June 30, 2006
Where coastal bermudagrass is
commonly called "the queen of forages," bahiagrass is often
considered the unwanted offspring.
But in these times of expensive fertilizer, bahiagrass – in some
areas, under some conditions – can be a wise addition to a
forage program, said Dr. Gerald Evers,
Experiment Station forage researcher.
Whether bahiagrass is an unwelcome guest or a valued addition to
the family depends upon many factors, Evers said. Soils,
available moisture and stocking rates – all have to be
considered. But in these times of high fertilizer costs, the
degree of management the producer can afford plays a major role.
"Bahiagrass primarily gets bashed because it invades
bermudagrass pastures if they haven't been fertilized properly,
" Evers said. "Another disadvantage is that it lacks drought
tolerance compared to hybrid bermudagrasses."
Under drought conditions, bermudagrass will stay green and
continue to grow, where under the same conditions, bahiagrass
will not grow at all, he said.
Despite its bad rap, bahiagrass shouldn't be bashed
unconditionally, and it as its place with other forages, he
Bahiagrass' biggest advantage is it will survive on sandy, acid,
This means, as fertilizer prices increase, bahiagrass becomes
more attractive, Evers said.
"With little or no fertilizer, bahiagrass can be as productive
as bermudagrass – unless moisture is limited," he said.
If high fertilizer prices are coupled with low cattle prices,
many producers may feel forced to cut back on fertilizer
applications. The resulting low fertility can damage hybrid
"With bermudagrass, you've got to apply some fertilizer every
year to maintain the stand," he said.
With bahiagrass, however, producers can go into a 'holding
pattern' until cattle markets are strong again. Given moderate
amounts of fertilizer, a bahiagrass stand will make a good
recovery after such a hiatus. Hybrid bermudagrass pastures may
be slow to come back or need to be re-sprigged if an annual
fertility program is interrrupted, Evers said.
Bahiagrass does best south of the Lufkin/Crockett area in East
Texas for two reasons. One, the milder winter weather is
beneficial to bahaigrass, which is less cold tolerant than
Second, the ground is generally more level in that area, which
means sandy soils are slower to dry out, Evers said.
"North of that (region), the area is too sandy and drought-prone
for good bahiagrass production," he said.
In northern counties, bahiagrass may have success in some areas,
as long as moisture is good, but Evers doesn't recommend
starting new stands.
"If they don't have it already, they may not need to plant it,
but (even north of Lufkin) producers can learn to manage it for
There are a few points to remember
about bahiagrass, according to Evers:
- When bahiagrass growth is
less than four weeks old, its nutritive value is usually
close to that of coastal bermudagrass.
- Use limited fertilizer: 50
to 70 pounds per acre per year, applied in the spring, is
- Bahiagrass forms a thick,
tight sod that tolerates continuous grazing and makes it
competitive with weeds.
- Bahiagrass greens up
earlier in the spring than bermudagrass and stays green
later in the fall, until temperatures drop to 29 F or below.
Evers started a bahiagrass variety
test at the Texas A&M University System Agricultural Research
and Extension Center at Overton in the spring of 2004. His goal
was to compare new and experimental varieties with Pensacola
bahiagrass under East Texas conditions. Evers used Pensacola as
the standard because it is the most common, improved bahiagrass
variety in East Texas.
Evers tested four varieties in
addition to Pensacola:
- Rapid Germination
Tifton 9, a new variety from Georgia not yet on the
- Tifton 9.
- Sand Mountain, an
experimental variety from Alabama.
- Argentine, a South
The first year's tests were
hindered by drought and weed competition.
Evers continued the tests in 2005. Conditions were better than
in 2004, but rainfall still limited, with the Center weather
station recording only 16 inches during the April through
October growing season. The average rainfall for the period is
more than 25 inches.
Bahiagrass yields ranged from 2,100 pounds of dry matter per
acre for Pensacola to 3,400 pounds for Rapid Germinatin Tifton
9. Argentine yields were a little more than Pensacola, but not
"Argentine production was probably limited by its lack of cold
tolerance," Evers said.