Bermuda Grass as a pest

selvan777(9)November 5, 2012

Is it possible to have a lawn with one grass, Tall Fescue, while having Bermuda as a neighbor?

Fortunately, the rhizomes are NOT penetrating the hardpan 4" deep.

1. I'm installing a life long lasting 1/8" thick, 8" deep, 8' long, polyethylene sheets (6 pieces) that will have 3' overlaps (5 total) where the ends will also be wrapped with several layers of 6mil polyethylene sheet that come on a roll.

2. I've dug out 2" of soil from the entire yard, it's fit for the trash.

3. I'm going to Roundup all viewable foliage cum Spring.

4. I'm going to Solarize the proper way when it's hot.

5. I'm going to lay a minimum 2" layer of Mushroom mulch at the correct time in Fall before sowing the grass seeds.

I do still need to figure out who has the most absolute premium 100% Tall Fescue Grass Seed, any idea? And what do you think of the attack plan above?

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1. Those sheets might prevent rhizomes, but Bermuda grass also sends out prolific stolons that spread over the surface of the ground. In addition to a rhizome barrier you might want to have a line of buried bricks on the boarder of your lawn that will allow you to keep the stolons in check.

5. Not sure what mushroom mulch is, but mulch, compost, etc. is no replacement for good topsoil.

Your plan is pretty good, but removing that topsoil may have been a mistake. You want to replace what you removed as mulch will decompose over time, and won't become topsoil. Also, where are you located (town and city)? Tall fescue can be pretty successful well into the transition zone, but at a certain point it becomes a waste of time and resources to grow cool season grasses in the deep south. Also, your location will determine which cultivar of tall fescue you should use. If your soil is hardpan, then you should work to improve it before seeding. I suggest a good soil test to see what type and condition your soil is in (, $20 basic soil test).

    Bookmark   November 5, 2012 at 12:33PM
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I'm Zone 9 in Folsom, CA.

Thanks a bunch for your reply, it's greatly appreciated.

The stolons: I was actually planning to leave the white sheets exposed above ground on one side of the yard so it's not protruding above ground on both sides by itself, a sort of retaining wall. That way I could drag the end of a thin bamboo stake along the exposed side to detect them crossing over before every weekly mowing.

The Mushroom mulch: It's just what my soil supplier (a bulk building materials place) calls it. Was calling around for manure/compost/whatever to use as a top soil for grass seed and theses guys claim this is the stuff. It's apparently a mix of things including mushroom compost and manure made/sold specifically for that purpose.

The Hardpan: It's clay loam below the existing 4" top soil, 2" of which have been removed and the remaining 2" has rhizomes, none penetrate the clay loam below it.

Before we get into Soil Improvement, let me share this: Because my yard has settled in several areas (workmanship of the home builders 12 years ago) and to have some change, I plan to raise my downward, slopping to the sidewalk, yard. I'm talking adding clean soil (and drainage) to the entire yard from the same suppliers, up to 12" at the low point and 2" at the high. Then add/mix 2" of the so called mushroom mulch so as to have a 4" top soil mix ready for seed.

That said and knowing Tall Fescue roots can reach about a foot or more deep, to improve my existing soil, I'm guessing I'll need to rototill, but when and how?

Should I rototill:

1. Now after first cleaning by using the pick end of a pick mattock to loosen the striped soil and remove all that's there by hand, especially the Bermuda rhizomes, from the remaining 2" top soil and second, adding 2" of clean soil when done.

2. Wait till Fall after I've added just the first 2" layer of clean soil?

3. Something else altogether?

Either way, I think I should be proactive with the mattock right now.

Selvan in Folsom, CA. Zone 9

    Bookmark   November 6, 2012 at 12:39PM
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Are you sure it's Bermuda? Folsom is not exactly Bermuda territory, some pics of it would be great. If it is Bermuda, as long as you have some sort of barrier to the stolons, you should be ok, but keep in mind if you mow them, and stolon pieces fall on your soil, then they can become mature Bermuda, so you might want to bag mow any areas where that might be a problem.

Again, know the difference between topsoil, and compost/mulch. Soil is made of small rock particles that won't decompose over time, compost/mulch will decompose and become nothing over time. If you need to regrade or raise certain areas you want topsoil. If you want to ammend you soil with organic matter, or topdress, you should use compost/mulch/peat/etc.

