Dormant Bermuda In Fescue
In this blog, Picture Perfect will explain Dormant Bermuda In Fescue.
It’s the middle of winter, and for fescue lawns like those seen in the Chesterfield, VA area, this means dormancy. Like other plants, fescue grass will go dormant when weather conditions aren’t ideal for development and growth. Because fescue is a cool season grass, fescue goes dormant in the summer when it becomes heat stressed by high temperatures and doesn’t receive enough water to stay healthy. However, even as a warm season grass, fescue is sensitive to overly cool temperatures as well. When winter temperatures consistently fall below 50F, fescue will also go dormant until temperatures begin to rise again in the spring.
Dormant bermuda (light brown) that competes with the desired fescue turf (green).
When grass goes dormant, its rate of leaf growth slows or stops altogether. This is why, during the winter and occasionally parts of summer, lawns do not have to be mowed. Dormancy is a normal process that is important for self preservation and root development, but it usually impacts the appearance of a lawn as well as its growth rate. In a fescue lawn, this change in appearance generally just means a slight drop in how green it is and maybe some yellowing based on frost levels and soil nutrition. On the other hand, warm season grasses like bermuda shut down even more so and turn a light brown color throughout the plant’s top growth. As a result, dormant bermuda in fescue sticks out like a sore thumb and can hurt your lawn’s overall appearance during the winter.
What Dormant Bermuda in Fescue Looks Like
Since we know that dormant bermuda in fescue shows up as a light brown grass mixed in with fescue’s continued green coloring, winter is the easiest time of year for discovering invasive bermuda that has invaded your fescue lawn. However, invasive bermuda grass can appear differently in a fescue lawn based on its concentration to a specific area or if it’s creeping in slowly and is still thin. It’s important to know what dormant bermuda in fescue looks like so that as a homeowner or lawn care provider you can make the right call on how to handle this grassy weed.
Codominance between bermuda (dormant, light brown) and fescue turf (green).
Bermuda, like other warm season grasses, has the ability to spread laterally. As a result, it is very easy for bermuda to send underground shooters several feet from an existing plant to then pop up and create a new plant in a whole other part of a yard. These shooters can stay alive for years even if the top growth is dead and can spread under weed barriers and even driveways. As a result, a large property can have multiple zones of bermuda up to twenty, thirty, or more feet apart from each other that are all connected. When identifying dormant bermuda in fescue, be sure to look at the area as a whole, not just at one spot.
Invasive bermuda grass can be seen growing in dense patches or in thin and more subtle spreads and lines among fescue turf. The more established the bermuda growth is, the more it has likely outcompeted the fescue and grown densely within its coverage area. Thick dormant bermuda in fescue is a clearly distinguished splotch of light brown that looks like a grass island in the sea of fescue green. There is little to no fescue involved in the tight bermuda, so the light brown coloring is uniform and has distinct borders against the fescue. As a result, the lawn will have a co-dominance between the fescue and the bermuda.
Incomplete dominance between bermuda (dormant, light brown) and fescue turf (green).
Less established bermuda may be spread in just as large of an area, but it is being kept thin by a hardier fescue lawn. The predominant color will be the fescue’s green or the bermuda’s brown, but the other grass will be visible throughout as well. A blending of the two grasses creates an appearance of incomplete dominance. This appearance ends up being commonly mistaken for some of the fescue in the lawn being dead or diseased, but in reality it is just dormant bermuda. The ratio of bermuda to fescue varies between each yard. The more bermuda present, the more brown the lawn will be overall.
Why Bermuda is a Problem for Fescue Lawns
Unlike fescue, bermuda grass grows aggressively in a lateral direction across the ground, earning it the nickname “wire grass” to many in our area. For homeowners in warmer areas, this makes bermuda desirable because an established bermuda lawn doesn’t need to be seeded and continually fills in its own damaged or bare areas. In RVA, where a fescue lawn is still the lawn of choice, bermuda is instead considered a pesky weed because of how hard it can be to control. Common bermuda is the undomesticated version of bermuda most often seen invading fescue lawns and being considered a weed.
Because bermuda is a warm season turf and fescue is a cool season turf, bermuda is at its strongest during the summer when fescue is at its weakest. When you have a situation of incomplete dominance between the bermuda and the fescue, the bermuda is going to win more and more each season. Bermuda spreads and encroaches on the fescue, outcompeting it and choking out new seedlings.
A fescue lawn being dominated by bermuda that is a candidate for a renovation.
This leaves RVA’s homeowners with three options when they have bermuda in their lawn and see its prevalence in their fescue when it goes dormant for the winter. One option, which to most homeowners is the less desirable choice, is to let the fescue go and embrace the bermuda. The existing fescue will die off within usually four to six seasons and the bermuda will continue to spread. A compromising option is to continue letting the bermuda do its thing while still fertilizing and seeding the fescue over it. Dormant bermuda in fescue won’t look very good in the winter, but the bermuda will lend a good amount of green to the lawn during the summer. For anyone who knows that they want a fescue lawn and bermuda is an obstacle to achieving that uniform fescue perfection, the best option is to kill the bermuda off.
Eliminating bermuda from a fescue lawn can be a tricky and inexact process. Dormant bermuda in fescue cannot be killed during the winter because its dormancy severely limits the success of most targeted herbicides. The best time to remove the bermuda from your lawn is during the summer when it is growing the most and is susceptible to weed control products.
For lawns that have a codominance situation with just a contained patch of bermuda or an incomplete dominance situation in which the invading bermuda is a low ratio compared to the fescue, selective treatments are recommended to keep the existing fescue healthy while targeting the bermuda. These treatments usually need to be applied several times each summer for several years to completely eliminate the bermuda from the yard.
A fescue lawn with codominant bermuda that was selectively treated. Fescue seedlings (light green) now grow in the place of the treated bermuda.
If the majority of the lawn is bermuda or other difficult grassy weeds with little to no fescue competing successfully, the most economical and quick result is to completely kill off the lawn with a product like glyphosate. This treatment is done once toward the end of summer. Aiming for August with a lawn renovation like this allows for the death of the lawn to be quickly followed with a full overseeding. This is preferable because the brown of a dead lawn, just like the brown of dormant bermuda in fescue, is undesirable in appearance.
Killing off the lawn to eliminate the existing bermuda is largely effective and lower cost than selective treatments. However, there is usually a good chance that a very small amount of bermuda will emerge again within a couple of seasons because a stray runner didn’t die off completely. To prevent this from becoming a problem again, the goal in the meantime will have been to establish a thick, healthy fescue lawn that will be able to outcompete any emerging bermuda before it gains any kind of foothold.
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Dormant bermuda in fescue can be an eyesore for any homeowner who desires a uniform fescue lawn, but there are options for its elimination once summer rolls around. The important thing when noticing dormant bermuda in fescue for a homeowner is to be able to identify it and speak with their turf management company about the recommended options for its control. With proper maintenance, not even unwanted bermuda grass can keep a fescue lawn from being Picture Perfect!
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