If you live in Florida or on the Gulf Coast, you’re probably familiar with bahiagrass. Most commonly used as a pasture grass, bahiagrass has made a name for itself as a desirable lawn grass in this niche, Gulf Coast region.
This low-maintenance turf is a popular option for lawns with sandy, infertile soils or where homeowners have a large lot that needs a practical turf that doesn’t require irrigation or high levels of fertilizer.
Bahiagrass at a glance
Classification: Warm-season grass
Spreads by: Rhizomes
Shade tolerance: Low — needs full sun
Drought resistance: High
Foot traffic tolerance: Low
Maintenance needs: Growth rate is moderate to high, so plan to mow often during the growing season
Mowing height: 3-4 inches
Potential for disease: Low; insect tolerance is moderate
Soil pH: 5.5-6.5
Soil type: Tolerates most soils, does well in sandy loam
Other notes: Bahiagrass is grown in the Gulf Coast and Southeastern U.S; does best in acidic soils — not the best grass if your soils are naturally alkaline; doesn’t tolerate saltwater well
What is bahiagrass?
Bahiagrass (pronounced buh-HEE-uh, buh-HI-uh, or buh-HEY-uh) is a valuable addition to the small group of oft-used Gulf Coast turfgrasses. It can be hard to maintain a nice-looking lawn in such humid, insect-ridden conditions, so bahia fills a low-maintenance niche in these states.
Like most warm-season grasses, it prefers full sun and its deep roots allow it to survive in drought conditions. While this grass has many desirable characteristics, it is not a good grass for high-traffic areas. This grass is often used for larger acreages where a simple ground cover is all that is needed, not a trophy lawn. Plan to mow every week or so to keep the seed heads at bay. Bahia prefers naturally acidic, sandy loam soils but tolerates most soil types.
Pros and cons of bahiagrass
Bahiagrass is not right for every lawn, but for large acreages, it can be ideal.
✓ Low water and fertilizer requirements
✓ Low-maintenance (Caveat: Weekly or bimonthly mowing is needed to remove seed heads)
✓ Deep roots
✓ Does well in infertile and sandy soils
✓ Ideal grass for large acreage where a low-maintenance ground cover is needed
✓ Few insect and disease problems
✓ Thatch not generally a concern
✓ Establish from seed or sod
✗ Does not produce a dense carpet of grass
✗ Seed stems will dull mower blades quickly
✗ Seed heads can be an eyesore if not mowed regularly
✗ Only a few varieties are available for home lawns
✗ Lack of density (“open growth habit”) may leave space for weeds to grow
How to establish bahiagrass
Bahiagrass is available via seed or sod. Seed is less expensive for the product and the labor; sod is more expensive on both fronts. If you’re establishing the grass in a large area, seed is a more economical option for most people. If you have a smaller lawn and want a higher-quality look, sod produces the best results, as long as it’s given proper care post-planting.
Sod can be put down nearly any time of year. If you plan to seed, areas of North Florida and to the north will want to seed in spring or early summer. This allows the grass as much time as possible to grow in and establish before growth slows in the cooler months. If you don’t have irrigation, choose a naturally rainy time to seed bahia.
How much does bahiagrass cost?
Bahiagrass seed: A 5-pound bag of Argentine bahiagrass costs about $34
Bahiagrass sod: Bahia sod costs between 20 to 40 cents per square foot
Caring for bahiagrass
Plan to mow every week to two weeks, keeping the grass 3-4 inches tall. In the peak of the summer, you may have to mow even more frequently to keep the seed heads at bay. (Note: Bahia’s Y-shaped, two- or three-branched seed heads are a defining characteristic of this grass.) While the seedheads may be annoying, think of it this way: It’s free overseeding for your lawn.
You can overseed annually with more bahia seed to keep the lawn looking its best, but don’t expect it to grow as dense as Zoysia or other grasses that have naturally dense growth habits. Also, know that not every bahia seed you plant will germinate that season; some bahia seeds will lay dormant and not germinate right away.
Finally, if you’re thinking about a bahia lawn, sharpen your mower blades often. Bahia’s seed heads and stems are tough on your blades, so you’ll need to sharpen them more frequently to keep a nice, sharp cut on your lawn.
Bahiagrass is sometimes used on large lots with no option to irrigate. If this describes your lawn, know that bahia will go into a dormant state (turn brown) during long periods without water. When rain returns, it will green up again and resume its growth.
If you are able to water the lawn, watch for folded leaves, a change in color, and footprints that stay on the grass after you walk on it. If you see these things, it’s probably time for a drink. Apply from ½ to ¾ inch of water each time you turn on the sprinklers.
Pro Tip: If you have an irrigation system, remember to water in the early morning hours, no later than 10 a.m.
How much you’ll need to fertilize a bahia lawn depends on your soil. Plan to get a soil test before you think about installing any lawn to know what kind of prep work you’ll need to do. Fertilizer requirements will vary depending on many factors: organic matter levels, type of soil, whether you’ve previously recycled clippings (AKA mulched them) back into the lawn, and so forth.
In Florida, it is recommended to apply from 1-4 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per year, depending on where you live. Check your local guidelines if there are fertilizer blackout dates and ordinances to know when you can apply.
Dethatching and aeration
Since bahiagrass is most often grown on sandy soils, aeration is not necessary. In addition, bahiagrass is not a grass that typically develops high levels of thatch.
Disease, insects, and weeds
Disease: Dollar spot is sometimes an issue. Maintaining proper, light fertilization should help the grass defeat this disease.
Insects: Mole crickets, bahiagrass billbugs, and fall armyworms may cause problems in bahiagrass lawns.
Weeds: The best offense against weeds is to maintain a healthy lawn. How do you do this? Ensure your bahia is mowed to the proper height (3-4 inches), irrigated when it shows signs of drought stress, and fertilized throughout the season.
Still have weeds? Make sure you know what kinds of weeds you have as this will help you know how and when it’s best to treat. You can look online, send a pic to your favorite plant ID app, or contact your local Extension office for help identifying the weed. Pre- and post-emergent options (natural and chemical) are available. If you opt for chemical treatments, stay away from metsulfuron and atrazine, as these products can damage bahia.
To discourage excessive weed growth, consider overseeding the lawn with bahia seed annually. Bahia will never be as thick or dense as some other grass types, but this will help to fill in any gaps that may otherwise become infested with weeds.
Some information taken from Fundamentals of Turfgrass Management, 5th ed. by Christians, Patton, and Law.
If you think a bahiagrass lawn may be right up your alley, contact one of our local lawn care professionals. They can help you select, install, and care for your grass so you can spend your free time doing what matters most.
Main Photo Credit: John Robert McPherson | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 4.0