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April 28, 2020
By the U of A System Division of Agriculture
(451 words)(Download this story in MS Word format here.)
LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas pasture managers, cattle producers and other growers may be
noticing their bermudagrass turning purple — and are trying to root out the cause,
John Jennings, extension forage specialist for the University of Arkansas System Division
of Agriculture, said.
“The evidence indicates that many cases involve well-managed hay fields,” Jennings
said. “Many of these fields were treated for winter weeds and fertilized to support
early bermudagrass growth.”
In many cases, he said, no obvious insect problems have been reported. Soil fertility
is variable among cases, so from there, the evidence goes cold.
“Let’s examine the physiology of the victim — the bermudagrass itself,” Jennings said.
Bermudagrass is a warm-season grass, which grows best at temperatures above 85 degrees.
Green leaf tips always show up in March, especially when there is no burden of winter
weeds to block sunlight.
But it takes a series of consecutive warm nights above 60 degrees to get the internal
machinery of the grass working efficiently, Jennings said.
“Early on, the bermudagrass will start to grow on warm days, then gets shut down when
temperatures drop back,” he said. “Night temps in the 40s shut down growth for several
days. It’s a bit like trying to start a cold engine - it hits, sputters, hits, then
finally starts sluggishly.”
Jennings pointed out that a possible clue: In late March and into early April, temperatures
rose above 80 degrees. The rising temperatures likely prompted many producers to fertilize
fields to push the bermudagrass out of dormancy for early growth.
Temperatures then took a dive for several days, and warmed back up just before Easter,
“It was as if spring had finally sprung, and then ‘blackberry winter’ hit right about
Easter,” he said, with temperatures dropping and frost occurring in northern areas
of the state.
“Blackberry winter is an old-timer saying referring to the often-annual event, when
spring temperatures suddenly drop just about the time the blackberry briars start
blooming,” Jennings said. “The tender growth of the bermudagrass, fueled by sunlight
and fertilizer, suddenly sputtered and stalled.”
“Purpling” is often due to accumulation of anthocyanin pigments due to stress, he
said. It is frequently associated with cold-weather-induced phosphorus deficiency.
Plants normally grow out of it when warmer weather arrives.
Jennings said the phenomenon brings several farming fundamentals to light:
1. Controlling winter weeds is a good practice to allow more sunlight to reach the
grass and to warm the soil.
2. Temperatures frequently turn cold sometime during late March and early April, which
can stress the plants being pushed out of dormancy early.
3. Don’t apply nitrogen fertilizer too early in spring to warm-season grasses — wait
for a week of night temperatures of 60 degrees.
To learn about extension programs in Arkansas, contact your local Cooperative Extension
Service agent or visit www.uaex.uada.edu. Follow us on Twitter at @UAEX_edu.
About the Division of Agriculture
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen
agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption
of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative
Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work
within the nation’s historic land grant education system.
The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas
System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension
and Research programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex,
gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital
or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and
is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
# # #
Media contact:Ryan McGeeneyCommunications ServicesUniversity of Arkansas System Division of AgricultureCooperative Extension Service(501) email@example.com