Nimmer Turf, leading authority in grass and sod sales and installation, located in Columbia and Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, is often asked about bahiagrass. Bahiagrass is valued for outstanding drought and heat tolerance and an ability to thrive where many types of lawn grasses falter. Its use on lawns occurs in a very limited region of the southeastern United States. Within this area, Bahiagrass produces a relatively durable, low-growing, low-maintenance turf. In this article, we will discuss what makes bahiagrass popular in South Carolina, bahiagrass care, and the diseases and pests that can destroy your lawn.

Bahiagrass is a good low input warm season lawn and pasture grass. Bahiagrass can easily be planted from grass seed and provides a “medium utility” turf grass lawn in South Carolina. Bahiagrass requires a moderate amount of lawn grass care, maintenance, and mowing.

Bahiagrass is drought resistant and is relatively easy to establish from seeds. Additionally, its resistance to most diseases and pests have made bahiagrass a popular choice. Bahiagrass grows quickly and has the tendency to appear coarse. Bahiagrass also produces a durable sod which is able to withstand the impact of moderate foot traffic.

How to Care for Bahiagrass in South Carolina

As previously mentioned, bahiagrass is not a “set it and forget” type of grass. There is a moderate amount of maintenance required for bahiagrass to flourish. Unlike some other warm-season grasses, bahiagrass can survive for extended periods without water, but it goes into a drought-induced dormancy, during which it turns brown and does not grow.

To keep it green and growing, apply ½–¾ inch of water per application. The watering saturates roughly the top 8 inches of soil where the majority of the roots are and make sure to follow any local watering restrictions. Bahiagrass has the ability to recover from severe drought injury soon after receiving water from either rain or irrigation. If you do not have an irrigation system and see these symptoms, leave the grass alone through the drought period. Avoid mowing too low or applying fertilizer and pesticides. Bahiagrass should not be overwatered because this weakens the turf and encourages weeds.

Proper mowing practices are necessary to keep any lawn healthy and attractive. During times of active growth, bahiagrass should be mowed every 7–14 days to a height of 3–4 inches. The higher mowing height promotes a deeper, more extensive root system that makes the grass more stress tolerant. Grass clippings should be left on the ground after mowing. The clippings do not contribute to thatch buildup, as is often assumed, and provides a source of nutrients to the lawn and can reduce fertility requirements if regularly left on the lawn.

The best method of weed control is to maintain a healthy, vigorous turf. Weed control during the establishment phase is essential and newly-established bahiagrass may be less competitive with annual grasses and broadleaf weeds.

Broadleaf weeds can be tough, aggressive plants that pounce on any weak areas in your lawn. Broadleaf weeds are easily identified in your lawn because they do not resemble grass. Examples of broadleaf weeds include dandelions, chickweed, and plantain. Weed-controlling herbicides such as 2,4-D, dicamba, or MCP can be applied in May as needed for control of annual and perennial broadleaf weeds.

What Diseases Can Harm Bahiagrass in South Carolina?

Dollar Spot disease is not picky and will kill Bahiagrass if given the opportunity to flourish. As the name implies, dollar spot disease develops as small, distinct circles from 1 to 6 inches in diameter, about the size of a silver dollar. Because these spots do not look very serious, individually, it is easy to underestimate the damage potential. Dollar spot disease kills bahiagrass down to the roots, serious scarring of your lawn can occur. A light application of nitrogen (½ pound nitrogen per 1000 square feet) should encourage the grass to outgrow these symptoms.

Dollar spot disease survives the winter dormant in the thatch and soil. When temperatures reach the 60s, dollar spot disease begins growing again. The peak of dollar spot disease occurs when temperatures are between 70 to 90 degrees. Other factors that trigger the development of dollar spot disease include low soil moisture when the humidity is high, low nitrogen fertility, too much thatch on the lawn and mowing bahiagrass too short during the summer months. Bahiagrass lawns not on a quality maintenance schedule that provides the correct blend of fertilizers, or watered and/or mowed incorrectly are most likely to develop dollar spot disease.

Dollar spot disease causes an hour-glass shaped band to form across the width of the grass blade. This band is a light tan and has a reddish-brown edge on the top and bottom. Being a very thorough disease, dollar spot kills the entire grass plant. After a visit from dollar spot disease, lawn renovation or reseeding will almost always be required once the disease is brought under control.

What are Mole Crickets and How Can They Affect Bahiagrass in South Carolina?

Bahiagrass is not troubled by many pests, however, the mole cricket does not fall under that category. You can recognize mole cricket damage by irregularly raised burrows and dying grass. These insects burrow through the soil and damage roots, causing the grass to wilt rapidly. You may also locate mole crickets by applying 2 gallons of water with 1–2 ounces of detergent soap per 2 square feet of turf in suspected damaged areas. If present, the mole crickets will surface in a few minutes.

Mole crickets are often attracted to lawns that have an abundance of thatch, incorrect mowing, and excessive water or fertilizer. Mole crickets find this to be a suitable habitat and will eventually overwinter within deep burrows, which are created by their extensive digging.

Once the soil warms in spring, mole crickets will work their way up to the surface to feed on grass, usually at night. This feeding also takes place in the upper inches of soil. Female mole crickets will begin laying eggs just beneath the soil surface in spring and early summer, with hatching coming shortly thereafter. The nymphs will then develop during summer with damage seen by mid to late July.

The predators of the dollar cricket include frogs, lizards, tortoises, salamanders, and spiders. Unlike other insects, dollar crickets do not actively defend themselves. Dollar crickets have cerci (long hairs) at the end of the abdomen to detect movement and stop making sounds when they detect a disturbance. Some use camouflage to blend with their surroundings, however, if captured, they will try to break free, even risking the loss of a leg, without making a sound.

Are There Other Pests That Can Destroy Bahiagrass in South Carolina?

Other pests of concern to bahiagrass include:

Chinch Bugs. Chinch bugs extract the liquid found in grass through their needle-like beaks, depleting the grass of its nutrients, often feasting in large groups. Since Chinch bugs like the sunny areas of the grass, you may notice patches on your lawn, especially in well-exposed areas.

Sod Webworms. Adult sod webworms are in fact small brown moths that live in turf grasses. Though the adults do not actually consume the grass, their offspring are the main cause of lawn destruction. After the female sod webworms lay their eggs, they hatch and the small caterpillars that emerge begin feeding on the top growths of the grass; this usually occurs in the spring.

Not all grasses are susceptible to the same diseases and pests, however, two of the most aggressive dollar spot disease and mole crickets can find their way into your lawn if not maintained properly. Bahiagrass is an excellent choice for our South Carolina climate and its durability is undeniable. To learn more about the benefits of bahiagrass or to schedule an appointment for a free consultation, call the experts at Nimmer Turf.