Selecting an Appropriate Bermudagrass Variety for Pastures

March 2019


Selecting Bermudagrass forage variety is the first right step toward a productive pasture. You can select the best field, properly fertilize it and prepare a perfect seedbed; however, you may end up with an unproductive and poorly established pasture with a much shorter stand longevity than normal if you do not select a proper Bermudagrass variety. This fact sheet lists the most important soil and weather factors to consider when deciding which Bermudagrass variety to establish.
Some Bermudagrass varieties are clonally propagated and do not produce viable seeds. Those varieties are available for planting as sprigs, only. Other Bermudagrass varieties produce viable seeds; therefore, they are available for planting with seeds even though viable sprigs can also be produced from them. Consequently, the first step toward choosing a Bermudagrass variety for your specific pasture is to decide which planting method to use: seed or sprig Bermudagrass. Deciding planting method either sprigging or seeding the first “variety sieving” when comes to selecting the proper Bermudagrass variety to your specific field. There are several sprigging and seeded Bermudagrass varieties available in the market, and selecting the most appropriate seed or sprig variety can become overwhelming. To simplify this process, there are some criteria to follow when choosing Bermudagrass varieties. The main factors on choosing the most appropriate variety to a specific location are described below.

Winter Hardiness
Winter hardiness is the ability of a Bermudagrass variety to survive the winter. Varieties that are not winter hardy to a specific location typically get killed to varying degrees in winter, resulting in loss of stands or declining over time in stand density and productivity. Therefore, this criterion is the first to be satisfied when choosing Bermudagrass varieties in Oklahoma. The severity of winters increases as latitude increases; therefore, some varieties that are used in the southern part of the state are poorly adapted to the northern part. For instance, the old varieties Alicia and Coastal are two clonals that are winter hardy and promise rapid establishment and good yield potential for the first tier of counties in southern Oklahoma; however, they will not tolerate the cold winter in northern Oklahoma locations. For northern Oklahoma, relatively newer varieties, such as Midland 99 and Goodwell, will be better options.

Site-specific Adaptions
After the winter hardiness requirement is satisfied, subtle performance differences among varieties, such as disease resistance, tolerance to low pH, waterlogging and adaption to other site-specific issues should be considered. Make sure to evaluate site limitations and the most reoccurring weeds, insects and diseases, then select the most appropriate variety to your specific conditions. For instance, Midland 99 is known as a high-yielding clonal, which will generally produce more than Greenfield. However, this may not be true in some eastern Oklahoma locations on alluvial soils. Greenfield can develop faster and produce more than Midland 99 in wet alluvial soils. On the other hand, Midland 99 will be a great option for coarse-textured soils, such as sandy loam, which is a well-drained soil.

Growth Morphology
For growth morphology, the varieties are separated into two groups often referred to as grazing types and hay types. The grazing types are distinguished from the hay types as being shorter in stature and forming a more dense sod. In other words, the grazing types will invest energy in production of more runners, or stolons, than hay types. Hay types will invest less in runner production so it can produce more upright stems and leaves. More runners make the grazing-type Bermudagrass more resilient to animal hoofing and allow more growing points for a steady, but relative slow forage production. On the other hand, hay-type Bermudagrass will produce great amounts of leaves and stems relatively fast, allowing fewer hay cuts with more tonnage throughout the season. Even though the name of each type defines its primary use, hay types can be grazed and vice-versa; although low performance can be expected varieties are not used as intended. Haying grazing types will result in a higher number of cuts with less tonnage per cut, meaning more production costs for the same or less amount of hay produced throughout the season. Grazing hay types will result in intermittent forage production through the season, where stocking rates must be lower and grazing stubble heights must be kept higher (≥3 inches) than grazing types.
Most of the clonal Bermudagrasses are hay types because Bermudagrass breeding programs prospered on high forage tonnage regardless of grazing resilience. However, the most recent clonals such as Goodwell (released in 2007) is marketed as hay/grazing. During the past decade, Bermudagrass breeding programs are acknowledging grazing resilience as an important trait in response to the increasing number of Bermudagrass pasture depletion due to severe grazing on clonal types. Moreover, today’s focus is on the development of seed rather than clonal varieties because seed companies found Bermudagrass seed more profitable than sprigs. Seeding to establish a Bermudagrass pasture is much cheaper than sprigging.

