Best Fertilizer for Bermuda Grass
Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon) is a warm-season grass and is popular among homeowners for making a great lawn. Not only it’s drought tolerant and non-fussy about the soil type, but also, it’s highly tolerant to traffic, including that of kids and pets, and feels good on one’s feet. It grows well in southern regions but does well also northward up to USDA hardiness zones 5 and 6.
This vining grass spreads fast from its roots and forms a uniform lawn. It starts growing in late spring and continues to grow actively all through the summer. Its growth slows down in fall when temperatures drop down, and ultimately it goes dormant in the winter. Although it often intrudes garden beds due to its fast-growing habit, it requires minimal care.
However, if the homeowner uses the best fertilizer for Bermuda grass, it stays lush and green. But gardeners are often confused regarding which fertilizer to choose for their Bermuda grass lawn. Here are some considerations.
Most types of Bermuda grass need feeding only once or twice per growing season to do their best. Some of the new hybrid varieties, however, such as Tifgreen, Tifway or Midway, benefit from more frequent applications. There are many commercial lawn fertilizers that benefit Bermuda grass. Still, gardeners can choose a fertilizer based on the type of application or on whether they prefer natural or chemical ingredients.
Published: September 1, 2022.
Types of Fertilizers
There are many different types of fertilizers, the best one of which depends on one’s particular requirements and personal preferences.
Liquid fertilizer can offer a quick burst of nutrients to Bermuda grass because it’s absorbed by the foliage of the grass, which is the quickest way to get into the plant. When used with a hose attachment, nutrients pass through the soil, the benefit is that nutrients reach roots quickly.
Liquid fertilizers also tend to maintain the balance of the pH level of the soil. However, these fertilizers are short-lived and hence the grass may need their frequent applications. Also, gardeners should exercise caution as overfeeding can result in root burn. Liquid fertilizers come in concentrated and full-strength forms with a hose-end dispenser or a garden-type pump sprayer.
Water-soluble lawn fertilizers are available in sand-like particle forms easily soluble in water. They go into a hose-end dispenser, where the gardener can water and fertilize the turf simultaneously.
This type of fertilizer is perfect for small yards that a hose can fully cover.
Dry granular fertilizers are available in the form of small pebbles with push-type spreaders. Some of the formulations dissolve slowly and release nutrients over time.
Granular fertilizers don’t offer the quick burst of nutrients that liquids do, but their effects may be long-lasting and hence may need less frequent applications. For example, one application of granules can last for several months.
It’s also less likely to leach into surrounding water sources. Especially in areas with plenty of rainfall, gardeners can simply sprinkle them around their lawn, and they’re done. But even in areas with less rainfall, they’re ready to nourish the lawn as the gardener waters.
Their ease of use and convenient storage make granular fertilizers popular.
Quick-Release and Slow-Release
Quick-release fertilizers release all their nutrients quickly for an immediate growth boost. Slow-release fertilizers, on the other hand, release their nutrients slowly, over several weeks, for continuous, consistent fertilization. Quick-release feeds need to be applied more often than slow-release fertilizers.
A starter fertilizer is designed particularly to help new lawns develop strong roots and have healthy growth, thus helping lawn establish faster. Gardeners planting new seeds certainly want to apply a starter fertilizer.
Seeding fertilizers contain actual grass seeds, so the gardener fertilizes and overseed their lawn simultaneously. If a lawn is thin or has several bare patches, the gardener may want to use this type of fertilizer.
Some fertilizers contain pesticides for killing and preventing certain lawn pests, like armyworms or grubs. If one’s lawn has had a pest problem in the past, a pest control fertilizer might be a good choice.
Some fertilizers contain fungicides to prevent lawn diseases like brown patches, dollar spots, and other diseases caused by fungi.
This type of fertilizer should be chosen only if one’s lawn has fought a disease in the past.
These fertilizers are applied in late fall to help the Bermuda grass stock nutrients to survive in the winter. They even promote dense and green grass once the grass comes out from dormancy.
Winterizers are to be used in fall when the growth of the grass stops, but still, it’s green, and its roots are active. Most researchers are of the opinion that the best lawn winterizers are high in nitrogen.