Rototilling is generally not a good idea for many reasons. If you have rhizomes and you rototill, you will just be breaking them up more, increasing your chances of them developing into mature plants. Rototilled areas often become lumpy, and uneven as then settle unless the soil is very finely divided, then rolled. Rototilling also can mess up the soil structure and microscopic fauna and flora. Amending your soil involves adding things to bring its nutrient levels up to correct levels, and raising the organic matter content. You can usually do this without disturbing the soil structure.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2012 at 6:19PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Folsom is easily warm enough for bermuda. Sacramento and areas nearby are affected by the onshore Pacific winds. There is a weather phenomenon called the Brookings Effect which describes increasing temperatures caused by dry air moving down a slope. In this case it is the back side of the California coastal range of mountains. This is the same effect which causes Palm Springs to be so hot and dry; although, in this case the effect is not nearly so pronounced. Anyway, it's plenty warm for bermuda.

Selvan I hope you pay attention because you are already off on the wrong foot. The people who you have been listening to are the same people that are selling you stuff. We are the people who have nothing to gain by helping you.

Unless your soil had been poisoned with something like sawdust from treated lumber, it was fully recoverable. Ironically the treatment for fully recovering your soil would have begun with compost or mulch - the same mulch you were about to buy from your vendor. All you have to do to recover soil is to bury it under mulch for several months. Sounds like you had plenty of time to do that. There are a couple tricks to speed that process up but in your case, you seem to have time. Now I say that but I don't really know when you were going to seed the fescue.

Your new soil will not be clean soil. We see lots of people writing in here disappointed that their clean soil was full of weed seeds that sprouted at the same time as their grass seeds. The way to get past that is to do a dry run of planting grass seed. You get the new soil leveled out and start watering it 3x per day for a few minutes just long enough to moisten the top of it. Do that for 3 weeks and all the weeds should sprout. Then you hammer them with RoundUp to get them all. Keep watering just in case more seeds pop. A week after the first RoundUp, hit it again IF you see any new green stuff. That would have been the treatment to kill off your original bermuda, so if you have any of that left, this plan should get it. Now before you go all California on me for suggesting RoundUp, I'm from California, too, and I am fully organic. However, I'm suggesting this for YOU. If you want to get this done fast, Roundup will do it fast and give you the minimum ecological damage with the fastest soil recovery. If you look back in the GW archives you will find where I tried to argue against using RU, but after 50 years on the market and my 10 years of watching people use it on lawns, it really does work.

When you get soil, get real, mineral type soil. Any organic "contaminant" in the soil will completely disappear in a year or so. That is just the nature of organic stuff. Microbes in the soil eat it and it's gone.

You said they too 2 inches of topsoil away. Does that mean you are 2 inches below grade or had previous owners been topdressing with soil over the year? It is easy to get 2 inches too much with just a couple apps of soil or sand top dressing. It could be the removal of 2 inches was just a good start at getting it back down to where it belongs. But if you are going to raise the level 12 inches, you will need a retaining wall to prevent that from washing away. Parts of my area in San Antonio have retaining walls 4 or 5 feet tall. Walls are not hard to do.

DO NOT ROTOTILL. Remember the settling you blame on the contractor from a decade ago? If you rototill you are no better than him. You will have more settling for about 3 more years. You are already going to have settling for the 2 inches of soil you removed. You can't really know how much settling you'll have, but I would guess 1/2 inch. It could also be that the settling is not really settling but soil shifting due to your location in California. There are parts of San Antonio where the soil shift is enough to break water and sewer lines over a 50 foot distance - and then break the repair in another 5 years.

I'm not sure your plastic border will absolutely keep the bermuda out. I have a 3-inch metal border, a 6-foot bed of Asiatic jasmine, and a 6-inch wide by 1-foot deep concrete/stone wall bordering my yard from the neighbor. That seems to work.

I assume you are going to plant Marathon fescue seed. Marathon is the most popular fescue in use in the warm areas of the country. I disagree with using it because it takes so much water, but you are paying for your water. There are some beautiful bermuda varieties, but they become quite a headache to keep them green, mowed, and weed free. They require monthly fertilizer and 2x weekly mowing. If you were in the Bay Area or further up the hill, you could try Kentucky bluegrass. The other alternative would be St Augustine for a warm season grass.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2012 at 8:52PM
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Firstly, I'm sorry for causing you to again explain topsoil. And second, thanks for keeping me on the right track, I am excited to see this forum produce such expert advice!

