For most homeowners, it’s fair to say they don’t really care about the type of grass in yards and gardens.
But for anyone who wants to achieve a really beautiful lawn – having a little knowledge is imperative.
That’s why at YardThyme we decided to write a number of articles all about the different species of grass.
And next up, is the popular Kentucky Bluegrass vs Bermuda grass – which often gets a bad rep.
Let’s take a look as these two heavyweights of the grass world go head-to-head, and find out which is the best for your lawn.
By the end of this series – you’re going to know more about grass than Snoop Dogg.
- Key Differences Between Kentucky Bluegrass and Bermuda Grass
- Kentucky Bluegrass
- Bermuda Grass
- Which is Better?
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Key Differences Between Kentucky Bluegrass and Bermuda Grass
At first glance, all grasses might look alike – but there are several key differences between each species and when it comes to these two, they are polar opposites.
Here is what sets Kentucky Bluegrass and Bermuda grass apart:
- The main difference is that Kentucky Bluegrass is a cool season species that is very popular in the north, whereas Bermuda grass is a warm season variant that you’ll find extensively in the south.
- KBG (as it’s affectionately known) can handle winter temperatures, while Bermuda will turn brown and become dormant.
- Bermuda needs to be watered frequently, whereas Kentucky requires an average amount of moisture.
- However, Bermuda is much more tolerant when it comes to drought, and Kentucky still gets thirsty during the summer months.
- Kentucky Bluegrass is on the soft side – which makes it pleasant underfoot, but Bermuda is sharp and dense. This makes it more resilient, and it responds better in areas of higher traffic.
The only thing these two species have in common is that they can both thrive in their respective zones from coast to coast.
Poa pratensis, to give it its scientific name, is not actually native to North America, and arrived here thanks to the Spaniards bringing a mix of grasses over from Europe.
It’s more common moniker comes from its blue flower heads, which will appear when the grass grows to its full height. Not, as is a common misconception, from the fact that Kentucky is known as the bluegrass state.
But at around two to three feet – KBG that high is unlikely to happen on most residential lawns, unless you want to let it run wild and never mow it.
There are four main types – Kentucky Bluegrass, Rough Bluegrass, Canada Bluegrass, and Supina Bluegrass. They all have varying degrees of resilience to weather, sun, shade, pests, and bugs.
It is very popular as a pasture plant, commonly used in residential lawns, parks, and gardens.
Widely regarded as the best turfgrass for many homeowners in the US – certainly in the north – Kentucky Bluegrass has the most tolerance to cold weather of all the cool season grasses.
Pros of Kentucky Bluegrass
- Attractive look and feel – pleasant to walk on barefoot.
- Very resilient through winter.
- Grows well from seed.
- Resistant to pests and disease.
- Excellent all-rounder for lawns.
Cons of Kentucky Bluegrass
- Doesn’t do well in deep shade.
- Some types can suffer in heat and drought.
- Relatively high maintenance.
- Not great for heavy traffic areas.
- Has a tendency to encourage and develop thatch.
Characteristics, Growing Conditions, and Appearance
As an ideal turfgrass, KBG is extremely popular in the north of the US, all the way from coast to coast. It takes hold quickly from seed, but isn’t as fast to germinate as some other cool season variants.
Yet it is more plucky than all the other grasses that thrive in this area – particularly through winter.
You can take a look at this article on Kentucky Bluegrass versus its neighbor perennial ryegrass for a more in-depth cool season comparison.
It spreads aggressively, and is happiest when allowed full sun, growing though an extensive system of horizontal rhizomes that spread just below the surface.
However, KBG does require good irrigation or a moist soil at the very least. Given the right circumstances, it will grow fast, and you’ll have a thick, healthy lawn with a compact sod.
It does have shallow roots, however, which makes it susceptible to damage in heavy traffic areas.
Kentucky Bluegrass is identified by its V-shaped blades, which are about 1/8-inch wide and taper into a point that can look like the bow of a boat.
Color can vary from a lush, dark shade of green, to emerald, to a blue-green hue. Regardless, it retains its color for most of the year, which is one of the reasons it’s so popular in colder climes.
Aggression and Invasiveness
Kentucky Bluegrass is an aggressive grower, and is considered invasive. It can crowd out other plants given the right circumstances.
However, KBG is regarded as an excellent companion grass to many other species, and you’ll regularly find it as the most prominent ingredient in a general lawn seed mix.
It spreads quickly though its rhizomes under the surface, but doesn’t have deep enough roots to prevent easy removal if required.
And while it does bounce back from wear and tear – it’s not known to be the right choice for turf in high traffic areas.
