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Sustainable Agriculture in Hawaii
Cover Crops: Non-Legumes
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Bermuda Grass

Cynodon dactylon

Also known as manienie in Hawai`i

photo of bermuda grass
Summary
  • Tropical, subtropical and warm temperate prostrate perennial
  • Used as forage grass, lawn grass, cover crop, and for erosion control
  • Some cultivars are only established by vegetative propagation (sod, sprigs, plugs)
  • Resists weed invasion once established
  • ‘NK-37’ is root-knot resistant
  • Very good drought tolerance
  • Not shade tolerant
  • Worldwide it is considered a serious weed in maize, cotton, sugar cane, vineyards and plantation crops
  • Rhizomes are strong, stout, branched and spread rapidly

Common Name
Its common name is Bermuda grass, couch grass (Bogdan), green couch (Hana), kabuta (Fiji) (FAO). In Hawai`i it is called manienie (Deputy).

Scientific Name
The scientific name is Cynodon dactylon (L.) Pers. (Bogdan).
Cynodon dactylon is a variable species and six varieties have been recognized (Hanna). The most notable is var. dactylon which is distributed worldwide and in some areas is considered a noxious weed. Var. aridus, var. elegans, and var. coursii are of regional importance (Bogdan).

Cultivars
There are many cultivars of C. dactylon var. dactylon, many of which are sterile hybrids.
‘Common Bermuda Grass’ is the common weed, but is excellent for erosion control and winter feed (originating in the Near East).
Cultivars released for pasture uses include: ‘Coastal’, ‘Coastcross-1’, ‘Tifton 78’, ‘Tifton 68’, ‘Hardie’, ‘Oklan’ and ‘Brazos’ (Hanna).
‘NK37" is root knot nematode resistant (NRCS).
Some cultivars commonly used for lawns in Hawai`i include: ‘Sunturf’, ‘Tifway’, ‘Tifway II’ (denser and more resistant to sting and root-knot nematodes), ‘Tifgreen’, ‘Tifgreen 328’, ‘Tifdwarf’ (putting greens), ‘FloraDwarf’ (putting greens), ‘GN-1’, ‘MS-Choice’, ‘MS-Express’, ‘MS-Pride’, ‘NuMex Sahara’, ‘Sultan’, ‘Yuma’, ‘Blue-muda’ (Deputy)
 
Seed Description
Seeds are ovoid, about 1.5 mm (1/16 inch) long, and yellow to reddish (Hanna).
 
Seedling Description
No information is available in this database on this topic.
 
Mature Plant Description
Bermuda grass is a prostrate stoloniferous perennial herb with rhizomes which extend into the ground to a depth of 1 meter (39 in.) or more (Hanna). The stems are up to 60 cm (24 in.) tall. Its leaves are flat or folded, 3-12 cm long by 2-4 mm wide. Spikes are 1.5-8 cm long, three to six in a whorl (Bogdan).
 
Temperature
Bermuda grass is a tropical and subtropical species. It grows best where mean daily temperatures are above 24° C (75°F). Temperatures of -2 to -3°C (28.4 - 26°F) usually kill leaves and stems but rhizomes survive and regrow in the spring (Hanna).
 
Origin and Geographic Distribution
Cynodon dactylon var. dactylon is believed to originate in Turkey and Pakistan (Bogdan). It has been introduced to all tropical and subtropical regions of the world (Hanna). Var. aridus is found in S India to SW Africa, var. elegans is found in S. Africa, and var. coursii is found in Madagascar (Bogdan).

Ecology
The optimal temperature for Bermuda grass is 24°C (75°F) (mean). It is deep rooted, drought tolerant, tolerates a wide pH range, and tolerates low fertility soil. It is shade intolerant (Hanna).
 
