new stands. Therefore, before investing money in re-sprigging or planting alternate forage crops, a producer should first compare the economics of improving their existing resources.
The primary reason for a weak bermudagrass stand is inadequate soil fertility. When properly fertilized, bermudagrass will often crowd out most weed species and maintain a vigorous, healthy stand. Without proper fertility, bermudagrass pastures can become weed infested. This results in a reduced carrying capacity of the management unit and decreased animal performance.
Effective herbicidal weed control requires proper identification of target weed species, selection of the most effective herbicide, and treatment at the appropriate time. Regardless of the herbicide used, always follow label directions.
Some producers believe that bermudagrass yields may be increased by soil aeration, and they periodically till pastures to relieve what is often referred to as a "sodbound" or "rootbound" condition. A three-year study at Chickasha, Oklahoma found that disking or chiseling caused severe yield reductions in 4 out of 6 tests and no significant increase of forage was noted.
The most critical aspects of managing bermudagrass are a proper fertility program, stage of maturity at harvest, and in the case of grazing, the stocking rate. The producer has complete control over these management options and careful attention to all three can result in a profitable bermudagrass-based enterprise.
Decisions regarding fertilizer should generally be to either apply no fertilizer or fertilize for optimum production. In many cases, it may be more economical and efficient to increase the fertilizer rate on fewer acres of better ground. The amount of production may equal or be even higher, but expenses may be reduced. Reasonable nitrogen fertilizer rates appear to be 150 to 200 pounds of actual nitrogen per acre in split applications of 50 pounds each for grazing or one application for early summer hay production.
Ideally, the grazing management should be designed to ensure that bermudagrass is harvested at an optimum stage of maturity based on the kind and class of animals that will consume the forage. For growing animals, the accumulated bermudagrass forage should not exceed three weeks of age. When considering bermudagrass for either a hay harvest or grazing by mature animals, accumulated bermudagrass should not be in excess of 4 to 5 weeks of age. Bermudagrass that is overly mature will have low nutritive value, and protein supplementation will be necessary to meet maintenance and/or growth requirements for certain classes of livestock.
Bermudagrass, where adapted, can play a vital role in livestock production programs. The species has the ability to tolerate a wide range of growing conditions and is more tolerant of close grazing and relatively heavy stocking rates than many other forage grasses.
Bermudagrass also has the ability to produce large quantities of dry matter for either grazing or hay. However, it is not a magic plant. Bermudagrass does require a sound fertility program and other management inputs. Given the management it requires, bermudagrass can provide the warm-season perennial grass base for a profitable production system.
Old World Bluestems
Much of the cropland in Oklahoma is poorly suited to grain production because the soils are low in fertility and highly erodible. These factors, coupled with unfavorable economics of wheat production, have prompted some producers to search for other uses for these lands. The establishment of permanent forages for beef pasture appears to be a promising alternative. In the past, these areas were revegetated with native range mixtures, weeping lovegrass or bermudagrass. In recent years, however, producer interest in a group of grasses known collectively as Old World bluestems, has increased greatly.
Old World bluestems include several species of warm-season grasses that were introduced from Europe and Asia from 1920-1965. These grasses have been studied extensively in Oklahoma for the last 40 years, but producer interest was not widespread until quite recently.
Old World bluestems are warm-season bunch grasses that possess good forage potential for the southern Great Plains. These grasses respond well to fertilization, are drought and cold tolerant for the most part, withstand close grazing, and are palatable to cattle. Old World bluestems are not closely related to the native big and little bluestem grasses found throughout Oklahoma.
The six most common cultivars for use in Oklahoma include: 'Caucasian', 'Ganada', 'King Ranch', 'Plains', 'WW-Spar', and 'WW-Iron Master'. Caucasian and King Ranch have been commercially available for over 20 years, whereas Plains, Ganada, WW-Spar and Iron Master are more recent releases.
Old World bluestems are best adapted to loam or clay-loam soils. Stand establishment on sandy or sandy-loam clay soils is more risky, but usually can be obtained. Seeding should be on a firm seedbed either by broadcasting the seed or planting at shallow depths (1/4" or less). Seeding rates of 1 to 3 pounds pure live seed per acre are generally recommended. The best results have been obtained when seeding was done with a drill specifically designed to handle "fluffy" grass seeds.
Recent developments in seeding, such as using the bare, "caryopses" and lo-till planting into "grazed-out" wheat, warrant attention for future plantings. More specific information on the establishment of Old World bluestems can be found in Extension Fact Sheet No. 2581- Reseeding Marginal Cropland to Perennial Grasses.