Happy Grass, Happy Lawns, Happy Homes.

Restoring A Sickly Bermudagrass Lawn On A Budget

It happens to most of us.  Maybe we've been too busy with work or family.  Perhaps a run of bad luck kept us out of the yard.  Or maybe a neighbor's weed science project got out of hand.

One way or another, we wake up one warm spring day and realize that our bermudagrass lawn is overrun with weeds.

We figured this happened enough that it was worth an experiment to see if we could bring back a bermudagrass lawn on the brink of extinction.  And one such lawn in Georgia was available that had no less than eight different weeds including annual bluegrass, bittercress, henbit, horseweed, mouseear chickweed, dandelion and parsley-piert.

We also decided to work with common tools and products that would fit within a budget of $150 for a year. So we stuck with a three-year-old Toro 22 inch mulcher/bagger that we already had rather than running out and buying a new machine.  And our test weed killers are Spectracide® Weed Stop® for Lawns and Ortho® Weed B Gon MAX® Plus Crabgrass Control Ready-Spray®, easy enough to find at your local big box retailer or local garden and nursery store for around $10.

Join us as we chronicle our journey to bring back this bermudagrass disaster on a budget.

April 02, 2010 - One test area is mowed, one is left unmowed. The liquid herbicides are applied by water hose. Outside temps are 87 F. Time is 15:45 EDST. An hour later there is no noticeable effect on weeds from either Ortho or Spectracide.  NOTE: The green in these pictures is not bermudagrass but weeds!  The brown spots are where RoundUp was applied to dense patches of annual bluegrass.

Unmowed Bermudagrass With Weeds
Mowed Bermudagrass With Weeds
April 03, 2010 - At 15:45 EDST (24 hours later) some wilting can be detected for Dandelion, Mouseear Chickweed and Horseweed (Mares Tail) on both the Ortho and Spectracide halves of the unmowed test area.  Wilting not noticeable on mowed test area.  No noticeable effect yet on Henbit or Bittercress by either product.  Effected weeds treated with Ortho seem to be more advanced in wilting stage than those effected by Spectracide.  No rain or watering has occurred in the past 24 hours. Unmowed Day 2
Mowed Day 2
April 05, 2010 - It has now been 72 hours since we sprayed the lawn.  There has been no rain or watering and daytime temps have been in the 80s.
Wilting of some weeds continues but bittercress and henbit are being stubborn.  Wilting becoming evident on mowed test area also.
Dandelion Treated With Ortho Herbicide After Three Days
Dandelion Treated With Ortho
Dandelion Treated With Spectracide Herbicide After Three Days
Dandelion Treated With Spectracide
April 06, 2010 - Four days have passed and yellowing or browning is becoming more evident.  Neither brand of herbicide is a clear leader at this point. Flowering henbit finally starting to wilt but younger henbit still looking robust. Rain predicted for Thursday. Will mow and bag both test areas after rain. Unmowed Bermudagrass with Weeds After Four Days
Mowed Bermudagrass with Weeds After Four Days
April 08, 2010 - The bittercress is finally beginning to yellow.  In the pictures at right both Ortho and Spectracide are finally proving effective on bittercress in the mowed test area (they both are also working in the unmowed test area).  It rained today and both the mowed and unmowed test areas are due for a fresh cut this weekend.  Some weeds (young henbit, young mouseear chickweed) still seem rather robust.  One thing is sure: these herbicides take quite awhile to work. Bittercress Treated With Ortho Weed B Gon
Bittercress Treated With Ortho
Bittercress Treated With Spectracide Weed Stop
Bittercress Treated With Spectracide
April 10, 2010 - It's a beautiful Saturday when we finally take our Toro to the unmowed test area for the first buzz of the season.  We know that several of the weeds we have (especially annual bluegrass) can be an indicator of compacted soil.  However, our budget doesn't allow us to rent a core aerator so we don a pair of aerator sandals that you can order from Amazon.com for less than $15 and wear these while we mow. Early Season Bermudagrass With Weeds
"Unmowed" Test Area Has Been Mowed
(hereafter "Test Area 1")
Just having a cut makes it look better but still no big difference between Ortho and Spectracide.
April 11, 2010 - We mowed our "mowed" test area (herafter "Test Area 2") nine days after the original cut.  We've bagged all our clippings so far because many of the weeds have gone to seed.  This won't get rid of all the problems next season but will help.  Again we used our aerator sandals and then put down Scotts® Turf Builder® Lawn Fertilizer with 2% Iron on both Test Areas 1 and 2.  The instructions said for faster results water in lightly, so we did.  We like faster results. Used Toro Personal Pace Mower This old Toro keeps on mowing! Scotts Turf Builder With Iron
April 18, 2010 - We mowed Test Areas 1 and 2 again today.  They are looking greener and less weed infested.  We thought the Ortho side of both Test Areas looked "paler" (less green, more yellow) than the Spectracide sections.  More on that next week.