Planting and Caring for Kentucky Bluegrass
If you’re looking to start a Kentucky Bluegrass lawn, the best time to sow some seeds is in the fall – as it is with all cool season grasses.
Of course, you’re welcome to try it in the spring, but manage your expectations, and understand that you might be in for a bit more hard work in order to help KBG germinate.
Your soil should have a pH level between 6 – 7.5, and optimum temperatures for growing will be when the soil is consistently above 60 degrees, but below 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
As mentioned, Kentucky Bluegrass thrives in direct sunlight, so make sure your yard isn’t too shaded. However, it can still take hold and develop if given enough water and nutrients in light shade.
Quick tip: Seeds can be scattered with a broadcast spreader, by hand, or drilled. I would highly advise aerating the ground first, and you can check out this article on the benefits of lawn aeration which include some tips on how to do it.
Likewise, because of the way KBG grows, it can cause a lot of thatch build up. Regular dethatching (although not more than once per year) might be required for optimum lawn health.
Check out this article on the best dethatchers on the market and go from there.
You’ll need to water your KBG lawn at least twice a week, half and inch each time in typical weather, although this will need to be increased significantly if it’s particularly hot and dry.
When it comes to mowing, you should wait until Kentucky Bluegrass reaches between 3-3 3/4 – inches in height before putting your lawnmower to work.
Read this article on the different types of mowers if you’re not sure which one you need to use, but don’t chop KBG down any further than two inches – minimum.
In fact, through times of high temperatures where there is little rainfall, professionals recommend you raise the mowing height to allow Kentucky Bluegrass the best chance of defense and recovery.
Check out this excellent video and follow the full process for planting Kentucky Bluegrass seed.
A warm season grass that thrives in areas that are prone to drought, Bermuda is one tough species.
A popular turf for southern golf courses and other sports grounds, its low mowing height and tolerance to high foot traffic makes it a dream grass for putting green groundsmen.
However, it is known as a nuisance plant in some regions, and can be extremely hard to get rid of if it’s growing in unwanted areas.
There’s a list as long as your arm when it comes to different Bermuda grass types, including Blackjack, Yuma, Princess, Triangle, Ormond, and all kinds of hybrid variants.
Pros of Bermuda Grass
- Very high heat and drought tolerance.
- Can handle a low lawnmower height.
- Excellent heavy-traffic grass.
- Resilient and hard wearing.
- Doesn’t need as much watering as other turfgrasses.
Cons of Bermuda Grass
- Considered an invasive species and a nuisance weed where it’s unwanted.
- Can be a challenge to control on edges and borders.
- Not at all tolerant to colder temperatures.
- Needs full sunlight to survive.
- High maintenance requirements.
Characteristics, Growing Conditions, and Appearance
Famed for its heat and drought resistance, Cynodon dactylon is a tough and durable plant that grows well in hot climates, suitable for use coast to coast.
It has an extensive root system, which can grow up to two meters deep, which makes it very hard to remove if it’s developing in unwanted areas.
Of all the warm season grasses Bermuda boasts the fastest growth, spreading both along the surface with creeping stolons, and then underground with rhizomes.
In the winter, Bermuda grass will turn brown and become dormant. As you might expect – it thrives in warmer weather, and is at its healthiest in temperatures between 75 and 99 degrees Fahrenheit.
In late spring and through the summer, Bermuda will be in its element, as it craves full sun. It will be hampered whenever it’s in the shade.
Quick tip: It’s more sensitive to colder climates than fellow warm season grass zoysia, and you can check out this article for a more in-depth look at zoysia versus Bermuda grass.
You can identify Bermuda grass with its dense, wiry texture, a deep green color, and thin, pointed blades that are about 1/8-inch wide.
Aggression and Invasiveness
Unfortunately, Bermuda grass is considered a highly invasive species, and can be a nuisance plant in areas it’s not wanted.
Often called “scutch grass,” It’s extremely difficult to eradicate, and is regarded as a weed in many places it isn’t being specifically cultivated.
It’s often confused with crabgrass – but that is a different species entirely, so don’t make that mistake.
Highly aggressive, Bermuda spreads by stolons above ground and rhizomes below. And when it comes to turfgrasses, it’ll pretty much choke out any other species it comes into contact with.
For more information, and for some possible solutions to your infestation, you can check out this review of the best herbicides for Bermuda grass.
Planting and Caring for Bermuda Grass
For best results, you need to sow Bermuda grass seed when temperatures are regularly over 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Late spring is the best time to try to establish a Bermuda grass lawn.
