What You Must Do To Have A Lovely Lawn In Bermuda

Since Bermuda has a sub-tropical climate, you must choose a warm season grass for your lawn. But before we go in more detail about your choices, we must discuss the most important thing.

Preparatory Work

Since most areas of Bermuda have on average about eight inches of soil, it is very important to amend the soil. Even though Bermuda is very small with its nine parishes, soil conditions change considerably from one end to the other - sandy soils in Southampton, and clay next door in Warwick!

I prefer to use peat moss even though it is expensive due to the fact it must be imported. Peat moss incorporated into the soil will last for approximately five years. Contrary to belief, peat moss has very little value whatsoever in nutrients for the plant's. The main purpose is to aerate the soil which allows roots to move freely and assists in retaining vital moisture.

I also recommend rotavating in horse manure which aids in building up the organic content of the soil. Horse manure is available at all the local riding stables. Most stables use wood shavings for bedding and these will eventually break down in the soil. Manure will however, break down very quickly in the soil (approximately six months).

Another man-made product I like to add to the soil at this preparatory stage is soilmoist crystals. For an island like Bermuda, which can be dry at times, this is a great product to retain that valuable liquid sunshine when we get it.

Bermuda's rainfall is about 58 inches per annum which would be ideal with there being 52 weeks in the year, and you want one inch of rain per week. As we know it doesn't work that way. We may receive 10 inches of rain in February, and 1 1/2 in August. This is why the introduction of peat and/or manure is so important.

If you have a large water tank, Watlington Water, a well with fresh water (it can be tested at the lab at Agriculture & Fisheries), or a reverse osmosis plant, it is recommended to install an irrigation system to assist mother nature.

Okay, now that we've rotavated our existing soil, amended and raked it off, and are ready to plant, we need to decide on which lawn grass to choose. The three choices are:

1) St. Augustine (crabgrass - where it got this name from I'm not sure)
Botanical Name: Stenotaphrum Secundatum
This is the most common grass in Bermuda and does well in our alkaline soil conditions. Properly mowing at a height of 3-4 inches, will provide you with a decent lawn. The large drawback to using this common variety is that is is susceptible to chinch bug.

I would strongly recommend using Floratam grass which is a chinch bug resistant hybrid variety of St. Augustine. This variety has a larger blade and is blue-green in colour, but has the same basic appearance and growth habits of its common cousin!

I recommend mowing Floratam at a setting of 3 1/2" - 4". The trick is a frequent but higher mowing height that will give you a lush lawn - the total opposite to what most landscapers and homeowners do. They scalp their lawns which does more damage than good. This allows weeds to take over. It also causes the roots to come to the surface which in turn, dries out the lawn during dry periods. You will need to dethatch the lawn at least once per year when you do mow at a higher height to reduce thatch build up.

Floratam is usually purchased by plugs as it can only be vegetatively propagated and not planted by seed. Plugs are normally round, four-inch plugs; the same size as the hole on a golf green. It is recommended that they be planted between one and two foot centres depending upon your budget! This new variety grows rapidly in the warmer months especially if we get adequate rainfall or if irrigation is available.

2) Bermudagrass
Botanical Name: Cynodon Dactylon
This grass is what you would find on the fairways of the local golf courses. Bermudagrass can be planted by seed and I recommend using two pounds per one thousand square feet, being very careful as the seeds are very small. Again, use the same preparatory work for all varieties mentioned. It is best to put this seed down when the temperatures are reaching 70 degrees to get good germination. Again, watering is very important in the early stages to get a good root growth started. Once the grass starts to spread, you can start mowing to encourage horizontal growth. After two mowings, apply a granular general purpose fertilizer to give the lawn a good kick-start.

Today, there are many hybrid varieties of Bermudagrass which are used for golf greens, croquet lawns, etc. Again, these hybrids must be planted by sprigs since seeds are not available.

Bermudagrass, I find, is a higher maintenance lawn than St. Augustine and should be mowed with a reel mower versus the common rotary or trim mower.

3) Zoysiagrass
Botanical Name: Zoysia Spp.
This is a very slow-growing grass but once established, makes a very dense turf. I feel zoysia gets a bad rap in Bermuda and this is mainly because it builds up a thatch when not cared for properly. Zoysia is the most salt-tolerant lawn you can choose, and is the ideal choice if you live on the seaside. It must be planted by sprig or plug and again, is slow-growing.

It is recommended that zoysia be mowed with a reel mower and dethatched a minimum of once per year (preferrably twice). Growing into beds and up rock faces can be eliminated with proper use of a non-selective herbicide and proper trimming techniques.

There are many new varieties of zoysia available. So here you have a brief account of what you should be doing to have that lovely lawn you've always wanted. I tried to write this in a laymanâs way so that everyonewill understand.

If you would like a detailed consultation, myself or one of our other professionals here at Sousa's Landscape Management Co. Ltd. will be delighted to assist.

Jefferson C. Sousa

Sousa's Landscape Management Co. Ltd.

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