Tips for Growing Better Bermuda Grass When Fertilizer is Expensive

When fertilizer’s are too expensive, many landowners decide not buy them. Is this a good move?  What are the effects of growing Bermuda without fertilizer?  What is the best way to stretch fertilizer dollars to get the best benefit?  We will examine these questions and try to come up with the best way to proceed from here.

Since its introduction in 1943, no other grass has had the impact on agriculture in the South as Coastal Bermuda, it is the standard that all others are measured by. It is described as a “miracle grass”, and it is in many ways.  The problem is that it requires fertilization to maintain production and to maintain its’ stand. When inadequately fertilized, its quantity and quality of forage suffers, the stand thins and invaders soon appear. If you’ve paid to establish any lately, you understand the cost involved, and you want to maintain your investment. You also know that many areas have and continue to be in drought conditions.  So, what’s a fellow to do?  First and foremost, get a soil test.  No other single thing will bring as much return. Secure a soil test kit from your fertilizer supplier or extension agent and send it off.  The results could save as much as one-third or more on fertilizer costs.  We can no longer afford to apply fertilizer that we don’t need.

Some folks seem to be afraid to test because of what the results might tell them, they’re afraid they will need to spend more than they want. Nothing could be further from the truth, you will instead learn how to spend the amount you want, get the production you desire and not waste money on fertilizer elements you don’t need. A good fertilizer dealer can mix just the elements called for in the soil test.  If you don’t fertilize, or don’t apply an adequate amount, it’s just like the bank, too many withdrawals will leave your account empty.  We say you can pay now or you can pay later, but you have to pay.  For each 6 tons of hay removed, the soil must provide about 300 pounds of actual nitrogen, 60 pounds of phosphorous and 240 pounds of potassium.  Continual hay removal will mine the soil of its elements until it is no longer productive.

The soil test will identify the soil pH as well.  This is particularly important in our sandy soils as they tend to be acidic to begin with.  When pH falls below 5.8 the fertilizer begins to lose effectiveness.  The corrective action is to apply lime to offset the acidity and restore the soil.  This again will let you get the full benefit from your fertilizer dollars.

When rainfall amounts are low, the second most important factor to consider is eliminating the competition.  We accomplish this in a couple of ways, the most common is to apply a broadleaf herbicide in the Spring.  This will take care of most broadleaf weed species. Earlier is better, our main objective is to save the water (and fertilizer) that the weeds would use.  Conditions have to be right however, the temperature should be above 70 degrees and the weeds have to be actively growing. A good rule of thumb is that for every pound of weeds you grow you could be growing a pound of grass.

Spring germinating, grassy weeds are a different problem, among them are the sandbur, or grassburr, as well as many other grassy weeds.  They have to be controlled in a different manner.  We now have an effective and legal to use, pre-emergent herbicide.  It must be applied prior to seed germination, usually before March 15th, and it must have sufficient rainfall or irrigation to move it into the soil to be effective. If you have grassburrs you will want to treat early to prevent the problem.

If you follow the steps we have discussed, you can get the most return from you dollars, maintain your investment, and get some really good quality forage to boot.

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