WANT TO KILL BERMUDA GRASS?
A Few Options May Work, but not for everyone.
"How to kill Bermuda Grass?" is all too common a question from homeowners. The advice available for getting rid of this persistent weed is usually short of details, often is naively deceptive or sometimes blatantly inaccurate.
Is It Possible To Kill Bermuda Grass?
The potential for success varies quite a bit, depending on how well established and where the grass is, what else is growing around it, what plants you want to keep or introduce to that area, and how much time, effort and money you care to invest. How patient and determined are you? Know this:
- Killing bermuda grass is not as easy as you hope. It does not happen with a couple of squirts of Acme Killer-Juice after which you lay in your hammock and never think about it again.
- It will take longer than you expect to kill bermuda grass, a perennial weed. No, it’s even worse than that, and can really interfere with your lifestyle!
- In some cases, your best effort to kill bermuda grass completely and permanently may not be successful. But perhaps we can arrive at a state of acceptable compromise that will work for you.
Warning: this is a very long article, like a chapter in a book, because you need and deserve a complete appraisal of what you are facing, what to do, and what to avoid.
This article is the foundation for the other topics in this series. They are shorter and specific to certain settings. Together they are intended to give you the essential information needed to accomplish this task or to realize the hopeless nature of trying in some situations.
Ready To Kill Bermuda Grass? Are You Sure?
Be certain of your enemy. What if it is not what you think it is?
Bermuda is often confused with other lawn grasses (like St. Augustine and Zoysia) or with grassy weeds, especially Crabgrass. There are some similarities in their appearance, to the untrained eye.
A lot of people use the names interchangeably so it is easy to learn the wrong designation. Plus, there are nicknames like “devil-grass” which get applied to several varieties.
Many garden weeds are repetitive, even relentless. Bermuda may be the most resilient. So take time to know for sure, before you start.
If you have no local experts who can identify a sample, check out the first two articles in this series. Some of you may save yourselves a lot of trouble.
Here is a list of all the topics we’ll cover in the full series. Right after that, we jump into Lesson 3 and learn how to kill bermuda grass when we don’t have to try to salvage any good grass or plants. This will be a step-by-step look at eliminating bermuda before you plant a new lawn.
Choose Your Battle and Weapon from this List:
Lesson 3: Kill Bermuda Grass
In A New Lawn Area or
Where No Good Plants Exist
We’ll consider here a yard area where other types of grasses have died or are not worth saving. You have bermuda grass growing in that area and you want to kill it off before planting a new lawn with your choice of nice grasses. Anything but bermuda!
The good news is that you can probably be successful in that effort.
The bad news is that it will take some time.
In my experience most people who attempt to kill bermuda grass hope to get it done in a week or two. They may need to plant grass and have a beautiful lawn for a wedding or party next month. Or they just want to get it over and done with. It won’t happen that way.
Killing bermuda grass is not like killing other types of lawn and garden weeds. The majority of those are gone in one spraying of the appropriate herbicide. A follow-up application may be required for sturdy weeds, or to get the second crop of seeds that sprouted.
That’s not typical with bermuda. After two or three spray sessions, you may be just getting started, or the spraying must be stretched out over the entire growing season.
You won’t find many garden advisors who admit that, but it’s true in most cases. If you have a yard area that has just gotten infested this season with bermuda seed that blew in, then yes, one or two spray jobs will get rid of these young, immature plants. That is a rare event.
1. What type of weed killer can you use?
Let’s get this topic out in the open right away. There are no nice, neat, organic type products that will kill bermuda grass. It requires a chemical. Sorry to disappoint many of you. Softer solutions like vinegar, soaps, and the like will kill the top growth of bermuda, but the underground plant will survive to sprout another day. Forever. Even a flame thrower only takes a little off the top. Back it comes. Always.
Why is that? As discussed in Lessons 1 & 2, bermuda maintains a factory underground from which it supplies its ongoing regiment of infiltrators. Kill bermuda grass runners on top of the ground and the plant just chugs along, pushing its underground stems, the rhizomes, to places far and wide, destined to come up both soon and later.
A systemic herbicide is required to kill bermuda grass. These products are absorbed through the plant’s foliage and translocated to all parts of the plant. Depending on the mode of action for a particular chemical, the advantage of using a systemic is that you are waging war on all fronts, not allowing part of the plant to escape untouched and regroup for a new offensive.
The best known systemic weed killer is Round-Up. The active ingredient is glyphosate. There are many generic versions of this that work well. The main advantage of the brand names is the addition of proprietary surfactants that can aid in the product being absorbed more completely. I know that people have success with most versions of glyphosate products, if they read AND follow the label directions.
[Side-Note: I am currently neutral in opinion on this chemical as I think there are appropriate uses for it, and one place it is needed is to kill bermuda grass. I do have concerns about all chemical usage, but I need to do more research on recent negative claims before I am willing to do a scathing expose. (It may be that toxicity from other chemical additives are worse than the Round-Up active ingredient itself.)
I say this just to remind everyone that getting complete information about any chemical always makes sense rather than taking someone’s assurance that it is a fine product because their marketing department says so.]
