Lawns can be an integral part of our landscape, but they also take a lot of time and energy to maintain to a degree of acceptability. Some of us want a turf that is drought tolerant, requires less labor and has low fertilizer requirements. Bahia grass tends to fit this bill. While there is no “perfect” grass, Bahia grass is worth looking into.
All grasses (including Bahia) have their advantages and disadvantages. On the negative side, Bahia grass has some very obvious seed heads that stick up like a sore thumb and must be mowed regularly. These seedheads (and grass blades) are also very tough and more difficult to cut than other grass species – mower blades need regular sharpening for a good clean cut. Bahia grass does not like shade, foot traffic or salt water. The leaf blades of Bahia grass also tend to yellow due to iron deficiencies in high pH soils. This grass has an open growth habit that makes it more easily invaded by weeds.
If you can look past these manageable problems, Bahia grass has some very desirable qualities that can outweigh any disadvantages. The number one good quality is that established Bahia grass is very drought-tolerant due to a deep root system. This is an important feature in areas that are not irrigated. Hand-in-hand, Bahia grass does very well in our sandy, nutrient-poor soils and doesn’t really need too much supplemental fertilizer. It is also easily established via seed or sod and is readily available at area sod farms, garden centers and nurseries. Disease problems are few with this grass and mole crickets, their main insect pest, can be successfully managed if present.
Highly alkaline soils (a common issue in our area) can cause yellowing of Bahia grass because of iron deficiencies. As such, have a soil test completed before installing Bahia grass to check the pH. If your Bahia is already established, manage yellowing grass by using ferrous sulfate mixed in water and applied per label directions.
When in the market for Bahia grass, check out the variety ‘Argentine’ which has dense growth, dark green color and makes an acceptable lawn. Another variety, ‘Pensacola’, has an extensive root system, but is better used in roadside plantings. As mentioned before, seed and sod are the only methods to establish Bahia grass. Bahia grass can be planted year-round, and water is critical to get it established. If seed is used, try to obtain what is called scarified seed. Scarified seed has been treated to thin the seed coat which helps it germinate quicker. General fertilizer recommendations are limited to one to four applications before and/or after the Restricted Season – June 1st to September 30th.
Mow your Bahia grass at a height of three to four inches every seven to fourteen days. Proper mowing heights will encourage deep rooting and drought tolerance. Don’t over water Bahia grass! Other than during establishment, our rainy season will take care of most of the watering. One-half to three-quarters of an inch per application, keeping in mind local water restrictions, will suffice. During our dry season, Bahia grass will go dormant and turn brown, but will quickly recover once rain or irrigation returns. The recovery of Bahia is amazing – a little rain and the brown goes to green with new growth in a very short period of time!
Weed control involving pre-emergent or post-emergent herbicides must be carefully determined making sure to identify the weed and reading the pesticide label to confirm and reconfirm the directions. The time of year is also critical to making herbicide application decisions. While mole crickets tend to be the main insect pest of Bahia grass, problems with this insect pest have dwindled in recent years. Nematodes are not typically a problem with Bahia grass as the deep-rooted nature of this turf can tolerate any nematode attacks.
Again, Bahia grass is not perfect, but in our area of limited turf choices, this grass has some favorable characteristics that may fit the needs in your landscape. Please see our on-line publication about this type of turf at – https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/LH006 – BAHIAGRASS FOR FLORIDA LAWNS. It is a tough grass that can take our climate and especially our periodic droughty conditions – it is actually a Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ approved plant! For more information on all types of lawn issues, or to ask a question, you can also call the Master Gardener Volunteer Helpdesk on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer. Ralph E. Mitchell is the Director/Horticulture Agent for UF/IFAS Extension – Charlotte County. He can be reached at 941-764-4344 or firstname.lastname@example.org . Connect with us on social media. Like us on Facebook @CharlotteCountyExtension and follow us on Instagram @ifascharco.
Trenholm, L. E., Schiavon, M., Unruh, J. B, Shaddox, T. W. & Kenworthy, K. E. (2022) BAHIAGRASS FOR FLORIDA LAWNS. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
The Florida-Friendly Landscaping Guide to Plant Selection & Landscape Design (2010) The University of Florida Extension Services, IFAS.