To an untrained eye, all grasses look the same. But when you get into details, the differences are staggering.
Different species cultivars of turfgrasses have variable tolerance to environmental conditions, sun exposure, foot traffic and give a different feel and texture to the lawn. These are all very important elements to consider when choosing the perfect turf for your lawn.
However – I know what you’re about to say – turfgrass species are so numerous! And they all look the same! How to go about taking in and processing that amount of information on all superficially similar plants without getting everything mixed up in your mind?
In my experience, the best way to learn about turfgrasses is by comparing the two similar species.
This article represents a head-to-head – or blade-to-blade – battle of Bahia grass vs Bermuda grass, two very popular warm-season types of grass.
We will consider what is the difference between Bahia and Bermuda grass, what are the pros and cons of each species, and what conditions they require to thrive and create a beautiful lawn.
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Bahia Grass Vs Bermuda Grass – Key Differences
When asking which one is better, Bahia grass or Bermuda grass, it is the easiest to first consider some key differences.
Both Bermuda and Bahia are perennial, warm-season, drought-tolerant grasses. However, there are a few subtle differences that may make a huge difference if you have specific conditions at the site. The difference between Bermuda grass and Bahia grass is reflected in the comparison below:
- Bahia is one of the toughest grasses when it comes to drought tolerance. However, Bermuda grass outcompetes it on sandy soils.
- Although both types of grass prefer full sun, Bahia tolerates partial shade better than Bermuda grass.
- Bahia grass is more tolerant of soils with poor drainage.
- As warm-season grasses both Bermuda grass and Bahia grass turn brownish tan as they enter annual dormancy during the cool season. However, Bahia grass greens up earlier in the spring and stays green longer in the autumn/winter than Bermuda grass.
About Bahia Grass
There are a few kinds of grass that are as heat and drought tolerant as the Bahia grass. It is no wonder its main use in lawns is in the southeastern United States. Even in these harsh conditions, this species of grass produces a low-growing, quite durable, and low-maintenance turf.
The scientific name for Bahia grass is Paspalum notatum. Classified as tropical and subtropical grass, it is native to Mexico and South America, where it is primarily used as forage grass because of its nutritional value to cattle.
Bahia grass is low-growing and spreads via creeping above-ground stems called stolons, and plump rhizomes. The fact that stolons adhere to the ground firmly and that they root from the internodes allow Bahia grass to form a really dense turf. Outside of lawns and yards, these properties make it a good choice for stabilizing soil erosion.
Bahia Grass Requirements
A great perk of Bahia grass is that it makes a very resilient, problem-free, and low-maintenance turf. It even can’t stand overfertilization or overwatering, which can kill it. The lawn routine suitable for other, more delicate (but, to be honest, more attractive) turfgrasses St. Augustine will not do well with Bahia grass – meaning you can relax a bit.
Besides being tolerant of heat, drought, and some shade, Bahia is also tolerant of saline and sandy soils. It is suitable for southern locations where few kinds of grass can create a lush cover.
Also, Bahiagrass is well-suited for less maintained, scarcely irrigated areas of your property since it is a negligence-tolerant and easy-maintenance turf species. In the case of dry spells, it will recover quickly as soon as water becomes available again.
Bahia Grass – Possible Problems
Despite the tough and dense cover, it provides when it matures, Bahiagrass has a sluggish start, because it germinates slowly. It can take up to two years before the lawn is fully mature.
However, it establishes well, so it is a good choice when you want to start a lawn by seeding. Because it grows slowly and openly in the beginning, you will need to keep an eye out for weeds.
The weeds won’t be a problem later on, however, as the Bahiagrass will create an almost weed-proof cover, provided that the lawn remains healthy and well-maintained.
As I’ve mentioned before, Bahiagrass will remain green only during the active growth phase in spring and summer. As the autumn sets in, like all warm-season grasses, Bahia will enter a resting period called dormancy. Dormancy is for grasses what hibernation is for bears. The grass will become lively and green again the next spring, but until then, your lawn will be dull tan.
The good news is that you can overseed Bahia in autumn with some cool-season ryegrasses. That will give your lawn a wintergreen color – but there’s no need to bother if your lawn is covered in snow during most of the winter.