We've spent $43 on supplies so far and it's just the first month.  Can we make it to next April on $107?
Test Area 1 - April 18, 2010
Test Area 1
(unmowed before treatment)
Test Area 2 - April 18, 2010
Test Area 2
(mowed before treatment)
April 28, 2010 - Last time we promised a little more insight on the "Ortho fading" we witnessed on both Test Areas.
While Ortho and Spectracide both seem to have had equally good results on our weeds (just be patient), the Ortho herbicide seemed to have stressed the annual bluegrass as well.  We witnessed large clumps of dying annual bluegrass in both Test Areas treated by Ortho Max.
To be sure, we treated another section of this lawn that had not previously been treated with Ortho Max and saw the same results - dying annual bluegrass.
While this is hardly a scientific experiment, our theory is that the Ortho Max accelerated the natural summertime die-out of the annual bluegrass by making it more susceptible to the daytime temperatures that are already in the mid-80s in Georgia.
How's that for a lucky find?!?!
Annual Bluegrass Treated With Ortho Max
Annual bluegrass sprayed with Ortho® Weed B Gon MAX® Plus Crabgrass Control Ready-Spray® in Test Area 1.
Dying Annual Bluegrass
Our second test with the Ortho herbicide also killed the annual bluegrass.
May 21, 2010 - Test Area 1 (and all the lawn) is making great progress! With just one application of herbicide and fertilizer, one use of aerator sandals, and regular mowing (once every four or five days now) the bermudagrass is growing nice and thick. There are still a few henbit weeds here and there and mare's tail pops up every now and then but the active weeds are well under control. 

We will use the aerator sandals again in June and will fertilize again in July.
Thicker, greener bermudagrass
Test Area 1 on May 21
Bermudagrass with weed problems
Test Area 1 on April 02
July 03, 2010 - Test Area 1 is showing normal signs of the summer heat and less rain. This lawn has not been irrigated yet this season though it is inevitable. Also, the bermuda grass was allowed to get too long between cuts in June and too much of the greenery was trimmed. This will recover, however. In June we also aerated with our sandals. On July 03 we applied Scotts® Turf Builder® Lawn Fertilizer with 2% Iron.  Crabgrass is popping up in spots but is being hand-plucked for now.
Bermuda Grass In Summer Drought
Test Area 1 on July 03
Crabgrass growing in bermuda grass
Crabgrass In Bermuda Grass
August 20, 2010 - Daytime temps have exceeded 90°F for weeks in Georgia and rainfall has been limited.  When part of the lawn began to brown (more evident in Test Area 2) we raised the mower height 1/2 notch and began weekly irrigation. The grass has improved noticeably and weeds are still at bay. (NOTE: The brown spot in the grass at front of Test Area 1 is from dog urine, another frustration in lawn management.) Watered Bermudagrass
Test Area 1 after watering and raising mower height
Bermuda grass with dead spots due to drought
Test Area 2 with spotty signs of the Georgia heat and dryness
September 30, 2010 - September was very dry for our lawn restoration project and we watered weekly [not calculated in our budget] until rain returned at the end of the month. A mower repair had our lawn without a buzz for two weeks and we've raised the deck again to about two inches to avoid taking off too much grass.  We put down a layer of Halts ($15) when the nighttime temps reached the 50s and our test areas have remained largely weed free.
In October, a product like Scotts WinterGuard will help feed your bermuda grass root system through the winter months.

If cool season weeds are already noticeable in your bermuda grass lawn this fall, consider a combination winterizer / herbicide like Scotts WinterGuard with Weed Control.