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Don't bash bahiagrass
Overton, Texas
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, Texas Agricultural 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 added.

Bahiagrass' biggest advantage is it will survive on sandy, acid, infertile soils.

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 bermudagrass stands.

"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 bermudagrass.

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 better productivity."

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 sufficient.
  • 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 market.
  • Tifton 9.
  • Sand Mountain, an experimental variety from Alabama.
  • Argentine, a South American variety.

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 significantly so.

"Argentine production was probably limited by its lack of cold tolerance," Evers said.

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