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Bermuda grass lawn

 
pollinator
Posts: 270
Location: Haiti
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I'm in a dry, windy, hot area of Haiti, living on campus at the University where I teach, and heading the campus Development committee. We go through months of drought and then get consistent torrential rain for a couple of months. Our soil is clay, and around campus is fairly rock free since we are downslope from where the topsoil is being eroded and carried to the campus which is situated on about 7 out of 200 otherwise undeveloped wilderness acres.

We'd love to have a nice green grass growing here, and I hear Bermuda grass might be the ticket. There is some grass that used to get irrigated when our pump was working, and now it's mostly brown. I believe it's a fescue type of grass, but not sure the variety.

Is Bermuda going to work for us? How tall does it grow? We don't have a mower. Everything gets cut with machetes here. We could probably invest in a push mower or (better?) scythe if needed, but it would primarily be space between and around sidewalks which the students are pretty good at sticking to.

Also, how should we prepare to plant? Will the regular soil work? We might be able to get a load of compost brought in . . . What will it need for the seed to take?

I'm also wondering if this gras is shade resistant at all. We have some spaces that are courtyard spaces with bright light but limited direct sunlight. Will the grass grow there?

And finally, does it handle grazing by visiting sheep, goats, donkeys, cows, horses . . . Etc? We're working on fencing in the campus area, but that will take some time (everything takes forever here). I'd like to get it going as soon as possible to get some of this bare soil covered!

Thanks for your input!
 
gardener
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Bermuda is tuff. It is the preferred pasture for horses, cows, etc because you cannot kill it. It is hated in annual gardens because....you cannot kill it. Any pasture animal should eat it and may prefer it over other grasses.

It will not grow in heavy shade.

It will go dormant in a hot dry spell.  It will turn brown  it will not die.

I have not experienced an area where it will not grow.

My land is slowly being overtaken by it. The horses spread it with their poop. Once established it will spread. My personal belief is it can spread out 6ft or more a year. This is why some people use sod in a checkerboard pattern. It will fill in quickly.

Seeding is relatively easy.
 
Priscilla Stilwell
pollinator
Posts: 270
Location: Haiti
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Sounds hopeful as long as we are careful about using manure from animals that grazed it, in the veggie gardens. It seems we should be able to control it by bordering it with dense shade, like trees? And perhaps consistent scything or mowing will keep seeds to a minimum?

It might actually be a huge advantage to introduce to our area with all our deforested area resulting in massive erosion and flooding? Goat farming is the primary local industry, and the method is free-range goats. Let them go in the morning, bring them home at night (or teach them when supper time is). The grass could help provide important nutrients to the community goats. BUT, it could also destroy local species.

Is it worth the risk?
 
Posts: 7085
Location: Arkansas Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep loam/clay with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
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Bermuda grass is my nemisis, so my view is somewhat skewed

It is definitely tough, drought resistant and spreads easily as others have said.  It also loves to be mowed and grazed.

I wouldn't plant it anywhere I ever considered having any future gardens.

It will fill in all the gaps.  It is true that the only way to stop it is to shade it out and even then it can travel several feet under mulch, over mulch until it finds a space to put down roots.

I use a scythe and find that it is the most difficult to cut of all the grasses and weeds here because it is so wiry.  A machete might work better although I find it does not stand up straight for long but leans over in clumps once over a foot or so.

Fortunately we have a breather from it over the winter.  I sometimes see plants that I had not seen in awhile when the bermuda grass turns brown.  I've learned to pay attention to those brown bermuda grass areas and plan more plants to add shade the next year.

I think in climates where there is no freezing temps in the winter it does not go dormant but might be mistaken?

 
gardener
Posts: 6341
Location: Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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hau Priscilla, Bermuda would be a very good choice for a lawn in Hati.
The others have pointed out those characteristics that make it desirable in hot climates.