Water
‘Coastal’ Bermuda grass requires over 500 mm (about 20 in.) of annual rainfall for reasonable yields. It can be dormant for as long as 6-7 months (Bogdan). Bermuda grass will tolerate long periods of flooding (Hanna). The FAO reports Bermuda grass growing at rainfalls ranging from 625-1750 mm (about 25-69 inches).
 
Nutrients
Bermuda grass can tolerate low fertility, but fertilization will greatly increase yields especially for hybrid varieties. A minimum of 10 kg/ha (8.9 lb/ac) of N per month of growth is required for moderate to high productivity. Some of the improved hybrids will respond to rates as high as 60 kg/ha (53.5 lb/ac)  N per month of growth (Hanna).
 
Soil pH
Bermuda grass tolerates a broad pH range, but grows best when the pH is above 5.5 (Hanna).
pH range: 5.0-8.0 (NRCS)
 
Soil Type
Bermuda grass will grow on a wide range of soils, and grows best in well-drained soils (Hanna).
 
Shade Tolerance
Bermuda grass is not shade tolerant and yields will decrease in shaded conditions (Bogdan).
 
Salinity Tolerance
Bermuda grass can tolerate salinity in irrigation water (Bogdan).
 
Herbicide Sensitivity
No information is available in this database on this topic.
 
Life Cycle
No information is available in this database on this topic.
 
Seeding Rate
Plant 5-10 kg/ha hulled seed. Use higher rates for rapid sward development (Hanna).
Minimum rate: 35 lbs. pure live seed/acre (NRCS).
 
Seeding Depth
1/4-1/2 inch deep (Deputy).
 
Seeding Method
Broadcast and rake/roll (Deputy)
 
Seeding Dates
Year round in Hawai`i.
 
Inoculation
Not applicable.
 
Seed Cost
No information is available in this database on this topic.
 
Seed Availability
Readily available.
 
Days to Flowering
No information is available in this database on this topic.
 
Days to Maturity
No information is available in this database on this topic.
 
Seed Production
According to the FAO, two seed harvests of ‘Coastal Bermuda’ are made in the USA – in July and November. It is mowed into windrows, picked up, threshed by combines and cleared.
 
Seed Storage
No information is available in this database on this topic.
 
Growth Habit
Bermuda grass is a stoloniferous perennial, creeping by means of rhizomes and stolons (FAO).
 
Maximum Height
Bermuda grass grows to a maximum height of about 60 cm (24 in.) high (Bogdan).
 
Root System
Bermuda grass is deep rooted and its rhizomes penetrate the soil to a depth of 1 meter (39 in.) or more (Hanna).
 
Establishment
Bermuda grass is frequently established by sprigs or stolons.
Sprig/stolon planting rate: 40-80 bu/ac at a maximum 3 ft. by 3 ft. spacing (NRCS).
Plant into moist soil and roll (Hanna).
 
Maintenance
Graze closely to keep feeding value high. Fertilize with nitrogen. Renovate with plowing or disking when sod-bound (FAO).
For information about Bermuda grass lawn maintenance, refer to Deputy. Thatch buildup should be removed when it is greater than 3/4 in thick. Periodic topdressing with compost promotes thatch decomposition (Deputy).
 
Mowing
Harvesting: Cut for hay or silage when Bermuda grass is 30-40 cm (12-15 in.) tall or after every 4-6 weeks growth (Hanna).
Grazing: Maintain stubble height of 5-10 cm (2-4 in.) under grazing or if cutting for hay (Hanna).
Lawns: refer to Deputy.

Incorporation
Not applicable. Not generally used as a green manure.
 
Harvesting
Bermuda should be cut for hay or silage when it is 30-40 cm tall (Hanna).
 
Equipment
No information is available in this database on this topic.
 
Uses
  • Grazing by ruminants
  • Cover crop in orchards
  • Erosion control
  • Popular turf grass

Mixtures
Bermuda grass hybrids are frequently grown with pasture legumes producing higher yields than pure grass alone without N. The herbage contains more protein, has a higher feeding value and can be more palatable. Bermuda grass is commonly grown with: Trifolium incarnatum L., Vicia villosa Roth., Trifolium repens, and Arachis glabrata (Bogdan).
 
