I’m aware of four ways that people use to remove Bermuda grass. As far as my experience goes, only two are highly effective though. I’ll share my experiences, moving from the most effective methods to the least.
Poisoning Bermuda grass with an herbicide that contains glyphosate, which is the active ingredient in the product called Roundup, is extremely effective. This is far and away the most common method of killing Bermuda grass. It’s used by home gardeners, professional landscapers, as well as farmers.
Some years back, I once used glyphosate to kill Bermuda grass that was growing in a crack in my driveway because I couldn’t figure out another way to get rid of it. The spray worked. But because I’m not convinced that glyphosate is harmless, I’ve not used it again.
My standard method for removing Bermuda is to dig it up. I call it the fork-and-pull method because I find the best Bermuda-digging tool is a garden fork rather than a shovel. Using a fork prevents chopping up the Bermuda grass, which inevitably happens when using a shovel. The problem with chopping up the Bermuda is that the chopped bits will grow into new plants if left in the dirt.
So here’s my general approach when removing Bermuda grass from an area: I work from one side of the area to the other incrementally. I sink the fork in, lean it back and shake it to expose the Bermuda grass with loosened soil around its roots, and then I gently tug on the grass until I can pull it out of the ground without breaking any stems. Sometimes this requires reinserting the fork deeper a few times. Whatever you do, do not yank the grass out such that it breaks.
Here is a young Sharwil avocado tree that had Bermuda growing around it, which I removed a few weeks ago.
It is slow, systematic work, but if you are hasty or sloppy you will snap the Bermuda stems, leaving some in the dirt. Those stems will grow into new plants and you’ve just wasted all of your time and backache. Do it right or don’t do it at all.
To make this clearer, see this photo of a full piece of Bermuda grass pulled up without breaking any parts:
And here is a diagram:
All stems of Bermuda grass are capable of growing and becoming separate, new plants. The stems that are located above ground are usually a very light green color and they are called stolons. The stolons can send roots into the dirt so if they’re separated from the main plant they just become independent plants.
The stems located below ground are white and they are called rhizomes. They can also send out roots, as well as shoot back up to the surface and start growing leaves. Just like the stolons, the rhizomes can be cut off from the main plant and become independent plants. Cutting them off does not kill them.
The digging should be done when the soil is just moist. If it’s wet, it’s too heavy and sticky. If it’s dry, it’s too hard, clumpy and dusty. I like to do Bermuda removal in the late fall through winter, a few days to a few weeks after a rain.
Even being slow and careful, you always miss a few pieces so you must return to the area to check for new sprouts, which are easily removed since the dirt remains fluffy from your forking.
This method is my standard because after using it many times over many years I’ve seen that it thoroughly eliminates Bermuda grass from the area. The only downside is that it requires elbow grease. There’s no free lunch.
Now onward to two methods that I have not seen work as well.
Cover, bury, smother
You can attempt to bury the Bermuda with a combination of cardboard, old carpets, landscape fabric, wood chips, compost, and who knows what else. This can kill the Bermuda that is directly under a thick enough cover. However, any Bermuda near the edges persists and rapidly reinhabits the entire area, even on top of the cover. I’ve seen this happen over and over again.
Also, you cannot plant for a long time, about a year, in an area where you’re trying to bury Bermuda. I’ve seen people be impatient and try to make small planting holes in their cover, and the Bermuda easily finds the holes.
So I think of the cover/bury/smother method as inferior compared to poisoning or digging, but there might be specific situations in which it is still the best approach, for example if you’re trying to kill Bermuda in an entire yard at once and you can cover the whole place and leave it undisturbed for a year.
Heat to death
A final way to get rid of Bermuda is to cover it with clear plastic such that the grass is heated to death. This needs to be done in the summer and in an inland location that gets plenty of sunshine. This is a method I’ve heard of but never seen done. I suspect it sounds more effective than it is in practice since “solarizing” the soil to kill soil-borne pathogens is known to be very difficult to accomplish.
But again, maybe in a place with all of the right conditions it can be an effective approach. I’m still waiting to see the evidence of that.
Bermuda grass is a plant that I respect for its tenacity and its low water needs. I allow it to grow in some parts of my yard because it makes a free groundcover, and my chickens like to eat it. But it’s too competitive for vegetables and young fruit trees. And you can’t turn your back on Bermuda for a single summer or else it expands its territory tenfold!
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