Bermuda grass is cold-tolerant, warm-season grass. As a result, it gets widely used as both lawn grass and pasture grass. Its toughness, adaptability, and creeping growth habit attract either appreciation or disdain from the homeowners, gardeners, landscapers, and others who plant it or get invaded by it.
It quickly grows from seed or sod into a dense lawn capable of out-competing weeds and is highly tolerant of insect and disease pests. It thrives in heat and is drought tolerant. It grows roots deep underground to access hard-to-reach moisture and simply goes dormant in the driest of weather. And Bermuda grass is exceptionally resilient.
If a significant patch is damaged, it has an incredible ability to regenerate from the deep, creeping roots and via mower clippings that land on bare soil and then seed in. This kind of rugged resiliency makes it a grass lover’s dream.
However, a potential downside to this constant growth is accumulating a thatch layer between the grass and the soil. Thatch is the layer of dead plant material that microorganisms in the ground have not yet decomposed. This material usually includes roots, rhizomes, crowns, and stems. All of these materials tend to have lignin, which is resistant to decay.
A small layer of Thatch is a good thing. A thatch layer that is no more than ½” thick can prevent weed germination and water evaporation, provide insulation against extreme cold, and protect the lawn from injuries caused by high-impact traffic. But when that layer exceeds more than ½”, problems begin to arise.
If Bermuda grass on your lawn is a weed, the best option would be to kill them.
The following are a range of ways to kill the grass:
Solarizing is best done during the summer season when there is usually an abundance of direct sunlight and soil heat. The heat and sun should ‘bake’ the grass and eventually kill Bermuda grass. First, water the Bermuda grass typically. Spread a clear plastic tarp over the grass, so the entire lawn is covered. Weigh down the edges of the tarp with rocks or bricks. The sun’s rays will pass through the tarp and bake the underlying soil, effectively killing the grass and any other plants. After approximately four weeks, remove the tarp. You can rake away the dead grass or leave it in place and allow it to decompose.
- Cultivation or Digging Out
You can dig up Bermuda grass, but it can be difficult. Digging up Bermuda grass is the best solution if the grass is in a small area and no other options are available. Bermuda grass doesn’t just have its roots underground, but it also has rhizomes.
Rhizomes are thick, underground stems that grow sideways. New grass shoots can grow from them, so if the rhizomes are left behind, your work will have been for naught.
When digging up Bermuda grass, you want to go at least 6 inches deep. It makes sure you’re getting the entire plant. The part of ginger that we eat is the rhizome, so be on the lookout for anything that looks like ginger or an oddly shaped potato.
- Choking out Bermuda grass weeds
It’s possible to choke out Bermuda grass from your lawn by mulching. It gets best done using landscaping fabric. Alternatively, you can smother the Bermuda grass root system using a piece of cardboard.
- Eco-friendly methods
Salt and vinegar are more eco-friendly than pesticides, although they aren’t as eco-friendly as other solutions.
A mixture of 1 cup salt and 1 gallon of vinegar will kill any plant, and it’s so effective that if it soaks into your soil, nothing will grow there for a long time.
Spraying a light mist over the plants is safe, as only a few drops will make their way into the soil, and such small quantities will neutralize and disperse quickly.
Do not dispose of any leftover mixture by pouring it into the soil. Vinegar is acidic, which kills plants but can also cause chemical burns on the skin in high concentrations, so wear safety gear when mixing and applying vinegar as an herbicide.
The acidity of salt and vinegar will kill any plant when used, not just Bermuda grass, so this is best for killing a broad area. Otherwise, you’ll need to target the Bermuda grass specifically, which can be tedious.
- Use a Selective Herbicide
There are a lot of herbicides on the market, but be aware that they will kill other plants, as well. For example, some herbicides specifically target weeds and leave the grass alone. But these won’t kill Bermuda grass.
Herbicides with the active ingredients sethoxydim, fluazifop, clethodim, and fenoxaprop get made for killing grass.
Thus, they leave other plants alone. Clethodim is considered the most effective for Bermuda grass, followed by sethoxydim and fluazifop. So if the Bermuda grass is in your garden beds, these may be a good solution.
However, if it is on your lawn, mixed with other grasses that you want to keep, these sprays may kill the other types of grass, as well.
Dethatching/Raking Bermuda Grass
Dethatching is the process of removing thatch by mechanical means.
Never dethatch dormant or slow-growing Bermuda grass. Dethatching static grass may kill your lawn. Dethatch Bermuda grass only when the thatch layer is more than 1/2 inch thick.
Depending on the state of your lawn, you might want to use a power thatch or dethatcher.
A thatching rake works well for small lawns, while a power rake is more for more extensive yards.
How to Dethatch Bermuda Grass with a Dethatching Rake
Dethatching gets done using a dethatching machine, also called a dethatcher. It can be gas-powered, gas-powered, or manual.
You can dethatch your lawn using a thatch rake, especially if it is small with just a little layer of thatch on top of the soil.
Hard raking removes thatch and is excellent for overseeding.
