Buffalo grass (Buchloe dactyloide) is a low maintenance warm-season grass that is native to the Great Plains from Montana to New Mexico.
This hardy perennial grass has a history of being hard to establish and expensive, but newer cultivars such as Texoka, Sharp’s Improved, and Tatanka have minimized these traits.
What is Buffalo Grass?
It is aptly named “buffalo grass” because it was the grass preferred by the American Bison to eat. First used as turfgrass in the 1930s, buffalo grass today has become true rags to riches turf grass variety.
Early prairie settlers cut and used this thickly matted grass as sod for home constructions. Buffalo grass has been revamped since then, with new varieties that make stunning lawn grasses.
There are myriad different varieties of buffalo available, but regardless of which one you choose, you can rest assured of the same qualities that allowed it to survive in the prairies.
Benefits of Buffalo Lawn Grass
- Low growing – Depending on the variety, buffalo grass typically grows to a maximum height between 3 to 8 inches.
- Low Fertility Requirement – Compared to other types of lawn grasses such Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue, that require 4 to 6 lbs of nitrogen per year, mature buffalo grass requires only 1 to 2 lbs of nitrogen per 1000 square feet each year.
- Water conservation – In addition to its low fertility requirement qualities, buffalo grass is regarded as a drought resistant grass species.
It goes dormant and revives as soon as there is sufficient moisture during drought in the summer, but should be irrigated regularly if you desire a lush green lawn all summer.
Few insect problems – Buffalo grass attracts very few pests and insects, but chinch bugs can bother some varieties.
Disadvantages of Buffalo Grass
- Buffalo grass thrives in drier climates.
- Compared to most other grass types, buffalo grass is more expensive.
- Older varieties of buffalo grass are less dense with a large number of seed heads that may not be appealing to some people.
What is the Best Time and How to Plant Buffalo Grass?
You can start Buffalo grass from seed or sod, and the best time to lay seeds is in April or May. Buffalo grass sod is generally made up of female plants to prevent the spikey male heads from cropping up.
However, if you seed your lawn, you will have both male and female plants. The ideal rate to broadcast Buffalo grass seed is between 4 lbs to 6 lbs per 1000 square feet.
How do I Prepare My Lawn for Buffalo Grass?
Before spreading buffalo grass seed, there are a few important things to take of to ensure it thrives.
Get Rid of the Weed
First, get rid of the weeds from the seeding area as much as possible. I have found that an application or two of Round-Up in the spring prior to planting is an effective way to control weeds.
I also lightly till the area about 1/4-1/2 inch deep before planting buffalo grass seed to get some loose soil to cover the seeds.
But you don’t want to till frequently, because each time you do so, you allow new weed seeds to germinate, which you will have to kill before spreading grass seed.
Test the Soil
Testing your soil is optional because you can achieve great results as long as you prepare the soil properly before planting buffalo grass.
However, if you would like to avoid the guesswork, and know if your soil is lacking any nutrients or needs any amendments, you can have your soil analyzed by your county’s cooperative extension office.
You can even buy a soil test kit, and do some basic testing yourself such as determining if your soil is too acidic.
Prepare Your Soil
After you’ve chosen the area to plant buffalo grass, you’ll want to prepare the area before spreading seeds.
You can remove existing grass with a sharp shovel or rent a sod cutter for a larger area to get the job done faster.
Next, fill in any low spots, remove large rocks and debris, and use a tiller if the soil is compacted.
The soil should be broken down into pea-sized particles, so that it serves as a welcome mat for the new buffalo grass seed.
For germination to start, Buffalo grass seeds must be planted in 60⁰ F soil temperatures. It is a good practice to spread half the seeds in one direction, and the other in a perpendicular direction to the first half of the seed.
Next, water the area generously, and wait for this first watering to completely saturate into the soil, and then lightly water until the buffalo grass seeds germinate in two to three weeks.