Plus, there are natural (organic) and artificial (chemical/synthetic) fertilizers and weed-and-feed products which are discussed below in detail.
Commercial turf fertilizers consist of premeasured amounts of nitrogen (N), which promotes the growth of bright green leaves that convert sunlight into energy through photosynthesis which in turn is cycled to the roots boosting strong and robust growth, phosphorus (P) which has an important role in the production of flowers and fruit, and potassium (K) which promotes the overall health of the plant.
These nutrients are mentioned on the label of the fertilizer package in the form of percentages.
Any bag of fertilizer doesn’t mention how much actual nitrogen it contains. However, it’s easy to find this from the percentage.
One just has to multiply the percentage of nitrogen (the 1st number in the N-P-K ratio) by the weight of the bag, and one can get the amount of actual nitrogen (by weight) it contains.
For example, a 50-pound bag of 16-0-8 fertilizer contains 8 pounds of actual nitrogen (16% of 50). This will help one find the amount of fertilizer they should apply for their particular yard’s area.
Other nutrients are called secondary nutrients, and plants need them in smaller amounts.
The best fertilizer for Bermuda grass should have an N-P-K ratio that’s high in nitrogen and consists of little to no phosphorus and maybe a small amount of potassium. For example, an NPK ratio of 16:0:8 means 16% of nitrogen, no phosphorus, and 8% of potassium. This ratio is great for Bermuda grass.
However, in starter fertilizers, one can look for a good amount of phosphorus.
Organic (Natural) vs. Chemical (Synthetic)
Most turf fertilizers come with synthetic or “inorganic” ingredients, but a few consist of natural ingredients.
Organic turf fertilizers consist of various combinations of non-chemical nutrients, such as compost, earthworm castings, livestock manure, and poultry manure.
Thus, their ingredients are made from animal- or plant-based matter that will not only nourish one’s plants but also make their soil healthier.
Rich with beneficial microbes, natural feeds improve one’s soil at once and usually without the risk that is posed by over-fertilizing or run-off into surrounding water sources.
Thus, they are harmless to plants and aquatic life if they drain off into waterways. They generally cost more since the ingredients need more work to collect, treat and turn into fertilizers.
But considering their low risk and high benefits, they are worth the extra cost. Most of these fertilizers are available in granular form.
Chemical or synthetic fertilizers are formulated in laboratories with chemicals or artificial versions of natural ingredients and consist of concentrated nutrients, such as sulfur, potassium, and nitrogen.
Some products consist of other minerals, too, such as boron or calcium, to enhance soil health.
They often cause fast growth of plants and come with convenient applications to feed over a long period of time.
However, this effect takes place on weeds too, which then need harsh herbicides to remove them. Moreover, excess nitrogen runoff from these fertilizers may harm aquatic life if it enters into waterways and ponds.
The first application of fertilizers in a year should be after late spring or early summer once the grass becomes fully green. During this time, gardeners can apply an all-purpose turf fertilizer with a high proportion of nitrogen (N in the N-P-K) according to the guidelines on the package label.
If the gardener intends to overseed with more Bermuda grass seed, they should wait 2 weeks after fertilizing. Another application of fertilizer on Bermuda grass can be made in midsummer.
The third round of fertilizer application should be done in the fall. For this application, the gardener should use a turf fertilizer containing nitrogen as well as potassium, e.g., a 16-0-8 ratio. The additional potassium will help the lawn fight diseases and remain strong before entering dormancy in the winter.
The gardener should, for the best long-term effect, consider getting soil test done for deficiencies and apply additional nutrients as required. In most places, they can take samples of soil to their local County Extension Agency for a complete soil test and nutrient recommendations.
Weed-and-Feed Products vs. Fertilizers
Most gardeners have garden soils that are not naturally nutrient-rich. Soils are generally more clay or sand-based. Therefore, if one wants to enjoy a beautiful lawn, what they should do first is to get the soil free from weeds that may hinder the growth of the lawn.
Next, they should properly compensate for what the soil lacks. For this, the key to choose the best fertilizer is to understand the difference between ‘weed-and-feed’ products and products that solely focus on providing nutrients to one’s lawn needs for the best results.