An electric dethatcher is excellent for a large lawn and where you need to remove a relatively thick layer of thatch without damaging the yard.
Pull behind dethatchers are also great for small yards but can be a workout if the layer of debris is too thick.
When to use a dethatcher
It is a great practice before starting your spring fertilizer and maintenance program. You can also dethatch to loosen up soil when you want to overseed the lawn.
Bermuda grass can get dethatched at any time or season of the year.
Can you dethatch Bermuda grass with a rake?
You can use a leaf rake or a stiff rake to dethatch, but it may not work as well because it may not be as strong as a thatch rake. If you want to use one, rake the grass, making sure you dig deep into the thatch to tear it apart.
Another method of dethatching Bermuda Grass is using a power rake.
Power raking addresses a much more straightforward problem in the lawn.
The process of power raking removes a thick layer of dead grass matter or debris sitting right on top of the soil on your lawn. This layer prevents your lawn from breathing correctly.
How does a power rake work?
A power rake works by scouring the layer of debris on the bermudagrass lawn using flails that spin at a relatively high speed. The residue is loosened and picked up by the machine to leave the soil’s surface much more exposed than before.
Improper lawn mowing and poor watering techniques can make your lawn start to form a layer of dead grass slowly by slowly. Soon enough, you’ll notice your yard beginning to develop a brown color underneath the grass leaves.
This brown layer of dead grass, clippings, and stolons becomes more prominent with time, especially when you mow the lawn. It is when you need to power-rake the yard because neglecting it for long will lead to an unhealthy layer of thatch in some cases.
How to use a power rake
Here’s how to use a power rake on your lawn:
- Check the lawn to make sure there’s more than ¼-inch of dead grass covering the soil.
- Set the deck on your power rake high and power it up.
- Run a test pass on the lawn to see how much thatch you can remove.
- Slowly lower the deck one notch at a time and power rake.
- Run the power rake all over the lawn in a systematic manner.
- Collect all the debris on the lawn using a lawn rake or a mower.
- Perform a second pass going in a different direction.
- Clean up the loosened-up debris.
- If some spots were not power-raked properly, use a thatch rake to clear up.
Pro tip: Lowering the deck of your power rake one notch at a time is a great way to prevent scalping your lawn or even removing the live grass in the thin yard you’re already trying to restore. You don’t want to rip up the grounds when power raking it. Follow up the process with a lawn restoration fertilizer or a starter 10-10-10 fertilizer for overseeding.
When should I power rake my lawn?
The right time to power rake your lawn is when there’s a visibly thick layer of dead matter (debris) forming under the growth. Your yard will have started appearing as though it has small brown patches all over it.
How often should you power rake?
You should power-rake your lawn once a season, but only if there’s a thick layer of dead grass and organic matter that’s not decomposing, covering the soil surface. Also, power raking is an aggressive procedure that can damage the lawn to some extent. So it should get done only when necessary.
It is recommended to dethatch using a power rake only when a hand rake or thatch rake is unsuccessful.
Note that if the lawn is feeling spongy, hard raking or power raking can fix this problem. But may not improve a bumpy lawn that occurs, especially after winter.
Benefits of Dethatching
Now that you’ve gotten a handle on the thatch situation, you’ll experience why your lawn benefits from a reduced thatch layer, and you’ll get more satisfaction from it.
- Increase the amount of water and nutrients that reach your lawn’s root system to get taken in; otherwise, held up the spongy thatch.
- Reduced mushrooms
- Thatched risk of disease
- Aesthetics: a cleaner-looking lawn with more living, green foliage, and less brown, dead thatch
How to Prevent Thatch from reoccurring on Your Yard
Aerate and Compost Topdress with Soil
Get an aerator to remove plugs of soil/turf from your lawn. The holes left in your yard are portals for air, water, and compost to seep into and benefit the soil.
After aerating, topdress with soil compost to improve the growing conditions and reduce thatch. Microorganisms are inherent in soil compost breaking down the thatch layer. They consume thatch and turn it into nutrients. This process benefits your lawn by providing natural nutrients which improve the health of your soil.
Recommended aeration frequency is once a year. Do it when your lawn is fully green and actively growing.
Avoid excessive amounts of Nitrogen
That first number on the fertilizer bag is what most people recognize for getting the grass to grow. It’s the 16 in the 16-4-8 ratio. Overusing Nitrogen to unnaturally push growth attributes to thatch. Stick to the recommended fertilizer rates for your type of lawn.
- Establish Consistent Mowing Habits: Simply mow on a schedule according to your type of lawn. The reason is that shorter clippings break down quicker, thus reducing thatch accumulation.
- Bag Long Clippings: If you skip a session and the grass gets too tall, bag your clippings to remove them from the lawn. When you get back on a regular mowing schedule, let the shorter clippings stay on the property. They’ll decompose faster and won’t contribute to the thatch layer like the long clippings.
- Let a Robotic Lawn Mower Prevent Thatch for You: Get a robotic lawn mower because they go at it 24/7. Thereby cutting minuscule clippings. These tiny little clippings decompose quickly and don’t build up to create thatch as more extensive clippings do.