If you are still unsure if Bahia grass is the best choice for your yard circumstances here’s a final quick overview of Bahia grass pros and cons.
Pros of Bahia Grass
- Heat and drought tolerant.
- Salt tolerant.
- Undemanding when it comes to watering.
- Doesn’t need frequent fertilizing.
- Very low maintenance turfgrass in general.
- Provides good and tough cover.
Cons of Bahia Grass
- When planted from seed, it is slow to germinate and it takes more time to form a mature lawn.
- Turns brown during the winter.
- Some may find it less attractive than other popular species of turfgrass.
Bermuda grass, known in scientific classification as Cynodon dactylon, is a warm-season perennial grass that shares many of its traits with Bahia grass.
Ironically, Bermuda grass is not native to the Bermudas but is actually an invasive species there. Instead, its natural range includes vast tracts of Africa, Asia, Europe, and Australia; it has been naturalized in North America.
Bermuda Grass Requirements
Bermuda grass is one of the most drought-resistant and sun-tolerant grasses. It thrives in sunny positions and shade will stunt its growth. The resilience in the face of heat comes from a deep root system, which can grow to be as deep as 6.6 feet (2 meters) if the soil allows it.
Also, this species of grass is one of the fastest-growing turf grasses. Like Bahia grass, Bermuda grass grows in a creeping fashion, spreading via stolons that can root at any node that touches the ground. In time, it forms thick growth all over the available soil.
The turf’s thickness also has an important role in its drought resilience.
Optimum growth temperatures for Bermuda grass confirm that it’s a warmth-loving species – ideal temps range between 75 and 99 °F (24 and 37 °C), while growth begins at 59 °F (15 °C). When the temperature gets lower, it will stop growing, and in winter it will turn tan-brown.
It is more cold-sensitive than some other warm-season grasses such as Zoysia grass and Bahia grass, and that is also the reason why its dormancy period starts earlier and ends later.
Besides drought and heat, Bermuda grass is great at tolerating salt and humidity, making it one of the favorite lawn grasses for southern US states on both of its coasts.
However, Bermuda grass has a few extra requirements – plenty of direct sunshine, good drainage, and a bit of additional lawn care.
Bermuda Grass – Possible Problems
Bermudagrass will require both extra mowing and extra fertilizing because of its vigorous and fast growth. Usually, the grasses that grow quickly have higher nutritional needs. Also, it is only logical that because it grows so fast, you will need to mow more often, perhaps twice per week.
If you like to walk barefoot, be aware that it is less comfortable underneath bare feet than the softer Kentucky bluegrass.
Besides being quick, the Bermuda grass growth can also be quite aggressive, so you will probably need to apply control techniques such as edging.
While it prefers neutral and tolerates alkaline soils, Bermuda grass will not do well in acidic environments. If your soil is acidic, you may need to regularly add lime. Centipede grass, which is tolerant of low pH and shares some properties with Bermuda grass can be a good alternative in these circumstances.
If you are still undecided if Bermuda grass is the right one for you – here’s a final quick overview of Bermuda grass pros and cons.
Pros of Bermuda Grass
- Heat and drought tolerant.
- Sand and salt tolerant.
- Undemanding when it comes to watering.
- Tolerates a wide array of neutral-to-alkaline pH values of the soil.
- Grows quickly.
- Highly durable and resistant to foot traffic.
Cons of Bermuda Grass
- Can spread aggressively.
- Needs extra mowing and fertilizing because of the fast growth.
- Not suitable for acidic soil.
- Turns brown during winter.
- Goes dormant early and starts growing again late in the season.
From these descriptions, it is easy to conclude that both Bahia and Bermuda are awesome grasses that are tough and can thrive in exceptionally warm and dry conditions. Indeed, there is only a slight variance between the two species and if you are looking for a resilient drought-resistant lawn, both choices are valid.
Still, I hope that this article has helped you learn the difference and decide your personal favorite in the tight Bahia grass vs Bermuda grass competition.
Do you have experience with these turfgrasses? How do they compare in your area and which one do you prefer? Let us know in the comments!