Bermuda Grass vs Crabgrass: Full Comparison & Key Differences

The grass is always greener on the other side. But when it comes to comparing certain grass varieties, some are more welcome than others. 

Bermuda grass and crabgrass share many similarities, particularly regarding appearance and growth habits. Yet most landscapers welcome Bermuda grass while shunning crabgrass as a weed. 

Before you start that lawn mower, compare Bermuda grass vs crabgrass to determine which plant is really a threat to your yard. 

Quick Comparison

Both Bermuda grass and crabgrass are low-growing plants that spread rapidly. 

Bermuda grass, also spelled as bermudagrass, is a hardy perennial turfgrass. It grows best in full sun and has a high drought tolerance. Bermuda grass flourishes in the southern regions of the United States, especially during the summer months. 

Crabgrass also has a high drought tolerance and enjoys direct sunlight. Unlike bermudagrass, crabgrass is an annual plant. Many lawn care specialists and gardeners regard crabgrass as a weed. 

Neither plant is necessarily dangerous, though they can impede the growth of other plants if left to spread. Most homeowners seek to eliminate Bermuda and crabgrasses from an aesthetic perspective. 

Both plants can easily spread beyond your lawn to sidewalks, driveways, flower beds, and gardens.

However, the presence of crabgrass can indicate that your lawn is in some way unhealthy. 

How To Tell Them Apart

Bermuda grass and crabgrass both grow low to the ground. But look a little closer, and you’ll notice a few differences in appearance. 

Bermuda grass has dark green leaves that tend to roll at the edges. When mowed short (under one inch), the blades have a softer texture. If left to grow longer, the leaves become more coarse. 

The leaves of the crabgrass plant are broader, brighter, and rougher in texture. The color is closer to greenish-yellow than forest green. The spread of the leaves gives crabgrass its name — like a crustacean crouching in the sand. 

If the stems have begun flowering, examine the seed heads on your unidentified grasses. (The seed heads will look like tiny stalks of wheat branching from the stems.) 

Bermuda grass seeds sprout from a single point at the end of the stem like a kind of starburst. Crabgrass seeds, however, sprout from multiple points along the stem, forming a line of nesting Vs. 

Aside from these physical distinctions, consider the growing climate. Bermuda grass primarily grows in the warm climates of the southern United States, particularly near the coasts. Crabgrass exhibits no such geographic preferences but will grow seemingly anywhere.

There are roughly 35 species of crabgrass and 50 varieties of Bermuda grass¹. Not to mention, it’s easy to confuse these plants with other grass types (especially windmill grass, Kentucky bluegrass, and quackgrass). 

If you’re developing a plan to eradicate these types of grass using chemicals, you might want to consider hiring a professional. Tailoring treatment strategies to specific plants will give you the best chance of success.

Bermuda Grass vs Crabgrass: Full Comparison

Many homeowners welcome Bermuda grass but consider crabgrass an unattractive weed. If it’s so easy to confuse the two plants, why do we regard one as an attractive yard addition but the other as something to eradicate from an otherwise healthy lawn?

Understanding the differences between these two types of grass will help you determine what’s best for your landscape.

Appearance

Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon) is a low-growing plant with a medium texture and wide leaf blades. The stems and blades both have a dark green color. 

This grass produces shoots above and below the soil surface. Below the surface, rhizomes help root and spread the plant. (Note: although rhizomes are not technically roots, they serve a similar purpose.) Above the surface, stolons creep the grass toward new locations. 

In the US, the two most common species of crabgrass are hairy crabgrass (Digitaria sanguinalis) and smooth crabgrass (Digitaria ischaemum). Both species produce clumps of bright green leaves, though the coloration of hairy crabgrass tends to be less vibrant. 

Hairy crabgrass, also called large crabgrass, produces scratchy “hairs” and leaf sheaths that can grow up to two feet tall. Smooth crabgrass, unsurprising, has a smoother texture. The leaves of this plant can grow up to six inches tall. 

Both Bermuda grass and crabgrass produce seed heads in late summer or early fall. 

Growth Habits

Both crabgrass and bermudagrass display aggressive growth. Of the two, crabgrass grows more quickly. 

Bermuda grass is a perennial, meaning it will grow back year after year. It can go dormant in the winter, becoming dry and brown. But in areas that don’t receive winter frosts, bermudagrass will stay green year-round. 

