The question of the day is, “How do I control bermudagrass.“ The situation was a rather large market garden in which numbers of volunteers are often at work. The question came a bit sideways in the form of “do you think it is too windy to spray Roundup.”
Of course, I physically cringed at the mention of Roundup. The person asking the question saw my reaction and began to ask why I reacted. It didn’t take long for me to get into my sermon about synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and pre-emergents.
Can you control Bermuda Grass without herbicides?
How, then, do you control bermudagrass? Unfortunately, there is no easy remedy. There are some commercially available organic products. The Good Natured line is of herbicides that are vinegar based. Another product is from BioSafe, a fatty acid product. Both will eventually kill bermudagrass, but it may take several applications to get reasonable control.
The Vinegar Solution
A solution of 10% vinegar, some orange oil, and dish soap as a surfactant will work as well as the commercial products. 20% vinegar is available at some horticulture and garden stores. Mix it 50/50 with water to get a 10% solution. Be careful when handling 20% vinegar as it is acidic enough to cause skin irritation if splashed. Always wear eye protection, and I suggest rubber gloves. Add 2 ounces of orange oil and two teaspoons of liquid soap.
It is best to spray the vinegar solution when the wind is minimal, as drift can cause damage to your ornamental and vegetable plants. Vinegar is most effective if sprayed during warm to hot days. You can safely spray around the base of woody plants with bark. You can spray it around your trees without damaging them. It may take repeated applications to effect complete control of Bermuda grass. Vinegar is not a systemic poison like most herbicides. It works by killing the green growing parts of the plants, forcing the plant to use the stored carbohydrates in the roots to replenish the green above-ground parts of the plants. By repeatedly applying the vinegar, you effectively starve the plant by depriving it of the ability to make more carbohydrates.
Cardboard is your Ally
One other solution for Bermudagrass is to smother it. I suggest mowing or weedeating the grass as short as possible. When you are trying to control bermudagrass, I will encourage you to catch the clippings and compost them elsewhere. With the bermudagrass cut as short as possible, apply dry molasses at a rate of 2 lbs per 100 sq ft. Cover the molasses with ½ to 1 inch of compost and then add a thick layer of butcher paper, newspaper, or brown cardboard. Four to five layers of paper or two layers of cardboard should be sufficient. Overlay the paper with a thick layer of wood chip mulch. The wood chip mulch should at least 2 inches and preferably 4 to 8 inches. To speed up the process, wetting the layers of paper as they are applied will help them break down faster.
You may still have a few sprigs of Bermudagrass appear through the mulch. Spray with a vinegar solution or pull the runners of Bermudagrass up and spread the mulch back. It won’t take long for the runners to quit appearing.
The Problem with Tilling
One caveat to this is “ Do Not TILL!” If you till the area with the bermudagrass, each piece of a rhizome will root and create a whole new plant. Tilling Bermudagrass and trying to remove it is an almost impossible task.
Getting rid of bermudagrass is not impossible, but it can be a challenge. Persistence is your best method whether you chose to spray vinegar or smother the bermudagrass.
Links and Resources
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