The Grass Guide: Bermudagrass

Due to high forage yields and average quality, bermudagrass makes excellent horse hay.

Photo: University of Kentucky's College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment

Name: Bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon)
Life cycle: Warm-season perennial
Native to: Southeast Africa
Uses: Pasture and hay
Identification: Smooth or rough leaf blades attached to the stem with a hairy collar, seed head has three to six spikes with triangular seeds

Like other warm-season perennial grasses, bermudagrass grows best in hot, humid climates, making it an important species in the Deep South.

Bermudagrass shows increased winter kill north of Tennessee or Missouri, but commercial breeding has improved winter hardiness in some varieties. This grass has average nutrient quality, but its persistence even in close grazing or cutting makes it an ideal forage for horse pastures.

Due to high forage yields and average quality, bermudagrass also makes excellent horse hay. It can also handle traffic and can be used for erosion control in hilly pastures.

To the untrained eye, bermudagrass shares a striking resemblance to another warm-season perennial, nimblewill, which is common in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia. Nimblewill is bitter and will not be grazed by livestock, so proper identification is key before significant management decisions are made.

Krista Lea, MS, coordinator of UK's Horse Pasture Evaluation Program within the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences; and Ray Smith, PhD, professor and forage extension specialist within UK’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, provided this information.

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