This perennial grass is hardy. It has a deep root system that helps it endure heavy foot traffic. Typically, roots grow to six inches below the soil surface. But they can sometimes stretch to depths of six feet.

Crabgrass, on the other hand, has shallow roots. But it makes up for these roots by growing quickly and spreading seeds plentifully. Crabgrass will die off after the first frost in the autumn. 

Landscaping Uses

Because bermudagrass is so hardy, it is a popular turf for areas with heavy foot traffic, such as athletic fields and golf courses. 

Some farmers even use Bermuda grass in pastures to feed grazing livestock. 

Most landscapers classify crabgrass as a weed and thus don’t attempt to cultivate it. But depending on the circumstance, you might also classify Bermuda grass as a weed. 

Why?

Aesthetic value aside, there’s no arguing the fact that both plants can spread rapidly. Prolific growth might not be an issue if you’re trying to cover a backyard for your kids. 

But you might not want these grasses spreading to gardens and flower beds. As Bermuda grass and crabgrass spread, they become a kind of invasive species. If left to grow, these grasses might crowd out pre-existing plants, robbing them of space, water, and nutrients. 

Growing Conditions & Drought Tolerance

Bermuda grass is a warm-season grass that loves direct sunlight and high temperatures. It prefers fertile, well-drained soil and tolerates drought and high salt levels well. You’ll often find Bermuda grass growing naturally in coastal and arid climates. 

Like many weeds, crabgrass will grow (and grow rapidly) even in suboptimal conditions, such as dry soils with low fertility. Don’t be surprised if you find it flourishing in the scorching heat of July and August. Crabgrass will likely make a home in any thin or bare spots on your lawn. 

Neither Bermuda grass nor crabgrass grow well in shade.

Mowing & Maintenance Requirements

If you are growing Bermuda grass as decorative lawn grass, you will need to fertilize and water the plant to help it maintain its color. 

Additionally, remember that Bermuda grass is very adept at spreading. If you want to keep Bermuda grass on your lawn and out of your flower beds, you will need to do regular edging. 

Like many weed grasses, crabgrass is incredibly low maintenance. So usually, the issue is not how to cultivate it but how to get rid of this persistent grass. (More on this topic in a later section.) 

How To Get Rid of Crabgrass

Since crabgrass is an annual plant, you might think that the end of a growing season would also signal the end of your crabgrass infestation. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

Crabgrass plants do die in the winter. But when they do so, they leave hundreds of crabgrass seeds in the ground. 

If left untreated, these seeds will germinate in the spring — beginning the growth cycle all over again. 

Treating crabgrass requires planning. Essentially, you need to spray it before you see it. Otherwise, new plants will emerge and the cycle will continue exponentially. 

At the end of winter or the beginning of spring, apply a pre-emergent herbicide to your lawn. To maximize effectiveness, do so before temperatures exceed 60 F. As soil temperatures rise, the seeds begin to germinate and grow. 

If you’re uncertain about how to get rid of crabgrass, contact your local lawn specialist. They will often offer weed control services to eradicate or prevent weed grasses. 

One last note: avoid the temptation to pull these weeds. The shallow root system makes it relatively easy to do so by hand. However, this activity can cause crabgrass seed heads to scatter more seeds into the ground. 

Crabgrass Killers

If you prefer a DIY approach there are natural solutions you can use such as boiling water, baking soda, and others. Along with chemical products. Read our best crabgrass killers article for more details.

How to Prevent Crabgrass & Lawn Weeds

The best way to keep crabgrass out of your lawn is to prevent it from rooting there in the first place. 

Crabgrass struggles to grow in dense lawns. So seed your lawn thoroughly in the fall with thick turf grass. 

During the growing season, raise the blades on your lawnmower. You might enjoy the appearance of a sharply trimmed lawn, but crabgrass will grow more easily amongst sparser grass. 

It’s also worth noting that crabgrass often invades Bermuda grass. So if you are determined to prevent crabgrass, consider swapping ornamental Bermuda grass for something else.

References

1: Bermudagrass – Species & Varieties | Forages. (n.d.). Bermudagrass – Species & Varieties | Forages. https://georgiaforages.caes.uga.edu/species-and-varieties/warm-season/bermudagrass.html

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Davin is a jack-of-all-trades but has professional training and experience in various home and garden subjects. He leans on other experts when needed and edits and fact-checks all articles.