Bermuda will grow tall (we make hay with Bermuda pastures) so it will need to be cut, scythe or reel mower are the best options for keeping this grass short. (Bermuda is best for lawns when it is kept at between 2 and 3 inches tall, golf courses(watered every day) will use Bermuda for fairways, greens and even the rough)).
To get the best germination you want the seeds about 1/4 inch deep and you have to keep the seeds moist, a light weight mulch (chopped straw or chopped hay are normally used for this) will help keep the seeds moist while they swell and germinate.
It take newly germinated seed 3 weeks to start good root establishment and I like to wait 4 weeks before the first cutting with a reel mower.
As the grass plants develop, they will begin to put out runners which are rhizomes and each of these runners will produce new grass plants at every node, Bermuda can spread as much as 2 feet per growing season when it is being cut as a lawn.
In pasture areas where it is grazed, it will spread about 3 feet per year.

Bermuda grass plants that you want to spread are going to need to be cut at least bi-weekly when water is abundant, the shorter the plants are kept, the more the runners grow out away from the established plants and these runners then set new plants from the runner nodes.

For pastures in Hot climates, a blend of Bermuda and Zoysia is superior both in nutrient values and growing vigor.

Redhawk
 
Priscilla Stilwell
pollinator
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My primary hesitation is because it would be grazed by these free-ranging goats, at least to some degree. Would those goats spread it to the point that it would be detrimental to our local ecology?
 
wayne fajkus
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It can take over and be impossible to remove(mechanical or chemical).Which can be good or bad. If you do not want to disrupt the local plants, do not bring it in.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Containment of Bermuda grass is going to be an on-going chore, since it spreads via runners that also produce more plants, that those runners have and can become tripping hazards because of the strength of those runners, it is usual for people to keep it close mowed (around 1.5 inches tall down to 3/4 inch tall).
For pastures it is absolutely fine, it also has a high protein content (up to 22% but the norm is around 18%), the spreading characteristic is also desirable in pasture land and lawn areas that have some type of surround (sidewalks and or a landscaping barrier like bendaboard or metal edging matreials).
It seeds on a 6 to 8 week cycle, it has been known to become invasive in areas where it is not kept in check by some animal, four legged or two legged.

There are other rhizome grasses such as Centipede and St. Augustine that require the same sort of maintenance but they have broader leaves than the Bermuda, which is why Bermuda is a good hot weather golf course grass.

Goats can and usually do keep a Bermuda pasture well grazed, because of the high protein, they will graze it before they would graze fescue (which can be detrimental to several animal species because of some esters contained in the leaves).

Here in the US, grass seed is normally priced by desirability of the buying public and the ease of seed harvesting. Priced from high to low: Centipede, St. Augustine, Bermuda, Zoysia, the fescues, perennial rye, annual rye.
Fescues come in clumping, short and tall varieties but they can actually be poisonous to some animal species (our donkey will not touch fescues).

Redhawk
 
Priscilla Stilwell
pollinator
Posts: 270
Location: Haiti
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It's still sounding like a potentially good deal here. I'll do a bit more research.
 
pollinator
Posts: 1579
Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
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There are many different varieties of Bermuda grass with varying characteristics. I wasn't aware of this until this past year when I started to get more serious with upgrading my pasture areas. Some of the varieties are lower growing than others. Some spread less aggressively than others. Some actually can have livestock toxicity problems under unusual growing confusions. Some are easier to control than others.

I've identified 3 Bermuda grass types on my own farm, obviously intentionally planted for pasture. Two I found to be fairly easy to remove from the garden areas via hand weeding. The other is totally impossible to control so far. That third variety is a nightmare for a gardener. I don't know their varietal names. I can only identify them by sight.

Bermuda grass may be a good choice for your situation. I'd suggest researching the varieties and their characteristics before planting it. Once you've got it, it will be work to control it, depending upon the variety you planted. Once it escapes an area, it may be almost impossible to eradicate without resorting to herbicides.
 
Priscilla Stilwell
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Here are a couple of photos of locations we need to seed. I'm unsure the grass that's currently in there. It doesn't spread much at all, and don't seem to seed, but it also gets grazed fairly consistently.

On the left of the geometric pattern sidewalks is our soccer field. The girl's dorm is the one in the photo. To the right of the larger "lawn" area is mostly dirt with sparse trees. We'd like to plant more trees to create fairly dense shade, which should help to reduce the invasiveness?

I'll research less invasive species. Thanks a bunch!
IMG_20190904_165717.jpg
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IMG_20190904_165733.jpg
[Thumbnail for IMG_20190904_165733.jpg]
 
wayne fajkus
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That would contain runners but seeds can escape if you let bermuda go to seed.
 