After the seeds have germinated, you can water infrequently to prevent the new seedlings from spreading.
How Long does it take for Buffalo Grass to Grow from Seed?
Buffalo grass may take between two to three weeks or a little more to germinate. It is important to water your lawn frequently for this duration until a good strand is developed.
Many people who have had success with starting a buffalo grass lawn also used straw mulch or any other type of mulch to protect the young seedlings as they germinated.
Bluegrass or fescue lawn grass are genetically programmed to develop their leaves first, because they are native to regions that are moister than New Mexico, therefore establish more rapidly.
Native grasses such as buffalo grass develop their root system first, so their leaves are slower to develop, hence germinate over a longer period of time.
After enough seeds have germinated, you can reduce the frequency of irrigation, but continue to water more deeply.
How to Start a Buffalo Grass Lawn from Sod or Plugs?
Whether you’re starting buffalo grass from sod, plugs, or seed, you have to first prepare the soil, remove dirt, debris, and weeds from the area, and perform heavy core aeration if the ground is compacted.
You can lay down sod with a lawn roller to help it make good contact with the soil. Water the buffalo grass sod lightly yet regularly until the roots start to penetrate the soil.
For buffalo grass plugs, place them in rows on 1 feet centers, and cover the roots with soil. The grass will begin spreading, and branch out in all directions.
After placing all the plugs, use a fertilizer with a pre-emergent mixed in to prevent wild grass seeds from germinating. Water the plugs thoroughly.
Plant buffalo grass plugs on 6-inch to 24-in centers, and 2 ½ inches deep. Buffalo grass sod will have to be laid out.
Pro Tip: When planting buffalo grass whether from seed or sod, keep the area evenly moist as the grass establishes, but not soggy.
What is the Best Fertilizer for Buffalo Grass? When to Fertilize?
Being a warm-season grass, the best time of year to fertilize buffalo grass is when it’s actively growing in June and July
Cool-season grasses such as Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue are best fertilized in the fall or in the spring.
But you don’t want to appply fertilizer to buffalo grass at this time, as it’s not growing during this period. You will simply be wasting fertilizer, and it won’t help the buffalo grass.
With regards to the amount of fertilizer for buffalo grass, apply one or two of nitrogen per 1000 square feet per year. Use a slow-release or organic fertilizer with a nitrogen-to-phosphorus-to-potassium (N-P-K) ratio of 3-1-2 or 4-1-2, and at least 35 percent slow-release nitrogen for controlled long release over the summer.
Is Buffalo Grass Easy to Grow?
Buffalo grass is drought-tolerant, and is fairly easy to grow. It needs less frequent watering and less rain.
Even though it’s not fussy about its environment, buffalo grass enjoys full sun. Buffalo grass may spread, so you may have to trim it occasionally to prevent it from wandering into other areas.
Newer varieties of buffalo grass have been proven to be more resistant to drought, weeds, and heat, making it even more low-maintenance than before.
Buffalo grass also has the ability to outgrow weeds, so you will have little or no weeds to deal with.
How Often Should You Cut Buffalo Grass?
Even though buffalo grass is not an aggressive type of grass that creeps into garden beds and pathways, its shoots will naturally grow into surrounding areas if left unchecked.
Mowing buffalo grass regularly encourages it to repair its grass leaves that were damaged as a result of mowing. Furthermore, mowing buffalo grass also allows the turf to stay lush green and healthy—a process called tillering.
All types of buffalo grass grow at different speeds, which depends on the type of buffalo grass, soil quality and available water, weather and time of year, and the availability of nutrients from fertilizer.
Regardless of the speed of buffalo grass growth, you should never cut more than one-third in one mowing.
Summer Mowing – Buffalo Grass
Buffalo grass should be mowed every 5 – 7 days in the summer. If your lawn is in average condition, you don’t have to mow that often, but every two weeks in the summer should suffice.
