Buffalo Grass Lawns
Buffalo grass lawns need less water, fertilizer and mowing
than Kentucky bluegrass lawns.
Buffalo grass turf goes dormant and turns brown with
extended drought and cool fall weather.
Lawns of buffalo grass, although usually started from seed,
may be vegetatively planted.
Good soil and close attention to new seedlings can help get
a good stand started quickly.
Proper care will help keep buffalo grass lawns attractive
through the year.
Buffalo grass (Buchloe dactyloides) is a permanent, native,
low growing, warm season grayish-green grass. It is an important range and lawn
grass in eastern Colorado. This sod-former produces vigorous runners or stolons.
In the High Plains, this grass often is found growing as a companion with
another native, blue grama.
Buffalo grass can sometimes serve quite satisfactorily as a
lawn grass. Before choosing this grass for a lawn, its advantages and
disadvantages should be considered.
There are several advantages of using buffalo grass for lawns.
It has good drought tolerance and stands up well to wear. Irrigation, if
carefully done, can be beneficial in establishing stands and in keeping an
attractive and serviceable turf. Improperly done, watering can cause the buffalo
grass to be overrun by other grasses and broadleaf weeds. This low growing grass
requires little mowing to give it a uniform appearance. Buffalo grass has a low
fertility requirement, and it often will maintain good density without
The fact that buffalo grass is a warm-season grass should not
be overlooked. It turns brown with fall's first freezing weather. It greens up
with the return of warm weather in the spring. Consequently, it can be brown and
unattractive when Kentucky bluegrass and other cool-season lawn grasses look
Buffalo grass, without supplemental water, will go brown and
become dormant during extended summer drought periods. This grass has poor shade
tolerance, and it does not do well above 6,000 - 6,500 feet (1828 - 1980 meter)
elevations. Because of rather aggressive runners, buffalo grass can require
edging along walks, driveways, and shrub and flower beds.
This grass has both male plants with flowers 5 - 20 inches (13
- 51 centimeters) and female plants with burs containing 2 to 4 seeds near the
soil. Variability in turf may result from differences in appearance of the male
and female plants, growth height, color and density from one plant to another.
Those who are accustomed to a Kentucky bluegrass turf may object to walking
(particularly barefoot), playing and sitting on buffalo grass turf.
Starting a lawn
Buffalo grass will grow on heavy and compacted soils. However,
it is easier to start and keep on good loam soils. When possible, if any
construction is to be done, the topsoil should be saved and returned to the lawn
area after construction is completed. Heavy soils may be improved by applying a
layer of good quality organic matter (peat moss, aged manure or compost) to a
depth of 1 - 2 inches (2.5 - 5 cm) over the surface. This should be done before
final tilling and seed preparation. Buffalo grass does not have good salt
tolerance. If salt problems are common in the area, a soil test can determine
potential success of a buffalo grass planting.
Before planting, the soil and soil amendments should be worked
well to a depth of 4 - 6 inches (10 - 15 cm). After the final tilling, the soil
should be leveled and firmed. Areas that have trenched for utility lines should
be soaked and filled until they are level with the surrounding surface.
Buffalo grass lawns usually are started from seed. There are
cultivars on the market, such as "Cody", which have been selected for good green
color and thick turf.
The best time to seed buffalo grass lawns is May and June. At
that time of year, with a good watering every day, buffalo grass seedlings begin
to appear 6 - 10 days after planting. During warmer parts of the year, runners
develop and spread is rapid. Seedings made in August or later germinate slowly
and grow little before cold weather.
Suggested seeding rates differ greatly. They range from as
little as 1 pound up to 10 pounds per 1,000 square feet (0.45 to 4.5 kilograms
per 90 m). Five pounds (2.3 kg) of a good quality, treated seed appears to be
adequate for broadcast seeding for most situations. Buffalo grass seed is
treated to improve germination, not to protect the seed against disease. The
more seed used the more rapid the ground is covered.
Broadcast seeding followed by raking in the seed is a common
practice, but the burs tend to stay on the surface. A more practical approach,
using less seed, may be to plant the seed in shallow furrows, spaced 6 - 8
inches (15 - 20 cm) apart and cover it with 1/2 - 2/3 inches (1.3 - 1.7 cm) of
soil. A starter fertilization usually will show little benefit on a good topsoil
but can be beneficial on poor soils. An application of 5 pounds per 1,000 square
feet (2 kg per 90 m) of diamminium phosphate (18-46-0) or a commercial lawn
starter fertilizer used at the rate recommended on the bag can be used on poor
For best results, a new seeding should be watered to keep the
soil moist. Two weeks after seed germination, watering intervals can be
lengthened to every 2 to 3 days. Without supplemental watering of buffalo grass,
it often takes from 5 to 10 years to get a good ground cover.
Buffalo grass may be started by transplanting a 4-inch (10 cm)
or larger sod piece. These plugs should be taken to a depth of 2 to 3 inches (5
- 8 cm). Plugs that are transplanted in the spring from 12 to 24 inches (30.5 -
61 cm) apart - with watering and weed control - can sometimes cover the ground
in one season. Buffalo grass sod is seldom laid as a solid cover. The scarcity
of sod for home lawn use and the need to cut the sod at least 2 inches (5 cm)
deep are problems with sodding. Buffalo grass that is vegetatively transplanted
needs to be well watered for several weeks.
Since buffalo grass is normally planted in the spring,
new-stand weed competition can be serious. Hand-weeding and frequent mowing at 1
1/2 - 2 inches (4 - 5 cm) can help to keep the weeds controlled, and encourage
faster buffalo grass coverage.
Once established, buffalo grass usually will persist without
irrigation in eastern Colorado. To keep a better looking turf, and one that will
provide a better surface for general use, deep watering every two weeks or so
during summer dry spells can be helpful. The soil should be soaked 6 to 8 inches
(15 0 20 cm) deep. In especially dry springs, a good watering about the time the
buffalo grass is beginning to green can help get the grass off to a good start.
Low growing buffalo grass needs only infrequent mowing. Left
unmowed it will get to a height of 4 to 5 inches (10 -18 cm). But, to keep the
male flowers down and to get a uniform appearance, mow with a sharp blade,
at a height of about one inch (2.5 cm). This will help improve the appearance of
the turf. The buffalo grass should be mowed to reduce the height of the grass by
no more than 1/3 to 1/2 of its total height. That is, when the turf gets to 1
1/2 to 2 inches (4 - 5 cm) it should be cut back to one inch (2.5 cm). In late
spring, mowing may need to be done every two weeks. Later in the season mowing
every 3 to 4 weeks probably will be adequate.
Broadleaf weeds, such as bindweed and dandelions, can be quite
objectionable in low growing buffalo grass. This is especially true in dormant,
brown buffalo grass turf. Used according to recommendations on the label, 2,4-D
can effectively control most of the weed problems in buffalo grass turf.
Cool season grasses, such as bluegrass, tall fescue, and
quackgrass, can give quite an objectionable blotchy appearance, especially in
dormant buffalo grass turf. A uniform-appearing dormant buffalo grass lawn may
not be objectionable; whereas, one pockmarked with green may be. A green turf
colorant can be used to offset this color difference. Chemicals such as
glyphosate (Roundup and Kleen-up) can be used to spot kill objectionable
grasses. Remember that herbicides used to kill grass can also kill the buffalo
grass once it is green and growing, so treat weedy grasses early while the
buffalo grass is dormant. Always read and follow directions on herbicide labels.
J.D. Butler and
Adapted fromColorado State
University Extension Service, bulletin no. 7224.