I had taken a sample with dirt, Foliage, stolons and rhizomes intact, to Green Acres Nursery and asked for assistance from a grassy weed expert. Without saying a word, I opened the bag, and he immediately IDed it as Bermuda.

I was going to seed in Fall (step 5 above) 2013 but only if I got done what I need to before then.

Okay, what's done is done. My yard is now, at minimum, 2" below the curb. Although it's still being watered, there's practically nothing green. But there are lots of viewable rhizomes.

What do I do now?

I do have plenty of time but mother nature rolls on. Should I bury it under mulch for several months now? I'm in zone 9 and am afraid the stuff is already dormant. The Bermuda already has gone through a discoloration.

Should I instead sift out all the rhizomes with that pick mattock now and than hammer all that sprouts in Spring 2013?

Scratch the idea of raising it so high, it's too costly and I don't want a retaining wall. And, btw, I have no problem using RoundUp (step 3 above) and I do always bag mow.

Would I be correct in saying topsoil should feel somewhat gritty between the fingers in lieu of something that crumbles and falls apart. Googling topsoil gets me all these bulk building materials places and that's what got me to this mushroom stuff. Could you please tell me exactly who supplies the stuff I need which has minerals, nutrients, and organic matter in it near the 95630 zip, I'm going to need several yards. I first tried Googling dirt... what a joke that was.

Fortunately, I have not tilled for the very same reason you mentioned regarding the rhizomes (I see in some places up to two nodes within an inch).

In the past 6 years, I've learned to mow high weekly, use Scotts fertilizer, water longer but less frequently (only twice a week), and also over seed.

Poa Annua was my initial beast and after getting rid of it, I was told frequently that I had the best yard in the neighborhood.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2012 at 2:08AM
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Continued: wow, that soil shifting is pretty crazy but I'm pretty sure mine is settling because it's all directly where the the sprinkler and drain pipes are, I see that now after I've dug some up to relocate.

I thought of using concrete but opted for the polyethylene, guess time will tell, if it proves to be inadequate, it can be improved later.

I really like Tall Fescue but had a hard time finding a supplier claiming it to be 100% Fescue till you mentioned Marathon.

Thank you so very much for taking the time, it is appreciated.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2012 at 8:50AM
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If the Bermuda grass you reference too is a common or improved common type you cannot stop it. It will be a 3-prong attack:

1. Stolons
2. Rhizomes
3. Seeds.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2012 at 11:51AM
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I called the the store again and this time, without naming it, he described the soil as:
50% topsoil
30% black humus
10% organic lite
10% sand

I'm sure the Bermuda is common, the owner purchased the home new and I can't imagine the builders laying anything other than a cheap sod and there are no neighbors within blocks that have gone the extra mile to purchase Bermuda.

Preventing it should be quite simple after starting fresh with a very well maintain, region appropriate, selection of dense, healthy grass.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2012 at 12:51PM
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If it was Sod, it is hybrid. Sod farmers do not grow common varieties. FWIW Bermuda sod is the lowest cost sod their is. I know for fact because I am a sod farmer.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2012 at 9:54AM
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In that case, it probably is a hybrid Bermuda. Nonetheless, like DCHall stated, with the 1' deep concrete/stone wall, it is in check. I can only hope for the best on my setup and, if needed, it could always be improved later.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2012 at 11:03AM
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Perhaps it's a good idea I keep my mind written for you.

1. The Source:
a. Rhizomes: Installed a barrier and keeping fingers crossed.

b. Stolons: Keen eye and vigilant removal before mowing.

c. Seeds: Choked out with, hopefully, a dense and healthy turf.

2. The Yard, as is now, Nov 2012:
a. It's 2" below grade, un-tilled, no foliage, rhizomes sticking out of the soil.

3. The Plan:
a. Now, Nov 2012: Encourage growth and apply RoundUp to each.

b. Spring 2013: Same as above.

c. Summer 2013: Solarize the proper way when it's hot (not so effective on rhizomes, unlike the seeds).

d. Fall 2013: add minimum 2" topsoil and sow seed.

YOU are the expert, please advise, all my eggs in YOUR basket. I have read all your replies many times over and am trying to pay close attention to your details.

Tell me, should I hand dig the rhizomes out or leave it watered and RoundUp when they sprout foliage, now and whenever they grow again?

