Turf Removal in the Drought

Looking to remove your lawn and replace it with drought-tolerant, and pocketbook-friendly, low-water plants? Most turf grasses, both cool and warm season types, are easy to remove with simple methods such as lifting with a sod cutter or just digging the grass out by hand. But one turf grass originally introduced as a drought tolerant problem solver has proven to be a nasty invasive species that overtakes other lawn grasses, and left unchecked will even cover and kill low shrubs. Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon), native to Africa, is a nasty weed in landscapes across southern California because it has deep roots as well as stolons and rhizomes-modified stems that act as reproductive organs after the above ground parts of the plant have been disturbed, allowing the plant to re-sprout months, even years after its initial removal.

The solution is an ominous-sounding technique called “grow and kill”, where a systemic herbicide is used repeatedly to kill the sprouting roots until the whole plant is dead. The Water Conservation Garden seldom recommends the use of herbicides in landscape management, but unless you have years to devote to hand-removal of your Bermuda grass, this method is the only effective eradication process for this pest. Luckily, the process is simple and utilizes a relatively safe herbicide that only needs to be applied a few times for success. Remember that all herbicides are poisons and should be applied according to label instructions to protect yourself and minimize their use in the environment.

“Grow and Kill” Instructions
• Begin the process during warm summer weather, which is the active growth season for Bermuda grass.
• Purchase a ready-to-use glyphosate (the systemic herbicide) mix for turf, or a concentrate that can be diluted to a 2% solution. If using a concentrate, a surfactant may need to be added for effective application. Do not use a concentration higher than 3-4%, as this is both unnecessary and may kill the surface of the grass without reaching all the roots.
• Thoroughly water your Bermuda grass infested lawn until the grass has plenty of green growth on top. (Be sure to get a picture of your lawn while it is green for turf rebate programs. For more information see www.sdcwa.org)
• Once there is plenty of new green growth, spray the lawn with the glyphosate mix according to the label instructions, being careful to avoid getting the chemical on your skin, or overspray on other plants.
• Water as normal for 2-3 weeks, or until the grass appears to have recovered and is green again. If it does not re-green, congratulations! It worked on one try!
• Otherwise, spray again according to the label instructions, then water thoroughly until green, then spray, etc., until the grass does not recover. Two to three rounds of spraying is usually 99% effective. The whole process should take 4-6 weeks.

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