This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V24", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
Referring to your note (page 341 Gardeners Monthly) let me say: Early in the summer I received a sod of Bermuda grass about a foot in length by three inches in width from Tennessee. It remained in the office until thoroughly dry and apparently dead. It was then taken to the Rural Farm and planted in a very dry muck-and-sand soil. In a few days it showed signs of life, and in a few weeks was a mass of green, of a bright blueish-green color. It soon began to send out its short-jointed, wiry shoots in all directions, which grew on an average an inch and a half in twenty-four hours, rooting at each joint as they proceeded along the surface of the ground, easily making their way under stones, pieces of wood, etc., which had been placed to ascertain in how far these would obstruct or in what way change the growth. From so small a sod a little plot seven feet in diameter had formed by the latter part of August. It has bloomed freely during the entire summer, and is blooming now (November 12). While all other grasses were browned or killed by the severe drought which prevailed from midsummer until mid-October, this retained its fresh, pale green color throughout.
Its flowers are borne in spikelets of from three to five, two inches long, similar to those of common crab grass (Panicum sanguinale). Though nearly positive, it would neither seed nor prove hardy so far North, my object in the experiment was to settle those questions beyond doubt. You are aware how the rootstocks of couch grass (Triticum repens) grow. They run underground, rooting at every joint, from each of which another plant grows. The rootstocks (as we may call them) of Bermuda grass creep on the surface of the ground by preference, rooting like couch grass at every one of its joints. Though the leaves are narrow and short, this grass forms a, network of roots, rootstocks, stems and leaves that soon become an entangled mat, and take complete possession of the soil.
Dr. G. W. Smith, Canton, Miss., says :
" I think you are mistaken in regard to the common belief as to the flowering of the Cynodan dactylon in the South. It is not that the grass produces no flower spikes, but that it does not perfect seed; and when it is not kept down by grazing, it produces, on good land, flowers in profuse abundance, but diligent and repeated search has failed ever to find a seed".
The editor of The Rural New Yorker, in the January number of the Gardener's Monthly, says, that he planted a sample of Tennessee Bermuda grass in a dry muck-and-sand soil, and that it throve wonderfully, that is to say, it spread in one summer over a space fully seven feet in diameter. A very good record, certainly, to which the editor adds, as a further recommendation of the grass, that it would probably prove hardy in as trying a summer and winter climate as that of Central New York.
The sand-and-muck soil was the feature of the experiment that attracted my attention, and I wondered how rich a soil, this particular one, used and mentioned by Mr. Carman, was. Suppose the muck was quite absent, or present in but small quantity ; for instance, we will say, such a soil were tried as may be found in the yards and gardens of our New Jersey seaside villages and summer resorts. Would it answer?
If such slightly fertilized earth as this would satisfy the demands of the plant, then the Bermuda grass of Tennessee is just the bit of vegetation needed in these places to serve the twofold purpose of giving the greenness or floor of positive color obliquely beneath the eye which that organ naturally demands, and to cover from sight the now almost universal surface of glaring, eye-irritating whiteness.
At Saint Augustine, on the coast of Florida, some several years since, I saw in a yard surrounding the residence of a brother of the late Vice-President Hamlin, a nicely trimmed area of lawn, the grass used in which was called the Meskit or Muskit. This grass has either a running rootstock, or a creeping stem, spreads rapidly and is very persistent where once set. Though very coarse, it in this case, completely covered the ground and was kept in excellent appearance by the frequent use of the lawn mower. Unfortunately the Meskit is, I believe, a semi-tropical grass, or it would answer perfectly the needs and demands of a long strip of sandy sea shore, that, in fact, which, commencing at Squan, continues indefinitely southward into the gulf.
The plot of Bermuda grass was not altogether killed at the Rural Farm by the past winter. Here and there the roots sprouted and have made an immense growth the past summer. We have here (Bergen Co., New Jersey,) two plots growing from seed, the one sown in the house in flower pots last winter - the other sown outside in early spring.
Many have doubted this, believing (as the Bermuda is thought never to perfect seed) that the grass must be some other kind nearly resembling it. Such is not the case. It is the true Bermuda, in proof of which I send you a flower-spike.
With regard to your correspondent's inquiry as to the richness of soil required to insure the free growth of the above named grass, our experience here is to the effect that it will grow in any soil no matter how poor.
As a summer grass in a hot and dry climate it is superior to any; but there are several objections to its use for lawns. It is almost impossible to use it near flower beds, as it will run through them in spite of all efforts to avoid it. Once in possession, it is worse to eradicate than the couch-grass of Europe. Another objection is its dulness through winter, and far into the spring. Its rich green color through the hot summer months when all else is wilted and burned up, is very refreshing to say the least; but with the first cold nights of autumn it changes to a dull light brown, which is anything but pleasing on a well kept lawn.
Notwithstanding these drawbacks a good deal could be said in its favor. For sodding embankments, or poor sandy ground, where scarce anything else will grow, it has no equal and should be used much more than it is.