What about the topsoil I need to replace, should I do that now after digging out the rhizomes, now without messing with the soil and rhizomes, or after solarizing in preparation to seed in Fall 2013?

Hope I didn't leave anything out.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2012 at 12:03PM
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I will just add that when I moved into my home here in Atlanta 8 years ago, I immediately installed the super thick weed block material in my beds. The beds border my Bermuda (419). Surprisingly, I get very little encroachment from the turf. It's easily pulled when it does.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2012 at 6:14PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Topsoil feels like subsoil. The difference is topsoil is alive with billions of microbes and subsoil is not. You can turn almost any subsoil into topsoil by growing stuff in it and feeding with organic fertilizers. Mulch is just a different way of doing it. Mulch is a slower way to do the same thing. Is it better? Doubtful. Either way will work. Mulch is much easier on the owner. No mowing or watering.

Marathon is a workhorse in the hotter parts of the country. Marathon itself is considered a dwarf variety. Marathon II is a dwarf Marathon and Marathon III is dwarf Marathon II. Know your Marathons.

If you are going to seed, then wait until next fall. If you are going to sod, you can do that any time.

Too bad you pulled out the bermuda now that we know it was hybrid. Due to tremendous supply of the stuff, it is inexpensive but it is also one of the best grasses money can buy. You can pay a lot more but that is the really good stuff. IMO it is a pain to maintain properly. It takes lots of fertilizer and lots of mowing.

I would be inclined to get the soil down now and get it settling. Figure out where your drainage should be and be sure the topsoil is profiled so you don't have watering flowing into the house. You might bring in 2 inches of topsoil and by June it will have settled down to 1 inch. At least you would know and you could still fix it before seeding.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2012 at 1:02AM
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So add 2" topsoil now without digging out the rhizomes. What about solarizing, is that a good idea or not needed? If it is, won't adding soil now make it all the less effective?

Please realize that I'm going to be adding up to 6" of topsoil in some parts just to bring it back to being level. Shouldn't I be concern about slowing the growth of the rhizomes and seeds if I bury them now?

If settling is all you are concerned about with regard to adding soil now, I can easily take care of that in Fall 2013 with several soak-dry-soak-dry events and a roller.

Since I'm adding a minimum 2" of topsoil, should I concern myself with feeding the subsoil? I have no interest in a maintenance free mulch or rock lawn.

I have absolutely no regrets ripping out my lawn. It suffered, but won, a battle with Poa Annua, now being encroached with unwanted Bermuda, is not level, and enlarged with the removal of a huge flower bed.

Looks like I'll be getting Marathon Tall Fescue (Festuca Arundinacea), Hubbard 87 and Baja mix.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2012 at 5:36PM
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Hope you can understand my chicken scratching.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2012 at 6:20PM
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The rhizomes

    Bookmark   November 9, 2012 at 8:30PM
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The other view

    Bookmark   November 9, 2012 at 8:31PM
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I'm sorry but with all this effort, I'd be silly to not go all the way and achieve what I really want.

UPDATE: I found, 800-topsoil, with 8 varieties of topsoil & planting mixes, think I found my better topsoil supplier.

That front portion of yard running down the length of driveway (14') and sidewalk (21'), I'm going to raise it so it's level (with a slight slope outward) with the walkway from the walkway to 2' away from the sidewalk and 2' away from the furthest point of the driveway. The top of the leftward leg from the main home entry to the beginning of the front portion is already level but has the settling I mentioned in the center all the way to the sidewalk.

So, 12' out from the walkway to the sidewalk leaves me with an 11" drop at it's deepest point. I'm thinking a retaining wall wouldn't be needed if I slope down to the sidewalk level from that point, an 11" drop in 2' in compacted soil held firm with grass at the top and Asiatic and/or Star Jasmine on the slope for ground cover. The slope would be 26" wide the entire length of the sidewalk but narrow up in a pie shape going up the drive way and property line sides.

I,m going to remove the center flower bed, moving the recently planted Mediterranean Hackberry and Mexican Sage to a new bed where the walkway makes a 90˚ bend (where my unknown deep purple blooming bush is). I'll have a good excuse to rebuild the walkway when the Hackberry lifts it.

In doing the math, I'm thinking I'll need 6 yards of topsoil.

What do you think?

    Bookmark   November 10, 2012 at 9:29AM
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If I'm questioning you it's only because I'm trying to understand the reasoning behind it, Come on guys, I need your help.

