Buffalograss is a native prairie grass that can be used for low-maintenance lawns and other turf areas. This low-growing, finely-textured grass requires less mowing, watering and fertilizing than traditional lawn grasses. Although several cultivars can be seeded, others must be started from sod or plugs. Buffalograss is a warm-season grass that spreads by stolons (runners) but not as aggressively as bermudagrass. Once established it survives extreme heat, drought and cold.
Buffalograss grows best in full sun. Stands will be thinner in semi-shady areas. Almost no growth occurs in heavily shaded areas. Establishment is slower on clay and compacted sites, but buffalograss can tolerate these conditions. A well-drained loam soil is ideal for easy establishment and maintenance on an attractive turf.
Buffalograss greens up earlier than bermudagrass, but several weeks later than Kentucky bluegrass or tall fescue. It turns brown after the first fall freeze. The gray-green color and shorter growing season may not be acceptable in every situation, but it requires considerably less maintenance than cool-season turfgrasses.
Buffalograss is a warm-season grass that should be planted in late spring to early summer. When irrigation is not available, plant buffalograss in April and May when there is adequate rainfall for seed germination. However, summer planting (June through July) is preferred for irrigated sites.
Buffalograss seed planted in mid-June germinates in about a week, while early spring plantings may take two to three weeks to germinate. Summer plantings tend to have fewer weeds because of rapid establishment.
Seeding is the most common planting method, although vegetative methods (plugs or sod) can be used. Be sure to purchase properly treated seed. Properly treated seed germinates faster and more uniformly. To void buying seed passed off as treated, check the label for source, method of treatment and other information.
Only 1 to 2 pounds of seed per 1,000 square feet are required for a buffalograss lawn. Use the following formula to calculate seed cost:
Seed Cost for Planting Buffalograss:
________ lbs required for ________ grass x ________ seed cost/lb = actual seed cost $________
One and one-half to 2 pounds of seed per 1,000 square feet are required to establish a turf in one season. One pound of seed per 1,000 square feet of lawn area will establish a solid turf in about 1½ years. Buffalograss does not germinate as a dense stand like fescue. Buffalograss spreads by stolons (runners) and becomes thicker each year. Plant seed ¼ inch deep when irrigated, or up to ½ inch deep if soil moisture is limited. Buffalograss may be drill-seeded or broadcast and worked into till soil.
Buffalograss does not require much mowing. It tolerates a wide range of mowing heights, and because it is naturally low-growing at 4 to 8 inches, it may not have to be mowed at all. Although buffalograss can be kept short, tall grass is more resistant to drought and weeds. It requires little maintenance, other than mowing to remove male pollen flowers above the foliage. While there is not need to mow until weeds outgrow buffalograss, it is recommended that you remove no more than one-third of the foliage at a time. Shorter turf requires more frequent mowing.
Buffalograss does not produce thatch, so there is no need to collect lawn clippings. Leaving them on the lawn returns nutrients to the soil and reduces mowing time by about a third.
The most beneficial time to water buffalograss si June, July and August when drought tends to be most severe. Spring watering benefits weeds more than buffalograss. It is not recommended except under drought conditions. A good soaking at the end of a dry fall helps roots and crown maintain good condition over the winter and encourages more vigorous turf the following spring.
Although buffalograss does not have to be watered as often as other lawns, when it is watered, it should be soaked thoroughly. Frequent, light watering leads to weeds, shallow rooting and other problems. A deep watering every two weeks during hot dry summer weather is sufficient in most areas of the state. In western Kansas, during severe drought, weekly watering helps home lawns maintain an acceptable green color but is not necessary for survival.
Cutting the amount of water or stopping entirely does not harm buffalograss, as long as it has not been on a program of frequent watering. Even after grass goes completely dormant, normal growth resumes quickly with rainfall or irrigation. One to two deep soakings during the summer is enough for low-maintenance areas.
From 0 to 2 pounds of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per season is recommended for buffalograss, depending on the desired maintenance. one pound is about right for average conditions. Fertilize affects the amount of mowing, watering and weed control. Applying more than 2 pound of nitrogen per season defeats the low-maintenance advantage and may lead to problems. A controlled-release formulation is recommended to prevent excessive growth.
Perform a soil test to determine phosphorus and potassium requirements. If a soil test is not available, use a nitrogen-only fertilizer or one with a small amount of phosphorus and a medium amount of potassium compared to nitrogen. Avoid regular use of a balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10 or 13-13-13. too much phosphorus encourages broadleaf weeds and traps essential micronutrients in the soil.
Fertilize buffalograss when it is growing, preferably in June after stolon growth begins. Early fertilizing, watering and mowing encourages weeds and leads to other problems.