So do your homework, and be sensible in your decision of what to use. That said, glyphosate is likely to be your product of choice to kill bermuda grass, it being common and inexpensive.
Remember that we are talking in this example about killing all vegetation in a non-sensitive location. (Desirable plants will also be killed if you spray them with this kind of systemic, NON-selective weed killer.)
2. How does this bermuda killer work? How well does it work?
The way glyphosate performs to kill bermuda grass and other weeds is by interrupting the plant’s ability to manufacture the amino acids which produce nourishment in the needed form. End result, a plant starves to death, a process that takes a varied amount of time depending on climate conditions and the initial health and maturity of the plant. Hot, dry conditions are likely to hasten its decline.
Bermuda grass is tenacious and resilient. Those are big words that mean the bermuda smirks and snickers, “I laugh in the face of danger!” before it retreats temporarily. It gets hungry and the top growth dies after spraying Round-Up, but well established roots and rhizomes are merely weakened, not killed.
From those buried survivors, new plants grow back. The death scene could take a few days to 3 weeks (in cold, wet weather). The regrowth could appear 1-3 weeks or more later, depending on soil conditions, depth of the plant parts, and weather.
Yes, there are products with bright labels that proclaim “Kill Bermuda Grass and Other Weeds in 24 Hours”. And they work. And they cost more. The top wilts fast, just like the commercials. Only the top dies quickly. It won’t help you long term to just kill the top faster.
The necessary action is to stress the whole plant system so the foundation starts to crumble. Each time the buried bermuda gets infected with hunger pangs, it slips a bit closer to oblivion. Be patient. Let the glyphosate do its work, without you challenging your neighbor to a high-priced driveway-crack killing-contest as-seen-on-TV.
3. How to apply bermuda grass killer.
- a) Do not mow before spraying any weed killer. More foliage allows more absorption of the chemical. Do not mow after spraying either. Let it die as is. (Exception: if the bermuda already has seed stalks, when it starts to turn brown, mow with a grass catcher attached, and get those seeds in the trash.)
- b) Do not water after you spray. Do not spray if it will rain that day. (Some products designed to kill bermuda grass and most weeds will state “Rainfast” in 1 or 2 hours. Wait at least that long, to be sure.)
- c) Buy the concentrated form of glyphosate since the ready-to-use product is way more expensive. (You’ll be spraying several times and can save enough to get a new sprayer). Concentrates vary in strength from 18% to 50%+ of active ingredient, so pay attention to that when you compare prices. The stronger version always gets diluted more, so you get more gallons of mix from the same size bottle. You always will end up with the same strength of chemical.
- d) (Optional, but recommended) Buy a good sprayer and use it just to kill bermuda grass, (and mark it as such). This is your weapon, your front-line death delivery device. A pump up sprayer works best for most areas, not a trigger sprayer which is very tiring on the hands and your will-power. (Any size is functional and worth it, from a handy 1.5 quart, up to a 4 gallon backpack, if it fits your needs and makes it easier.)
- e) Mix the strongest dosage recommended in the label for the type of herbicide you bought. No, more than that will not help. Do NOT assume the ratio is the same as what you used once before, (…like you could really remember! …like they never change the product!) Do NOT trust what Uncle Billy told you. (Please read the label!)
- f) Mix only the amount needed for each single spray job. Chemicals lose potency after sitting for a week, and their residue can start to clog up your sprayer.
- g) Spray. (Yay, Finally!) To kill bermuda grass, cover it generously, but... any run-off onto the ground does nothing useful, so don’t waste your mix.
- h) Avoid windy days for spraying. Remember this stuff can kill anything growing. (OOPS. Maybe I should have mentioned this before the last item?) Avoid natural drift as you spray. Get a helper to hold up a barrier in front of any friendly plants, or cover them as needed. Be extra cautious here or you’ll find you did more than kill bermuda grass.
- i) If the brand you buy does not mention that it has a surfactant included, consider getting one to help the chemical stick on the plant. (Example: Monterey Herbicide Helper.) Just needs a little, doesn’t cost much. If you don’t bother, and the first spray does not seem to be effective to kill bermuda grass, this could be a factor to improve.
- j) Clean out your sprayer each time you finish. Rinse it thoroughly with clean water (2 or 3 times) and be smart about where you dump out the rinse. Run some through the hose and nozzle also.
4. It died… Is it dead?
Bermuda grass that has been growing for just one season may not recover from this initial spraying. (Please…please…please!) So an area that became newly infested by seeds blowing in from neighbors’ lawns might be dead at this point.
How can you tell? If the ground was only partially covered, if the individual plants were thin and did not spread far, they may have not established any rhizomes. Dig down in several places a full shovel depth, where the weed was most concentrated, and look for rhizomes. These are the thicker, fleshy, whitish stems, not the fibrous roots. If you don’t see any of these, you’re lucky and probably finished.