UPDATE: I'm not raising the yard, it's too costly and not needed.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2012 at 11:29AM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Thank you for thinking this through. Pictures are very helpful. A retaining wall would look dumb there.

Look at the picture with all the red lines on it. See the dip in you neighbor's lawn running all the way back from the water meter? You need one of those, too. That is a swale which will drain the back yard out to the street and not send the water over to the neighbor's yard. I realize you have the plastic barrier but stuff happens. Build the swale. It looks like it will go where your sprinklers are.

Anything you bury under 6 inches of soil will die...except nutgrass. Bermuda will thin out under it's own shade if it gets too tall. Six inches of soil should do the trick.

Star jasmine is a loose, climbing vine. Asiatic jasmine has a dense, horizontal habit but will climb if there is anything to climb. Star is the one that smells wonderful in the spring. Asiatic will get a few flowers that smell wonderful for about 15 minutes while star will smell great for a week or so as more and more blooms come out.

I'll have a good excuse to rebuild the walkway when the Hackberry lifts it.
- nice to see you have a sense of humor about that plant. I consider them a pest.

If you are not going to cover the soil with more soil before Christmas, then I would go ahead and put some organic fertilizer on it. Otherwise wait until the new soil is down. You can get used coffee grounds for free at Starbucks - just ask. Take as many bags as you are comfortable taking. Coffee goes on at the same rate of 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet. You would have to let them dry first to measure the 20 pounds. As a rule of thumb, consider they gold bags they come in hold about 15 pounds dry (30 pounds wet). And like I said, you can't get too much organics, so just dump the coffee on the ground and push it around with a rake. Water it down (not in) so it clings to the surface and leave it alone. As a side note - Arizona State at Tempe has a Grounds for Grounds program where they collect about 300 pounds of used coffee grounds per week to spread on a test plot of bermuda. The guy who started the project was pulled off so I've lost track of how well it is doing.

Did you use one of the online calculators to determine the amount of soil you need? When you are filling an uneven depth it makes estimating harder.

I don't mind being questioned at all. You probably don't want my 3,000 word essay answers, but somewhere in the middle usually work.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2012 at 10:11PM
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No no, thank you!

I'm glad you agree that a retaining wall would look awful there. Since I'm not raising the yard a foot, I don't need it nor do I need any surrounding ground'll be all grass. Though I am using Asiatic Jasmine in a couple Lady Banks Rose flower beds along a cemented walkway in the side yard.

Keeping the swale isn't an issue, we all have one around here, guess I was wrong thinking it was settling. Honestly though, unlike others I see, as good and unobstructed as my corrugated drainage is, with ample inlets, from the backyard to the sidewalk, I really don't see a need for it. I have observed it carefully over the years and water only gushes out of it rather than down the swale.

It's good to know all but Nutgrass dies under 6" of soil, been wondering about that.

"YOU: If you are not going to cover the soil with more soil before Christmas, then I would go ahead and put some organic fertilizer on it. Otherwise wait until the new soil is down."

Let me please reiterate so I know I got it correct (or not):
1. Add soil now + add organic fertilizer just prior to sowing grass seed in Fall 2013.

2. Add organic fertilizer now + add soil & top off with organic fertilizer just prior to sowing grass seed in Fall 2013.

3. Add soil and top off with organic fertilizer now + add more organic fertilizer after it's settled just prior to sowing grass seed in Fall 2013?

How do you suggest I inexpensively, but effectively, help prevent erosion with all this rain coming?

Yes, I did you use an online calculator, the numbers are pretty close anyway. And it's too bad you lost touch with that guy running that test in Tempe, I'd be interested too.

What about digging out the rhizomes?
What about solarizing?

Thanks for all the help, David.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2012 at 10:48AM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

What I said was that anything but nutgrass will die under 6 inches of soil.

The sooner you add organic fertilizer the sooner your soil will improve. The more often you apply it the more it will improve.

Prevent erosion with chipped wood mulch. Get it from any tree trimming company that uses a chipper/shredder.

If the rhizomes are not producing grass, leave them alone. They become the organic matter in the soil.

Solarizing can only be done on sunny days. If you have those in abundance, then give it a try. Be sure you moisten the soil underneath first and use bricks to hold the edges of the plastic down. I'm not sure there is much benefit to that practice.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2012 at 12:11AM
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