Coming out of a couple of really dry years in which we saw some decline of desirable forage and the encroachment of invader type plants that are not desirable, many folks are wanting to renovate some old pastures and hay meadows with a bermudagrass.
So your first decision is selecting the forage variety, and if you want to go with a bermudagrass, here are some factors to consider.
Bermudagrass is the most widely grown introduced warm-season grasses in the Southeast, and maybe Texas - but is less common here in South Texas.
Bermudagrass is well adapted to a wetter climate and requires large amounts of nitrogen to be productive. An advantage of bermudagrass is that it can take heavy grazing pressure and many cattlemen like bermudgrass hay. There are many varieties, both hybrids and seeded types and Coastal hybrid is the most widely used. However, a newer variety, Tifton 85, has improved quality and yield and has also been found to be as drought tolerant as Coastal. Jiggs seem to work better in heavy clay soils. However, it is susceptible to leaf diseases.
Seeded varieties most common include Giant and NK-37, although these two grasses produce less forage than the hybrids, since they are seeded this can be an advantage for small acreage. There are other seeded bermudgrass varieties like Comanche, Mohawk, SunGrazer Plus and Common that one might also consider.
Establishment of the grass is a critical step, especially when one considers the time, effort and expense involved in getting a new forage established. The ideal seedbed should be smooth, firm, weed free, moist, fertile, free of excess residue or trash, compaction zones and has good soil structure.
Initial tillage may include moldboard plowing, heavy disking with an offset disk, chiseling or subsoiling. The soil should be worked with a disk to eliminate trash and reduce clod size. The seedbed should be free of clods, firm, and not "fluffy."
The soil should be tested to determine what fertilizer is needed and a preplant fertilizer should be incorporated according to soil test recommendations. During the establishment stage, grasses need only small amounts of nitrogen, however once the grass begins to grow, the demand for nitrogen increases rapidly.
Bermudagrass hybrids are commonly propagated by planting plant parts like sprigs (underground storage roots), stolons (above ground runners) or tops (mature stems). Sprigs are planted in a furrow just behind an opening device, covered and rolled in a single operation, and is typically done in late winter or early spring. In a dryland system, the depth that sprigs are placed is usually two to 2.5 inches. The "ideal" sprig is five to 6 inches long, planted with one end 2 inches deep and the other end on the soil surface. If soil is dry, water should be applied immediately after planting. Use only fresh sprigs from a certified grower. If sprigs have been dug for more than 24 hours, they should be soaked in water for 12 to 15 hours before planting. Planting rates of sprigs per acre can vary, depending on how fast a good stand is desired. Planting rates usually range from 25 to 40 bushels per acre. On another note, Tifton 85 prefers warm temperatures, so sprigs of Tifton 85 should not be dug and planted until the night time temperatures reach the mid to upper 50s, while Coastal sprigs can be dug during the dormant stage.
Planting tops is different from planting sprigs in that you are actually planting above ground stems. These tops must develop roots from the nodes. A good top, will be about six weeks old, 18-24 inches long and have at least six nodes. Planting tops allows one to plant later in the growing season as long as soil moisture is sufficient.
Tifton 85 and Jiggs are easier to root by tops than other hybrid grasses. Tops should be planted at a rate of five to seven bales per acre and should be planted as soon as possible after baled. Scatter and disk tops into moist soil before they wilt, as tops can die within minutes. Pack the soil immediately using a roller to prevent excessive moisture loss and ensure good soil contact.
If you choose to plant a seeded variety, they are generally seeded at 8-10 pounds of unhulled seed per acre for the quickest establishment.
More information on establishing a bermudgrass pasture can be obtained from your local County Extension Agent or online at the Texas AgriLife Bookstore, http://agrilifebookstore.org/ and then search for Forage Bermudagrass.
Jeffrey Stapper is the Agricultural and Natural Resources Agent for Nueces County. Readers may contact him at (361) 767-5217.