A weed-and-feed product may sound great as it reduces the gardener’s work and gets things done in less time. However, if a gardener is aiming for a healthy, beautiful, traffic-tolerant, drought-tolerant turf, they’ll want to use a weed-and-feed product separately.
What are Weed-and-Feed Products: Weed-and-feed products basically contain a herbicide (a plant killer) and a fertilizer (a plant nourisher). If one finds this weird, they are right. From both chemical and biological perspectives, these two processes cannot happen effectively together. In simple words, the killing component will overpower the nourishing component and negatively affect one’s lawn.
It's a good idea, therefore, to weed the lawn first. As this is going to affect the grass, one should then give the lawn the much-desired, healthy dose of fertilizer.
Fertilizers increase the uniformity of color in Bermuda grass lawns and help grow a dense, healthy lawn as long as the gardener waters their lawn adequately.
How to Fertilize Bermuda Grass Lawn
How to fertilize Bermuda grass lawn depends on whether seeds have been newly planted, sod has been newly laid or it’s an established lawn. If one chooses to buy commercial fertilizers available on the market, they’ll find a lot of them that cover a wide range of growing conditions.
Newly seeded Bermuda grass turf requires a particular NPK ratio to promote healthy lush growth. The slow-release and ‘Starter’ fertilizers tend to contain just the correct ratio for the best results without the risk of fertilizer burn.
On the other hand, weed-and-feed products are not recommended for Bermuda seedlings since they can severely damage or destroy them while promoting vigorous growth of any existing weeds that may be hidden in the soil.
Established lawns require much less phosphorus. Hence, applying a nitrogen-rich fertilizer can be much more appropriate and offer the gardener lush green results.
When to Fertilize Bermuda Grass Lawn
Since less-than-perfect weather patterns continue worldwide, designing a consistent seasonal fertilizing schedule can be challenging. Studying seasonal weather reports can help gardeners design a flexible fertilization strategy to keep their lawns lush and green.
Fertilizing Schedule for Bermuda Grass Lawn
Although weather conditions become challenging, gardeners can still depend on seasonal changes. Each season offers gardeners opportunities to boost the health of their lawns in various ways.
Gardeners should start with a gentle effort for successful feeding and optimum results. In spring, this refers to starting the fertilizing schedule after the first predicted frost with a low-to-no nitrogen fertilizer.
Using feeds containing a high quantity of nitrogen around the end of winter may give fatal results if a late, unexpected frost arrives. Even in warmer climates, fertilizing should begin with a low-nitrogen NPK to avoid shocking the roots after being dormant during all winter.
Bermuda grass needs a soil pH 6 to 6.5 to thrive. A soil test can give an idea to the gardener whether their summer feed needs to increase or decrease acidity as one turns to move with more nitrogen.
During this time of the year, 2-4 lbs. nitrogen per 1,000 sq. ft of sod benefits Bermuda grass. Gardeners should adjust the quantity according to their lawn’s area.
Higher quantities are usually used with turfs grown in clay or sandy soils. At this time, a dash of iron in the feed will result in a brighter green color without boosting excess growth.
Gardeners should limit nitrogen application to the summer months. Using it in fall could stimulate new growth that may be fatally harmed by an early frost.
However, they should use potassium to boost winter hardiness. They should apply this at least 4-6 weeks before the first expected frost for the best results.
This is true for warmer climates too, because additional potassium should be applied and absorbed before the lawn goes dormant.
Winter is the season in which Bermuda grass enters dormancy.
One should NOT feed their Bermuda grass during its dormancy because the fertilizer will only nourish weeds which will eventually take over Bermuda grass. Also, fertilization in winter will break dormancy and compel the Bermuda grass to grow.
But such grass will soon be damaged by the freezing winter temperatures, and the gardener will end up with a bare yard in the coming spring.
A great thing about the Bermuda grass is that no matter what region and climate the gardener lives in, there’s always the right fertilizer available that can give the gardener a lawn that’s dense, lush, and green that is beautiful as well as safe for a person and their family.
By far, gardeners can first choose liquid lawn fertilizers that offer an instant boost to the lawn’s growth and color and then should use a slow-release feed that will offer a further boost to the growth and root development. But one should seek the right advice from their local County Extension Agency or a lawn care specialist.