Removing dead stubble from Bermuda lawn

Chad_Gardner(7)May 9, 2013

A couple of months ago, purchased a home in Arkansas that had been vacant for a year. The bermuda grass (I'm assuming a hybrid variety since it was sodded) had been neglected and mowed very, very high since the owners only returned to the house on weekends a couple times a month. Amazingly enough, the lawn is in pretty good shape with full grass coverage, but since they mowed so high, the grass grew straight up and now I'm dealing with lots of brown stems intermingled in the growing, green grass.

In March, I cut the bermuda lawn as low as I could go with my rotary mower. Thankfully, the lawn is fairly level so I'm able to continue mowing at this height without scalping the yard. I've been mowing every 4-5 days depending on the weather to try to "train" the bermuda grass to grow shorter. My lawn is still full of these brown stems though. Granted, we've had a very cool (if not cold) spring and the grass is just now starting to come in. Will the green grass eventually overtake these brown stems and help break them down into the soil? Or am I stuck with these old brown stems all year long until nature slowly takes its course and breaks them down over time? I may just be impatient since our Spring has been abnormally cool and the grass hasn't truly emerged yet. I'm just wondering what my options might be for removing these old stems or if the new grass will help break them down. I could raise my mower height up a setting and allow the new grass to grow higher. That would just cover up the brown stems though. I'd like to keep a short, bermuda lawn, but if I need to raise my mower setting a level to hide these stems I can. I realize this will be a work in progress since I have to undo the neglect of the previous homeowner. Rome wasn't built in a day...

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Here's a picture of my backyard. Bermuda coverage is pretty good, but as you can see, my yard looks very brown when mowed short because of all the stubble. The grass is prickly to walk on barefoot because of all the dead stems from the grass being maintained so high. Will those stems go away as the new grass continues to green up? As I mentioned previously, it's been a cold spring and I might just be impatient with this since the grass hasn't had a chance to green up fully.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2013 at 4:24PM
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I was in Rogers last Friday, so I took a picture from my hotel window. I'd say you've had a weird spring! Anyway, you should have already put down one app of 39-0-0 by now. If you're not scalping, just keep cutting it as low as you can. You will be cutting at least 2x per week, maybe more.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2013 at 6:38PM
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A high nitrogen fertilizer is on my shopping list for this weekend. So far I've not applied any chemicals or fertilizer myself. I've had a lawn care company come in and apply a slow release fertilizer as well as pre-emergent weed killer. The yard was overrun with weeds and clover when we first bought the home. The weeds are starting to get under control now though. I've had two treatments through them spaced apart by 5-6 weeks. My main intent for having them come in was to help me get the weeds under control. Once that was accomplished I'd start doing more of the work myself.

Thanks for the tips to keep doing what I'm doing. This Spring will definitely go down in the record books for Arkansas. First time in recorded history we had snow in May. No wonder the grass is afraid to show itself.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2013 at 7:46PM
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ZoysiaSod(6a/6b St.Lou TranZone)

Wow, it snowed in Arkansas in May. Whew, we were lucky in St. Louis. No snow this month, but I think Kansas City may have gotten some unusual May snow.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2013 at 8:35PM
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What has helped me get rid of those prickly suckers is verticutting. Looks like hell a few weeks, then nice soft bermuda. I would also cut it at least once about 1/4" lower than your regular setting. You can make common bermuda look almost as good as tif like this.

I actually cut mine to 3/8" to begin the spring (after verticutting). It took 26 BIG 40 gallon bags of clippings for a 3000sqft section to get it where I wanted it.

It's also a good time to topdress... you'll want it flat if you're cutting low. Don't worry, it's not too late... I've done all of the above in a hot texas July without issue.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2013 at 10:07PM
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Just keep mowing short. All of AR has had record breaking cold spring ever recorded, so the Bermuda is very slow to green up this year, and set back with every night 40 or lower and you have had many a night 40 and below in April and May so far.

You are not alone. The sod farm in North TX has not greened up yet almost two months late so far. Once you start seeing it green up and growing get some fertilizer down and be patient.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2013 at 10:33PM
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Thanks for the response TW. I'll keep on doing what I'm doing and mowing short and wait for the grass to green-up. I guess my main question is what will happen to all the prickly brown stubble? Will it eventually break down and go away?

    Bookmark   May 10, 2013 at 10:02AM
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"what will happen to all the prickly brown stubble? Will it eventually break down and go away?"

Yes, that is exactly what will happen... all you need to do is read a bermuda bible, worship a sod farmer, and pray it magically disappears. haha... Sorry TW, but you know mowing low and watering isn't going to get rid of that stubble. You'd be better telling him to mow high just so it feels soft.... you can also tell by his pictures he's ready for advanced instruction :)

If you want that crap to go away then you'll verticut it and scalp it just like everyone does that has a 'nice lawn'. And I don't mean tickle it with a verticutter, I mean penetrate the soil. You can rent one for $50. Research it before you just write it off.

This is what it could look like in just 3-4 weeks if you do the above... you can't argue with success!

This post was edited by jacksnife on Sat, May 11, 13 at 14:08

    Bookmark   May 11, 2013 at 8:53AM
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This is the same yard 5 weeks ago...

    Bookmark   May 11, 2013 at 8:59AM
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I am with the verticut (renathin) idea as i will be doing this myself on Monday

    Bookmark   May 11, 2013 at 1:03PM
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I would agree with the Verticut but I feel you are going to waste the results using a rotary mower as you are certain to get swirl marks as the grass comes in. Get a push reel mower for $100 and it will make your yard look much better once you scalped it and Verticut. Also I prefer Vigoro 29-0-4 sold at Home Depot for Bermuda apply every month Scott's spreader set on 5. Again get a reel mower my first one cost $15 at a yard sale and was a 50 year old Great States with wooden handles and I had the best looking grass with that all thought she's retired now.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2013 at 4:54AM
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Im in northwest arkansas and my bermuda has just now turned green all over. temps should go up this week and the grass should start growing more.

i just finally fertilized yesterday.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2013 at 10:26AM
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The Stubble as you call it does not go away, and using a verticutter does not make it go away. You do not want it to go away as that is what the grass blades emerge from.

A Verticutter aka Power Rake is to remove thatch, or lift thatch up and break it apart so you can rake it up and remove it as seen in one of the pictures above. Thatch is nothing more than a build up of dead plant material that has not decayed and becomes compressed at the soil lever and prevents air, water, and nutrients getting into the soil and must be removed periodically.

The Verticutter or Power Rake can also be used to loosen up the top 1/4 to 1/2 inch of soil to prepare for seeding or over seeding.

The Stubble that you see is actually what is called Stolons from which the grass blades emerge from at the Nodes. In other words the Stolon is like a stem. When Bermuda is allowed to grow tall or cut too high and infrequently the Stolons will grow vertically rather than horizontal along the ground. It is a defense mechanism to reach up for sunlight.

Mow it short. mow often, keep it short and the Stolons will then grow horizontally along the ground like you want to form a tight dense carpet of sod.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2013 at 12:40PM
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Wow I just saw TW reply on this! "The stubble is where the grass comes from? " Dude it's dead grass won't ever come back. What comes back is below the ground. If you leave it then it will blanket the soil hampering absorption and otherwise make it look like crap. Mow short sure but you're still leaving the thatch under there. I'm just amazed by his reply!

    Bookmark   June 6, 2013 at 10:11PM
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