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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, February 16, 2007

Bermuda grass a favorite for Hawai'i lawns

By Jay Deputy


The three types of hybrid Bermuda grass:

Standard utility types: The first-generation hybrids. They include Sunturf, Tifway 419, Green Velvet, Tifgreen and Tifgreen 328. These are best used for athletic fields, golf course fairways and the average home lawn. They require medium to high maintenance, frequent nitrogen fertilization and occasional thatch removal. Optimum mowing height is half to three-quarters of an inch.

Dwarf: Second-generation hybrids. They have smaller leaves and grow more compactly. Tif-dwarf is the most common dwarf in Hawai'i. It requires a higher level of maintenance and is used for golf tees, greens and high-end well-manicured home lawns. Mowing heights, when used for home lawns and golf tees, should be a quarter to half an inch. Thatch removal is often required annually.

Super dwarf: The newest addition of hybrids. Has very small, finely textured leaves and extremely dense growth habit. These are high-maintenance varieties and used exclusively on golf greens. Tif Eagle is a recently introduced super dwarf.

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Bermuda grass is the most widely used turf grass in the Islands and in other tropical and subtropical regions of the world. Dr. Gerritt Judd introduced common Bermuda grass to Hawai'i around 1835, and it quickly became the grass of choice for improved lawn areas.

The main reason for its popularity is its extreme durability and drought resistance. Bermuda grass, called manienie in Hawaiian, holds up well under heavy traffic. And if it does wear down, the fast-growing grass recovers quickly.

However, all Bermudas have limitations and special requirements. They all require full sun and need more fertilization and maintenance than other turf species. Recommended mowing heights are usually under an inch, which requires the more expensive reel-type mowers. They can build thatch rapidly, particularly when overfertilized and overwatered.

Although other warm-season turf grasses have been introduced in the past 40 years, Bermuda grass remains the mainstay for most athletic fields, golf courses parks and many home lawns.

There are two general types of Bermuda grass, common Bermuda (Cynodon dactylon), which can be grown from seed, and hybrid Bermudas that all are selections from crosses between common and African Bermuda. Hybrids have improved texture, density and color. But they don't produce viable seed and therefore must be grown by vegetative methods. An additional improvement of all hybrids over the common species is the absence of numerous, unsightly large seed heads.

Until about 10 years ago, the only common Bermuda seed available was the original manienie variety. As a result, most of the high-end home lawns and athletic fields had to rely on vegetative installation of hybrid Bermuda grass. And new, improved common Bermuda grass varieties on the market are beginning to rival some of the older hybrids.

The improved seeded varieties are more affordable and are relatively easy to establish. The cost of improved-Bermuda seed for an average 3,000-square-foot lawn should run under $100, depending on the variety. Unfortunately, many garden centers still sell only the unimproved maniene. I have seen seed for popular, newer improved varieties such as Black Jack and Riviera for sale only at Koolau Farmers and Garden House. Large quantities are available through Susan Owen at Koolau Seed.

Another new, popular variety is Princess 77, available only in large quantity through United Agri Products. Maintenance levels for the improved common Bermudas are similar to the utility type hybrids. Optimum mowing heights are three-quarters of an inch to 1 1/2 inches.

Since the first Bermuda hybrid Sunturf was introduced in 1962, several newer cultivars have become more popular in the Islands.

All hybrid Bermuda grasses normally are propagated by planting freshly harvested stolons, which are available through local sod farms. The stolons are spread either by hand or hydro mulching. The cost of planting material varies widely with the choice of hybrid. The time needed from planting seed or stolons to full establishment is similar and will depend on the amount of stolons planted, adequate water after planting, and the time of year. Best planting time is from May to September, when grass fully grows within 10 to 12 weeks.

In my next article, I will cover in more detail the care requirements of Bermuda grasses.

Jay Deputy is an education specialist in landscape horticulture and turf at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa, Department of Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences, and Hawai'i state administrator for the Certified Landscape Technician Program sponsored by the Landscape Industry Council of Hawaii. Got a lawncare or turf question? Write to deputy@hawaii.edu.