Biomass
No information is available in this database on this topic.
 
N Contribution
Nitrogen concentrations of 2-3% have been reported on well-fertilized Bermuda grass (0.5-1.5% on inadequately fertilized grass). (Hanna).
 
Non-N Nutrient Contribution
No information is available in this database on this topic.
 
Effects on Water
No information is available in this database on this topic.
 
Effects on Soil
Bermuda grass roots have been reported to have an adverse effect on clover seed germination (Bogdan).
 
Effects on Livestock
Adequately fertilized Bermuda grass has N concentration between 2-3% (Hanna). Liveweight gain of cattle grazed on ‘Coastal’ Bermuda range from 200-300 kg/ha/yr when moderate rates of N and other fertilizers are applied (Bogdan).
 
Pest Effects, Insects
Armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) and spittlebug (Prosapia bicinata) are the major insects that attack Bermuda grass (Hanna). Deputy reports that in Hawai`i bermuda grass for lawn use is susceptible to webworm, lawn armyworm, bermudagrass mite, and nematodes. Certain cultivars are more resistant. To help control pests, provide adequate fertilization and defoliation that allows less than 8-cm growth (thatch) to accumulate (Hanna).
 
Pest Effects, Nematodes
Bermuda grass cultivar ‘NK-37’ is root-knot resistant (NRCS).
 
Pest Effects, Diseases
Rust and Helminthosporium leaf-spot are the major diseases of common Bermuda grass. The improved hybrids are resistant (Hanna).
 
Pest Effects, Weeds
Once established, provides good weed suppression (FAO).
 
Pest Effects, Vertebrates
No information is available in this database on this topic.
 
Uses in the Pacific Region
Section to be added later.
 
Uses in Hawai`i
 The Hawai`i Natural Resources Conservation Service Technical Guide, includes Bermuda grass (cv. ‘NK-37’ and common). Their specification describes Bermuda grass as follows:
  • Minimum seeding rate of 35 lbs. pure live seed/acre;
  • pH range from 5.0-8.0;
  • Planting rate 40-80 bu/ac (sprigs or stolons, maximum 3x3 ft. spacing),
  • Medium maintenance required;
  • Poor shade tolerance;
  • Very good drought tolerance;
  • Rainfall range of 20-80 inches;
  • Medium rate of establishment;
  • Elevation range from 0-3000 ft.
Dole Foods reports using Bermuda grass successfully with orchards as a filter strip on O`ahu (personal communication, Mike McLean).

REFERENCES
Bogdan, A.V. 1977. Tropical Pasture and Fodder Plants. Longman Inc., New York. pp. 92-98.

Deputy, J., Hensley, D., Tavares, J., 1998. Bermudagrass TM-5. University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu. 4 pp.

Free publication available at CTAHR Website: http://www2.ctahr.hawaii.edu/oc/freepubs/

Evans, Dale O., Joy, Robert J., & Chia, C.L., 1988. Cover Crops for Orchards in Hawaii. Hawaii Institute of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii, United Stated. 16 pp.
FAO Web Site:

http://www.fao.org/WAICENT/FAOINFO/AGRICULT/AGP/AGPC/doc/pasture/Mainmenu.htm

Hanna, W.W., 1992. Cynodon dactylon (L.) Pers. In: ’t Mannetje, L. & Jones, R.M. (Editors): Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 4. Forages. Pudoc-DLO, Wageningen, the Netherlands. pp. 100-102.

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Hawai`i Field Office Technical Guide, Section IV, Code 340 "Cover and Green Manure Crop" May 1992.

If you have used this plant as a cover crop in the Pacific Region, please email us with COMMENTS and FEEDBACK about this plant description so we can further refine this educational resource.

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Last updated on 7/5/02
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