David M. Kopec, Extension Turfgrass Specialist
Bermudagrass varieties for turf and home lawns can be established by a number of methods. Varieties which produce no commercially available seed (non-pollen producing bermuda's) must be established by some form of vegetative (non-seed) planting.
Because bermudagrass produces specialized growth stems (above ground runners called stolons, and underground shoots called rhizomes), it is an ideal candidate for vegetative establishment. Because of its moderate to fast growth rate, vegetative establishment of bermudagrass is easily accomplished. The basic methods of vegetative establishment include sod placement, plugging, stolonizing, and sprigging.
The ultimate choice of establishment depends on the allowable or desired establishment period, cost, availability, and certain soil factors discussed below. In each case, proper soil preparation is necessary prior to the establishment technique, itself.
General Soil Preparation
Inspect the soil by digging several holes across the yard. Start by removing 1-2 inches of soil, and then fill the holes with water several times. Then remove the moistened soil down to a depth of six inches. Ideally, the soil should be uniform down to the six-inch depth. If there is a discontinuous change in soil texture, or an abrupt change in soil types, or a shallow soil layer over caliche, or worse yet decomposed gravel, you should consider options of tilling the soil. Any fertilizer amendments, organic matter, or "new soil" should be mixed into the existing soil and never placed on top of the existing soil, no matter what.
Follow these steps for soil preparation:
1. First irrigate the soil several times so a screwdriver will penetrate about four inches.
2. Roto-till the soil in two directions.
3. Let the soil sit for two days.
4. Add any amendments onto the roto-tilled soil and then roto-till again. Rear blade tillers usually work better than front blade types.
5. Water the site again with 1½" of water.
6. Wait on day.
7. Set the blade depth of the tillers to one inch and level the soil clods.
8. Rake and/or drag the soil to a uniform condition.
9. Re-rake the soil again so the top 1 inch of soil is loose.
You're now ready for sod, plugs, stolons, or sprigs.
1. Check out the soil that the sod was grown and harvested from, If it is very different from the soil in the yard, then water infiltration and soil oxygen problems can develop quickly. This requires soil aerification later on to correct. Keep all sides of the sod pieces wet prior to and during installation.
2. Buy enough square feet of sod to cover the lawn area and then add another 10% for cuts and waste.
3. Lay the sod pieces with the long edge of the sod pieces running the "long" end of the yard. Butt the short (cut) edges of the sod closely together.
4. Stagger the short edges of sod by ½ to 1/3rd of the sod piece itself, compared to each previously installed row. (Just like bricks on a house)
5. In each row, install pieces you have to cut first, which allows you to re-cut if a mistake is made.
6. Avoid small pieces of sod which are ¼" of a sod piece or less in size.
7. Roll the turf in two directions with a water filled roller. This is critical for root soil contact between the sod and the newly prepared soil.
8. Fill any gaps between sod pieces with soil.
9. Water the turf three times for short periods during the day for 7-9 days.
10. Test for rooting at that time. Grab the sod in the middle of some sod pieces and try to lift it up. If the sod does not lift up, change the irrigation cycle to once per day (early morning), applying ¼" to 3/8" of water down in one cycle. Do this for one week.
11. Then water every other day, applying enough water for the turf to go without watering.
12. Extend the interval between irrigation's as far as possible after the previous weeks irrigation timings have been adjusted to turf conditions. If you can irrigate once every third morning, you are doing a good job.
Plugging is a viable option for establishing a bermudagrass variety when:
1. Grow in time is not a critical.
2. The soil in the yard is very different from the soil in the sod.
3. Cost of sod is less than a factor than labor installation is.
You can make your own sod plugs by cutting sod pieces into 4X4 "sod cakes" from standard rolls of sod. Follow these tips.
1. String or stake out the prepared area with rows 18 inches wide in over direction. Then make a "shovel mark" every 18 inches within each row. Stagger the marks so you make a triangle and not a square pattern with the shovel marks.
