A lawn in the Southwest is a guilty pleasure. Green turf is soft underfoot and comfortingly cool….especially on 110 degree days. Burmuda grass thrives in the heat, and many homeowners maintain a patch for the kids, for the dog, for the sanity a little green brings to the desert. Burmuda grass flourishes in school yards and parks across the Southwest, going dormant during the cooler months and greening up again come spring.
A lawn stays green and comforting only when watered copiously…and of course, water is a rare commodity around here. According to University of Arizona County Extension, 50-75% of the water used on a landscape can be saved by removing a lawn.
What many folks don’t consider when they opt for a patch of green, is that trusty, reliable Burmuda grass is very difficult to eliminate. If at some point in the future you decide you want a garden, or a low-water-use landscape instead of that thirsty lawn, you are facing a big chore.
According to the Maricopa County Extension, there are two methods for getting rid of this plant. Bermuda can be poisoned with one to several applications of the herbicide glyphosate (Round Up and other brand names), or it can be solarized.
Solarization involves covering the entirety of the lawn with black plastic for the summer months. The grass is suffocated and baked. Even still, what remains when the plastic is finally drawn back must be removed from the landscape, or it will re-root.
I spoke recently to Greg Peterson local expert at Urbanfarm.org. He claims Burmuda grass can be eliminated by cutting and removing the sod to a depth of two to three inches. The area is then watered to stimulate growth of the remaining rootlets so they can be raked out. All of these processes hint at the necessity of continued vigilance against re-emergence.
Gyphosate manufacturers state that the herbicide becomes inert when it contacts soil organisms. However, it does seem ironic that in order to plant gardens, fruit trees or native plants in areas where lawn grows, putting down poison is the “logical” first step.
According to Jack Kelly, Assistant Agent of Agriculture in Pima County office Cooperative Extension, glyphosate kills most plants when it is absorbed by green leaf tissue. The herbicide travels through the plant to new roots, shoots and developing fruits. The plant must be growing actively for the poison to work, so glyphosate should be applied to fresh growth in spring or in fall when the daytime temperatures are still in the 80’s.
Use a coarse spray to minimize drift and shield nearby plants. Do not water for 24 hours while the Burmuda grass takes in the herbicide. Then resume watering so the plants stay active while the effects take place, for 7-14 more days. Taper water over that time until the plot is brown.
A power rake should then be employed to remove dead grass. Kelly recommends also removing the top 2 inches of soil so mulch can be added to the new landscape without overflowing sidewalks and driveways.
Sound like a chore to you? That’s why I’m proposing that the sustainability concept of cradle to grave be applied to the planting of Burmuda grass. Cradle to grave planning means that manufacturers of products must provide for an end of life use, or sustainable recycling method for said product. Then all those disposables that litter our landscape and clog our seas would cost enough to give us pause before purchasing. And maybe a cradle to grave approach to Burmuda grass would make us think twice about putting that seed down in the first place.
Converting Turf to a Xeriscape Landscape by Jack Kelly is a University of Arizona Cooperative Extension publication AZ1371