by Matt Gibson
Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon) is a native of Africa, but is a popular choice for lawns, especially in the American west, and is hardy in USDA zones 7 through 10. It is a common pick for a lawn grass in warm climate regions for a number of reasons. Bermuda grass thrives in the heat. It stands up to wear and tear remarkably well, and it is drought-tolerant (within reason).
If you decide that you want to part ways with bermuda grass and lay down a different turf, or lawn replacement, however, bermuda grass will not go gently into that good night. Spreading itself vigorously through underground stems (rhizomes) as well as aboveground runners (stolons), bermuda also seeds aggressively to top it all off. If you want to part ways with bermuda grass, all three of these factors need to be addressed.
There are several ways to treat bermuda grass without using chemicals, and if worse comes to worst, you could always break out the chemicals and let them do the dirty work. However, with some hard work and patience, you can rid your lawn of bermuda organically.
You could also use a combination of labor-intensive methods and chemical treatment to deal with the issue, but if you have other plant species in the area that you have bermuda grass, your best bet is to go with the first method we have listed here and carefully remove every trace of bermuda, lay down a thick temporary deterrent (cardboard and wood chips) and pray that the seeds don’t attempt to re-establish themselves a year or two later and cause you to have to start the process over again.
How To Remove Bermuda Grass Without Chemicals
Method #1 – Physical Removal
First, gather together all the gardening tools that you will need for the task. This includes a wheelbarrow, a shovel, a bow rake, a sifting screen, paper bags, gardening gloves, and cardboard or fabric (such as weed cloth).
Once you have all your tools together, don your gardening gloves and pull out the rake. Using the bow rake, gently lift back the edges of the bermuda grass, exposing the root structure.
Dig around the root structure, working from the outside of the patch inward while attempting not to damage any runners in the process. The fewer small pieces of bermuda grass that you have, the more likely you have succeeded in an absolute removal of the invasive grass, and the less likely you will have to repeat the process again down the road.
Once the root structure has been visibly loosened, grab the grass by hand and gently pull it up from the soil. Gently shaking the loosened plant will help to separate it from the soil, exposing the crisp, white rhizomes beneath, which burrow deep into the ground.
The goal is to remove as many of these rhizomes as possible (preferably all of them, but there will surely be a few that hang on in the depths and go unnoticed). Leaving just one tiny tip of a rhizome in the ground will result in a full plant growing up in its place, just like the one you are removing, so dig slowly and methodically as you progress, repeating this process until the entire area that you are cleaning is free of bermuda grass.
Put all of the bermuda grass that you have dug up, tiny pieces and all, into the paper bags, setting them aside to put out with the week’s garbage for collection. Using your shovel, dig up the area that you just worked again, loosening the soil, and exposing the few underground stems that you may have missed the first time around.
Using the sifting screen, push the loosened soil back and forth over the screen by hand (wearing gardening gloves, of course!), allowing the dirt to fall through the screen and leaving rhizomes and other large debris on the top. Gather the rhizomes and other unwanted debris and place it into the paper bags, working the soil until the entire area that you previously worked has been sifted and cleaned.
If you plan to keep the area free of plants for a while, lay down cardboard to cover the ground and top it with a thick layer of mulch or wood chips. This will help to keep the bermuda from growing back where you stripped it. If you do plan on planting, you can try one of two routes. Either just plant what you want to plant and keep an eye on any signs of bermuda grass popping back up (which is our recommendation), or cover the area in cardboard or weed cloth (or another type of thick fabric) and cut holes where you would like to plant your new additions.
We listed this method first because it has a high success rate. It is a very time consuming process (but so is getting rid of bermuda grass in general) but if done correctly, it usually gets rid of the invasive pest without having to perform the task multiple times. However, there have been other methods that have had plenty of success as well.
Method #2 – Solarization
If you are looking for a less labor-intensive method that still has a high success rate, solarization might be the way to go. For this method you will need a shovel, rake, heavy rocks or bricks (optional), and some one to two millimeter thick clear plastic tarp. During the hottest months of the summer, you will want to cover the area that you want to clean up with the plastic tarp. Keep it in place by weighing the tarp down on the edges with heavy rocks or bricks, or dig a trench around the outer edges of the area you wish to treat and bury the tarp in the trench to keep it in place, backfilling the trench with the dirt that you removed to dig it. Leave the tarp in place for a minimum of six to eight weeks, then use the rake to remove the dry, dead grass, or leave it there to decompose on its own.
Method #3 – Cultivation
Cultivation may take a few attempts before the bermuda grass truly leaves the area for good, but if you have the time to do it, it is rather painless. Simply use a rototiller or hand spade to dig up the grass and disturb the soil about six inches deep right before a dry summer period. Once the initial process has caused the top layer of grass to wither away and dry out, repeat the process again. As the grass completely dries out and dies, it can be easily removed and replaced. Monitor the area for any signs of bermuda regrowth and be willing to repeat the process several times until all underground roots and stolons are killed and removed.
How To Remove Bermuda Grass With Chemicals
Method #4 – Herbicide
The last thing most home gardeners want to resort to, is full-on chemical warfare, but in the case of bermuda grass, it is a viable option, and one of the quickest and easiest ways to kill the invasive grass.
If you are mowing the bermuda grass regularly, discontinue mowing once you decide to spray it with herbicides. Allow the bermuda to grow to around six inches in height before spraying, as it will have enough surface area at that point to fully absorb the herbicide quickly, so that it does not affect neighboring plants that you do not want to kill.