Bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon) is a warm-season or C4 grass adapted to grow in temperatures as high as 80-95ºF (27-35ºC). Bermudagrass is not generally grown in those areas where freezing temperatures (32ºF or 0ºC) occur and will go into dormancy once temperatures become unfavorable. In the Midwest, Bermudagrass typically comes out of spring dormancy in May and goes into winter dormancy in October. These growing periods can either be shorter or longer, depending on the seasonal weather. For example, at our research plots in Columbus, Ohio last year, temperatures dropped to 20ºF (6.6ºC) around November 20th, and the Bermudagrass went into dormancy, even though it was covered by a growth blanket.
Improved Freeze Tolerance & Spring Green-up
Because Bermudagrass provides such a great playing surface for most American sports (it has excellent wear tolerance and recovery traits) plant breeders and groundsmen alike have been attempting to expand the use of Bermudagrass into the Midwest. Cultivars that have displayed better freeze tolerance and improved spring green-up have been evaluated and ranked by The National Turfgrass Evaluation Program. Cultivars such as Patriot, Tifsport, and Riviera appear to carry these improved traits and are being used at places such as Purdue's Ross-Ade Stadium and the Cincinnati Bengals practice facility (Picture top left). Dr. John Street has also looked at several ways to extend the use of Bermudagrass in Ohio and has seen a 2-4 week extension both fall and spring using growth blankets.
Use in Ohio?
Most, if not all of the Bermudgrass fields in Ohio are located around the Ohio River region. To date, Bermudgrass has not been used as far north as Columbus. That may change. With the lions share of the activity on athletic fields taking place between May and October, there is a strong possibility that Bermudagrass can have a role to play on practice fields and those fields that do not host games past the end of September-early October. Rick Alford from Team Allsports in the SW region of Ohio has been working with Bermudagrass fields for 10 years. He feels that a dormant field can host a maximum of 4 football games - of course this changes if those 4 games are "rain games", such as the games witnessed in 2006. Another phenomenon witnessed early this year was the false spring in April and the devastating freeze that followed. Several Bermudagrass fields in the northern and transitional states were either severely damaged or killed. Fortunately, Bermudagrass will recover very quickly once temperatures become more favorable and the field gets mowed and fertilized frequently. With the right level of management, Bermudagrass fields that were damaged during the false spring should be fully recovered by the fall playing season.
Ohio Groundsmen that would like to try some Bermudagrass, maybe on their practice fields, should give us a call and we can offer some management tips.
Authors: Pam Sherratt & John Street
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