The soil pH level needs to be somewhere between 5.8 and 7, and you can use an application of lime to keep acidic levels down if required.
You’ll need to water the new seed between three to four times a day, at least until germination, which can take 14-21 days.
Cut back on the water schedule a few days after you’ve noticed new growth. Apply a suitable fertilizer or lawn starter to achieve optimum results.
Many southern homeowners recommend overseeding with a ryegrass mix in the fall, so you can be sure to build a more resilient lawn through the winter months, and it should remain green all year.
When it comes to trimming, Bermuda grass is a hardy grass that can take a scalping with a mower, but don’t be fooled into thinking this means less work.
If you want to get the best out of it, it’s going to be medium to high maintenance. It can grow as much as 18 inches high – and quickly – so regular mowing and watering is required, as it will become dormant if its needs are not met.
It will be time to get the mower out when it’s between 1 1/2-2 – inches high, and the ideal mowing height is as little as 1-1 1/2 – inches.
Don’t mow new Bermuda grass until it has reached at least two inches, and remember to stick to the one third off the grass blade cutting rule when you eventually do.
Follow the advice in the video below for a year-round maintenance calendar for Bermuda grass.
Which is Better?
Again, two different grasses from two different growing regions, so it’s difficult to call an overall winner.
When it comes to choosing Kentucky Bluegrass or Bermuda grass, it will just come down to which region you live in. Never the twain shall mix.
But I think the mere fact that Bermuda is regarded as a weed and a nuisance in many locations where it’s not wanted automatically loses it some points.
That said, it doesn’t half make a cracking putting green if the conditions are met.
Will Bermuda grass take over Kentucky Bluegrass?
Most certainly. In a fictional scenario of both grasses achieving optimum growing conditions in the same lawn, Bermuda grass will eventually overcome KBG.
The big bully that it is.
Can you mix Bermuda grass and Kentucky Bluegrass?
The jury is out on this one, as they are two, completely different grasses with polar opposite needs. By all means give it a go, but I think you’re going to end up disappointed.
If you want to look at something that’s more similar to Bermuda grass, check out this review on Bahia grass versus Bermuda grass.
Ryegrass is often the recommended overseeding choice if you have a Bermuda lawn, as its resilient nature can help the warm season grass to keep its color through the winter.
How often should you mow Kentucky Bluegrass?
Kentucky Bluegrass doesn’t need to be mowed as regularly as Bermuda grass, and you certainly shouldn’t be scalping it – particularly in warmer weather.
As I always recommend, if you’re serious about cultivating your lawn, don’t mow on a set schedule, rather wait until the grass is at the optimum mowing height for that particular species.
For KBG, this is anywhere between 3-3 3/4 – inches. But don’t cut it any lower than two inches if you want it to achieve peak health and condition.
Read this article for more lawn mowing tips and tricks, and make sure you’re not ruining your lawn with bad mowing practice.
Where does Bermuda grass grow best?
Bermuda grass likes the heat, and so it grows best in warmer climates, given that it’s a native of tropical and subtropical countries.
Any regions that get long hours of consistent sun, with regular temperatures above 75 degrees should be optimum growing conditions for Bermuda grass to flourish.
Is Bermuda grass good for lawns?
Where it’s desired, Bermuda grass makes for an excellent lawn, thanks to its thick, dense coverage and tolerance to foot traffic.
There’s a reason golf course groundskeepers in the south choose Bermuda as their grass of choice.
That said, it’s not as nice underfoot as Kentucky Bluegrass, so long as you’re not going barefoot, you should be fine.
Regardless of your grass choice, you should arm yourself with a good set of lawn care tools to help you keep your garden in top condition.
How often should Kentucky Bluegrass be watered?
KBG doesn’t need a lot of water – but it does need it frequently, and is certainly a higher maintenance species than Bermuda grass
Look to water your Kentucky Bluegrass lawn with no more than one inch of water a week – but not all at once.
However, in particularly hot conditions, or if you live in the transition zone, I would suggest watering your lawn up to two inches – and sometimes more.
Just remember to always spread it out, as no lawn likes getting flooded. Check out this article for more tips on how to water your lawn effectively.
There you have it folks, two of the most popular grass species face off – with no clear winner.
In the battle of Kentucky Bluegrass vs Bermuda grass, it looks like it’s a stalemate.
Depending, of course, on where you live, if you think Bermuda is a nuisance, or if you like to play golf.
Don’t worry if none of these fully fit your needs. There are plenty of grass types to choose from.
Let me know your thoughts on grass in the comments below, or if you have any lawn care tips you’d like to share with your fellow green thumbs out there.
Best of luck!