You need to keep track of mowing times, and ensure that you don’t skip any periods on your buffalo grass mowing schedule, because missing mowing times in the summer will make mowing more difficult, produce a large amount of clippings, grow a thatch layer, and cause damage to the lawn after mowing.
Winter Mowing – Buffalo Grass
As winter nears, the speed at which buffalo grass grows considerably decreases, so you will have to adjust your mowing schedule accordingly.
Buffalo grass doesn’t have to be cut as often in the winter compared to the summer, but every four weeks is adequate.
Buffalo grass lawns can be highly deceptive in appearance during the winter, where at times it may seem that the turfgrass is not growing, but even though it is not growing more leaf, it is strengthening itself in its thatch layer.
How Do I Repair a Buffalo Grass Lawn?
No matter how much you care for your lawn grass, even the toughest buffalo grass turfs will require repair at some point.
General Foot Traffic Damage
Over time, foot traffic from kids and you can wear out sections of your beautiful buffalo grass turf, resulting in bare spots, and hard compacted soil.
If you get moderate foot traffic, or have silky or loamy soil, aerate your buffalo grass lawn at least once a year to allow water, nutrients, and oxygen to penetrate to the roots of your buffalo grass turf.
After aerating your lawn, replace any lower compacted soil with good quality soil, and/or a small amount of sandy topdressing.
Next, treat the damaged areas of your buffalo grass turf to good fertilizer and water. Apply fertilizer every 8 – 9 weeks, and water the bare areas a couple of times a week. The repair process will take a couple of months, so in the meantime, keep foot traffic at a minimum during this period.
Dogs and your other beloved pets can cause several different damages to your buffalo grass turf. The good news is that even though you wouldn’t want to keep your furry pals off your grass, there’s a great fix for the damage (s) caused.
Compaction is the most common damage caused by pets due to the use of certain tracks, so the first thing to do is aerate and fertilize the soil.
Moist and heavily shady areas are more affected by compaction, so you will have to pay some extra attention to these areas by making sure the drainage is in good working order.
For digging, you will have to take care of the initial problem by diverting your pet’s attention with a few toys or treats.
If you have urine burns in your buffalo grass lawn, you can put dog rocks in your dog’s urine bowl to prevent any urine stains.
Dog rocks are pet friendly, and will stop new yellow spots from appearing. The existing urine burns will be fixed on their own in roughly 5 weeks.
Buffalo grass lawns can survive the elements, but the conditions can sometimes become too much to handle.
During periods of extreme heat and sun, especially for extended periods, water your buffalo grass turf once a week for an hour.
Generously watering your buffalo grass turf will promote deeper root growth, and make the grass more drought tolerant.
The best time to water buffalo grass is in the wee hours of the morning, somewhere between 4 am and 10 am, so that the water can penetrate before the sun’s heat evaporates the water.
Buffalo grass is if one of the few turf varieties that is more tolerant to infestation, and repairs itself after damage quickly.
There are two ways to check for grubs—spray soapy water around the edges of the affected areas, and wait about 10 minutes to see if the grubs surface, or lay a wet towel over the affected area overnight, and check it the next morning for grubs.
Scotts GrubEx1 is perhaps one of the best grub killers available, and kills and prevents grubs for up to 4 months.
Weeds can affect any type of lawn grass including buffalo grass. The key is to identify the weeds early, and dig them out by hand while they are young, and easy to remove.
Weeds are harder to control once they get larger, and if they set seed that can quickly spread across your lawn.
If you desire a lawn that performs well in almost any area it’s planted, buffalo grass is worth a second look. You can plant buffalo grass from seed, plugs, or lay down buffalo grass sod, which can be expensive, and may require professional help.
Hi, Alex Kuritz. here. Growing up I remember that my family had one of the best lawns in the neighborhood. Richly green and lush. I did a lot as I grew up in terms of caring and tending for not only my family’s lawn but also my neighbors. I can say I have years of experience, and I am here to share it with you.