If you find rhizomes (that are not all shriveled up) you should expect these to re-sprout. Your mission to kill bermuda grass continues. The bigger they are, the more likely it is they are hanging on to life. The deeper they are, the longer it will take for new growth to get to the surface. Now is the time to actually encourage it to do so. Water the area, and get it wet enough so that moisture reaches the depth of the rhizomes. This will hasten the bermuda’s tendency to kick into recovery out of survival mode. There really is nothing else to do but wait.
Don’t rototill or do a lot of digging now, thinking that you can get a head-start on the soil preparation for your new grass. Any rhizomes that are still viable are capable of becoming multiple plants if you cut them apart as you break up the soil.
The exception is those cases where you may have only a small area and are able to sift through the soil to remove all the rhizomes as you go. If you do this, be sure the soil is wet enough to allow the soil to break apart, but not so wet that it clumps together and hides any stems or makes them break as you work.
5. What’s next? Killing bermuda grass means starting over, again.
Go read Gardening Catalogs or squish aphids on your roses one by one. Be patient as you wait for new growth to appear above ground. Once that happens, you want to let the bermuda grow several inches long, so that you have enough foliage to spray. Again, the more grass blade area that is present, the better it will soak up more weed killer. Depending on the weather and the strength of the bermuda grass remaining, this could take as little as a week once it pops out, or much longer.
“Should I fertilize,” some people ask, “to push it along?” You could, if the new bermuda grass seems to merely hang out. The more active the growth, the better the impact when you spray again. Use cheap fertilizer if you do, like ammonium sulfate. For faster action, use a liquid fertilizer, like Miracle-Gro, and spray it right on the leaves. But you do not have to do this.
Try to do the next cycle of spraying the systemic weed killer before any runners are six to eight inches long, since the rhizomes are starting to build up their reserves by this point.
What if you are away from home for a while, or unable to work on the next stage of killing bermuda grass when it’s time? The only critical concern is that the bermuda not go to seed. And that can happen quickly if the weather is hot, and the plant has the urge to reproduce because it almost died.
So watch for seed stalks starting to form, and if seen, spray immediately. If they came out full force during your absence, it’s probably best to mow (and catch) the seed stalks, then spray. This is not ideal, but if you wait a few days before spraying, any low-lying seed stalks that did not get cut will soon pop right out.
When the new patch of bermuda grass is looking cocky (as in “We’re Back!”), spray as you did before, same strength, same way. Then repeat the entire cycle of watering and waiting. (“Oh, Fun!”)
6. When is your fight to kill bermuda grass over and done?
This is where the best approach for success becomes very individual. Some lawns have been infested for so long, the rhizomes could be two feet deep or more. If you know this might be true in your case, then resign yourself to repeating the cycle as many times as needed, till the bermuda gives up.
If you only go half-way, you just wasted all your efforts, because sooner or later, the leftovers will arise. In time, they will take over any bladed grass variety you put in. If you suspect that this is likely to be your outcome, read over the other lessons to see what you can do to achieve a state of tolerable compromise.
But in a less severe case, the bermuda grass could be wiped out by the second or certainly the third spraying with the systemic weed killer. Then you are clear to do your soil preparation and plant the grass seed or sod.
Can you know for certain that you won? Not really. There is always the Lone Bermuda Ranger lurking behind a mask of anonymity, waiting to even the score. Doesn’t really matter though, because getting rid of bermuda grass that was established doesn’t eliminate your vulnerability to a new infestation. So you will always need to be vigilant to encroachment.
7. How long can this whole process take?
Worst case, it could take a full growing season, spring-summer-fall to completely kill bermuda grass in an open yard area. In a moderate case, maybe a month, maybe two. With a young, mild infestation, and cooperative weather conditions, you could be ready to plant your new lawn in a few weeks. (Go ahead and dream, but be realistic in your assessment.)
Many people cannot tolerate a yard that will be basically dirt, or mud, for a month or longer, especially if you have kids. I understand that, so read another lesson to consider alternatives. Actually, bermuda can be an asset in a combination lawn when you have kids or pets, as it will self-repair any wear and tear. So consider that such a blended lawn might be a viable option.
There’s no quick fix. Don’t short circuit the lengthy process of killing bermuda grass without being ready to accept the consequences. You snooze, you lose. You cruise, you lose.
Remember, Bermuda in another language is ‘Borg’ — it will assimilate, resistance is futile! So be steadfast & overcome!
Final Caution: Don’t bother to start if you want the bermuda gone and a new lawn ready in a month for a party, with no room for error in your schedule. Or rather, start, but then you might just as well plant your grass right after the first spray wipes out the top growth, knowing that partial control (a temporary head-start for your new grass) is all you accomplish. That is acceptable for many people. Then go to the next alternative which is how to kill bermuda grass in a regular lawn. Just read the other articles to see which grass variety will make it easier for you to maintain an ongoing program that will suppress the bermuda to a manageable degree.
Growing… Growing… Gone! Good Luck!
[Editor’s Note: this page was quickly loaded onto the website to make the information available. Pictures and pretty stuff will follow soon. Other lessons in this series still missing links are being prepped with necessary webby protocols, and will hopefully be up the beginning of April. Please return for more, or use the contact page for personal inquiries. Thanks!
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