Forage Yield and Quality Potential
Even though every Bermudagrass variety has its own yield potential dictated by its genetics, the actual forage yield each variety can achieve is limited by field conditions and management practices. The pasture’s latitude, length of the growing season, temperature, rainfall and its pattern, soil texture, fertility and other management practices are the major factors that dictate the final forage yield of a specific Bermudagrass variety. Therefore, choosing a variety by the yield promised on the seed bag is not the wisest decision. Seed companies test their products in the best weather, soil conditions; and use the best management practices possible to show the full potential of their products. The odds that your pasture will replicate these same conditions are very low. A more applicable Bermudagrass variety selection would be by looking at how each variety performs close to your location.
A very common approach used by many producers is by word-of-mouth. Even though a consistent number of good testimonials from different neighbors is positive evidence; this is a very subjective evaluation, and perhaps inaccurate. These testimonials may not include fertilization levels, irrigation amounts, herbicides expenses, accurate yields, etc.
An impartial approach for selecting the best variety to a specific pasture is looking at the closest public Bermudagrass variety trial to your location. Public variety trials are managed by state universities, which is an unbiased source of information to the public. Furthermore, public variety trials use proper scientific methodology to compare different varieties and disclose all pasture management to the public allowing the most objective and accurate evaluation. Since 2016, the OSU Forage Program has been conducting Bermudagrass variety trials throughout the state. So far, there are six Bermudagrass variety trials at four different locations, spanning from central to eastern Oklahoma. Find the OSU Bermudagrass variety trial reports on the Extension fact sheet website at: facts.okstate.edu. If you have any questions about those reports, please contact your local county Extension educator or the author of this fact sheet. You can find your county Extension office staff at countyext2.okstate.edu

Table 1. Commercial seeded-propagated Bermudagrass varieties.  
NameTypeDescription
Cheyenne IIGrazing/HayHigh yielding with good leaf to stem ratio. Good palatability. Cold tolerance for most of Oklahoma.
CommonGrazing/HayModerate cold hardiness; best adapted south of about 34˚ latitude and in sub-humid climates; used as a turf and forage grass.
GiantHayTall, fast growing, but less cold tolerant than common, not winter hardy, usually winter kills throughout Oklahoma. Used in blends with common or other Bermudagrasses to speed establishment. Very similar to Coastal Bermudagrass; however it produces seed.
MohawkGrazing/HayHigh yielding, cold tolerant, drought resistant. Forms a dense sod greener in color.
MorhayHayResistant to high heat and low moisture environments. Has a dark green color, establishes and spreads fast.
NK-37Grazing/HayTall and thick variety. Characterized by quick recovery after cutting, fast and vigorous growth.
Pasto RicoHay/GrazingBlend of giant and coastal Bermudagrass. Quick stand on first year. However, giant Bermudagrass plants will not last more than four years.
Ranchero FrioHay/GrazingFast establishment with high yield and extremely drought and cold tolerance. Adaptable for most soil types.
RiataGrazingBlend of Wrangler and Riviera for an intense grazing. Relative low winter resistance.
Sahara IIGrazingDrought and heat tolerant. Bred to be greener and an improvement of common Bermudagrass.
Stampede PlusHay/GrazingFast establishment and with high yields and quality in warmer areas.
SungrazerHay/GrazingSelected for cold and drought resistance, high yields and nutritive value.
Texas ToughHay/GrazingHigh drought tolerance, high yields and insect resistant.
Tierra VerdeGrazing/HayBlend of Mohawk and Sahara II. Highly palatable and good yields with thin leaves.
WranglerGrazing/HayVery cold tolerant, high quality in tough growing conditions, well adapted to the entire state, performing better than others in transition zone (northern Oklahoma) and southern Oklahoma. Used as forage and for soil stabilization.
Table 2. Commercial clonal Bermudagrass varieties available for use in Oklahoma   
VarietyTime releasedTypeMajor Characteristics
AliciaMid 1960sHayModerately cold tolerant; marginally adapted to the first tier of counties in southern Oklahoma. Established with top cuttings or sprigs; spreads rapidly during establishment with high yield potential.
Coastal1943HayModerately cold tolerant; marginally adapted to the first tier of counties in southern Oklahoma and with high yield potential.
Goodwell2007Hay/GrazingLarge stems, wide leaves, dense sod and good winter hardiness.
Greenfield1954GrazingPersistent forage establishes easily. Good performance on poor soils.
Hardie1974HayCold hardy through most of Oklahoma; high yield potential; poor stand persistence, especially in eastern Oklahoma due to disease susceptibility and intolerance to low soil pH.
Midland1953HayHigh leaf amount and dark color with an open sod.
Midland991999HaySimilar to Tifton 44, but more tolerant to low temperatures. High yield potential.
Ozark2002HayLong leaves, cold resistant and steady yields.
Tifton441978HayThe most used winter hardy variety in the southern U.S. Early green up in spring, high average daily gain. However, it takes longer to establish.
World Feeder1990GrazingYield similar as Greenfield. Moderate winter hardiness, but average quality.

Lucas Freires Abreu
Graduate Student, Forages

Alex Rocateli
Forage Systems Extension Specialist

DASNR Extension Research CASNR
OCES  Contact
OCES
139 Agricultural Hall
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK 74078
OKLAHOMA STATE UNIVERSITY