Priscilla Stilwell
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wayne fajkus wrote:That would contain runners but seeds can escape if you let bermuda go to seed.



The goal would be to get a scythe or push mower and keep it trimmed every couple of weeks, so hopefully that won't happen. . .
 
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Vetiver grass could be a good substitute for Bermuda for certain situations, though I don't know how it works as a lawn. It has deep roots, drought and flood tolerance and comes in sterile varieties that are propagated vegetatively. It's a really useful plant according to wiki. Even if not for a lawn it might be something worth checking into for your project, one of its interesting qualities being that even if the top goes dormant in a drought the roots keep growing down, up to 13 ft.
 
Priscilla Stilwell
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Absolutely! We have a bit here, and I plan to get several grain sacks full of plugs for terracing and directing and holding rain water. It's definitely not a lawn grass, though, being brown and very coarse 8-10 inches from the soil. But it might help to control the Bermuda grass. It should make a pretty solid barrier that the Bermuda grass will have a hard time breaking through. Combined with the cement and gravel and the heavily shaded areas that could be just what we need.
 
steward
Posts: 2170
Location: Officially Zone 7b, according to personal obsevations I live in 7a, SW Tennessee
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I lived on a boarding school campus that was formerly a military base for 8 years. It had been planted extensively with bermuda grass. The story was that it was chosen because it stood up to tanks rolling over it. It definitely stood up to 300 teenagers extensive abuse very well. There were minimal worn patches. If I recall correctly, during the dry season, the grass did not dry out. This was on the coastline in California. A beachfront property, I do not remember the type of soil there.

I took a peak around the net, and it does appear that bermuda grass was a frequent planting at military bases. Maybe you could contact Guantanamo Naval Base for information about the local-ish environmental impact. I have no idea if they would be willing to chat. You may fined that bermuda grass is already naturalized on your island. Maybe there is no need to worry about your potential contribution to the seed bank.

I also wonder... Your current landscape appears devoid of soil coverage. Have you seen your landscape during the rainy season? Do the native grasses recover during it? You do need the soil to be covered to create fertility. This grass succeeds. It is good for animal forage. Would the addition of bermuda grass to your barren region really be a negative?
 
Priscilla Stilwell
pollinator
Posts: 270
Location: Haiti
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That's pretty much my point. I don't think there are any notable negatives. And I am certain that the grass is on the island somewhere already. In fact, I suspect it's what the US embassy has their lawn in. And also several other estates I've seen. I honestly can't really tell the difference.

Any ideas what the current grass is? It's been there for at least 3 or 4 years, and used to get consistent irrigation. Now it gets nothing, and is half dead. Even recent rains didn't wake it up.

The native grasses and weeds do pop up whenever we get rain, though they are mostly just under the trees. Everywhere else they get cooked by the afternoon sun.

And yes, the soil is basically non-existent. I plan to get the male students involved in contributing to a fertilizing program through the contribution of their urine. That should help keep people off the grass too! Haha.

I'm thinking it might also be ideal to cover the soccer field. The field becomes slick clay when it rains, and is horribly dusty the rest of the time. If we could seed it, that might make a significant difference on the health and safety of the students.

I know everyone would love to have a nice lawn here. Grass is highly prized here, as it is in many similar climates. If I can be fairly certain that it will stay green for the most part, I am tempted to go ahead and order a bag of seed. So far none of you have talked me out of it . . . Haha
 
Bryant RedHawk
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From your nice photos I would wager that the current grass is a fescue species.

Redhawk
 
Priscilla Stilwell
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That was my guess too.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Oh, On every soccer pitch in England, Ireland, The continent, Bermuda sub species (tiff) are the Normal grass used, it wears quite well once established and it will come back from abuse of feet or tires or hooves.
It would also surprise me if the US Embassy didn't have Bermuda lawns.

Bermuda has only one significant draw back and that is the late time of year it greens up here in the States, I would not expect to see it go dormant for very long in Haiti.
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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The native grasses and weeds do pop up whenever we get rain, though they are mostly just under the trees. Everywhere else they get cooked by the afternoon sun.  



Well, that would work out well then. I think the bermuda doesn't like shade.
 
Priscilla Stilwell
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It's sounding ideal. Looks like the seed is on the expensive side, but I'll see what I can find.
 
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