2. Excavate about ¾" to 1" deep on these pots with a square-face shovel.
3. Cut the sod pieces into 4"x4" cakes.
4. Install the sod pieces so the sod soil is a little bit below the yard soil. Cover the edges of the sod cakes with the remaining soil previously removed.
5. After installation, either step on or roll the sod cakes "in place".
6. Water these twice a day in the daytime hours just to keep the soil moist.
7. After 3-4 days, apply about ½ lb. of actual nitrogen per 1000 ft. of lawn space and water the fertilizer in.
8. Water once per day each morning, applying ¼" of water in one irrigation.
9. Every four days apply another ½ lb. of actual nitrogen fertilizer per 1000 ft. of lawn space.
10. Do this till the "lawn" is 80% covered over by bermuda stolons (surface runners).
11. During the "fill in" process described above, water daily (unless it rains or if the soil stays extremely wet at the surface).
12. Mow the turf when the lawn is 80% covered and the soil will withstand the weight of the lawn mower. Do not remove more than 1/3rd of the plant height.
Stolonizing a new lawn is warranted when:
1. A lawn is sizable and sodding with limited labor is a potential problem.
2. The soil in the yard is very different from the soil in the sod.
3. The soil in the yard is "layered", shallow in depth, or discontinuous.
4. A grow in time of eight weeks if acceptable.
Stolons are the above ground runners on bermudagrass plants. They root easily and make more plants thereafter. Stolons are cut from turf at the sod farm and then quickly bagged to prevent excess moisture loss and temperature build up. Because of the short life of stolons, they are usually a special order item. A stolon rate for a lawn is 5bushels per each 500 ft2 of lawn area. Make sure the ground is fully prepped and there is a shaded area to store the stolons during the installation process. For a proper stolon job do the following.
1. Order the stolons in advance for a specific pick-up date.
2. On the prepared soil surface, take a spade shovel and make soil furrows about 1.0 to 1 ½ inches deep in straight lines across the entire area. Make these lines about 12" apart.
3. From waist height, sprinkle the stolons across the soil with 75% of the stolons falling on or near the shallow soil trenches you made.
4. Take a metal bow rake and cover the sprigs with the soil from the shovel furrow. Do not bury all the stolons completely. Shoot for about 50% stolon coverage with soil.
5. Do 500 square feet at a time. Hand water the "finished rows" before going onto the next section.
6. You can cover the soil with a light layer of wheat or barley straw (not bermuda straw)!
7. Water 5-7 times daily with short bursts of the irrigation system or hose. Do not flood the soil.
8. In 7-8 days little green shoots will appear. It will look like 95% of the stolon have died. They did not.
9. When 10% of the lawn is green with new turf plants, fertilize the entire soil area with 1.0 lb. of nitrogen per thousand square feet, every seven days.
10. Water accordingly to keep the topsoil layers moist, but not muddy.
11. Mow the turf when you have 75-80% cover and the soil will withstand the weight of the lawn mower.
Sprigging is a establishment technique practiced commercially for large turf areas. "Sprigs" include stolons with surrounding soil clods. Specialized mechanical "spriggers" push the stolons and clods of sod into the ground. Sprigging is thus not practiced for small turf area installations.
Stolons and plugging take the most time to establish a full turf cover. Make sure you have ten weeks of hot weather before you select a "start date" for actual installation. At higher state elevations, shoot for June 1 or go with sod.
"Overseeded sod" is sod that has ryegrass in it. It is sold usually from November to March. Overseeded sod is tough on bermudagrass.
The first year you install a bermudagrass lawn from stolons of plugs, DON'T overseed it. Wait a full year (till next year). It's important to have the bermuda go through a full year's growth above and below ground.
Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, James A. Christenson, Director, Cooperative Extension, College of Agriculture & Life Sciences, The University of Arizona. The University of Arizona is an equal opportunity, affirmative action institution. The University does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, veteran status, or sexual orientation in its programs and activities.