If you are looking for a lawn that doesn’t require pesticides, fertilizers, or frequent mowing, Bouteloua dactyloides, or Buffalo grass, is a great option.
Buffalo grass is a warm-season perennial grass popular in many regions due to its low maintenance and drought tolerance.
This grass species is native to the Great Plains region of North America and has been used for centuries by Native American tribes as a source of food and medicine.
Buffalo grass is characterized by its fine texture, dense growth habit, and deep green color. It is an excellent choice for areas with hot summers and low rainfall, as it can withstand extended periods of drought and extreme heat.
Additionally, buffalo grass requires little fertilizer and only occasional mowing, making it an ideal choice for homeowners looking for a low-maintenance lawn option.
When this type of grass has adapted to its environment, it can fend for itself to a degree many plants cannot.
Learn everything you need to know about buffalo grass and its low-maintenance care.
What is Buffalo Grass?
Buffalo grass is a perennial, warm-season grass, and it can be found throughout most parts of North America to which it is native (Saskatchewan and Manitoba, central states of the U.S., and Mexico).
This grass is one of the most desired and reliable options because it looks soft and luscious, can tolerate up to 70% shade, is low maintenance, and is water efficient.
Being a member of the Poaceae family, buffalograss is a true grass. It spreads by buffalograss seeds and stolons, forming a dense sod.
Because of its long roots, a buffalograss lawn can be a great option to grow turf on hillsides. In such areas, erosion control must be kept in mind.
Most types of grass have shallower root systems that cannot hold soil back as effectively as buffalo grass.
Other grasses in the same genus as buffalo grass are the side oats grama, Blue grama, and Hairy grama.
Buffalo Grass Background
Buffalo grass, named for its connection to the iconic American bison, has played a significant role in the history and ecology of the Great Plains.
As a crucial component of the shortgrass prairie, early settlers used buffalo grass to build sod houses, and it remains an important food source for grazing animals today.
Notably, buffalo grass is a larval host for green skipper butterflies, contributing to the region’s diverse insect population.
This dioecious grass produces separate male and female flowers, with females clustering along short stems near the leaves and males on small comb-like spikes that float above the foliage.
Mowing the male flowers can give buffalo grass a more formal, turf-like appearance.
How to Plant Buffalo Grass
Establishing buffalo grass can be time-consuming when starting from seed, prompting many homeowners and gardeners to opt for sod or plug installation instead. However, for those who choose to grow buffalo grass from seed, there are several essential tips to remember:
- Buffalograss seed will not germinate until the soil’s temperature has reached 60ºF.
- People generally sow seeds from April to September.
- Buffalograss seeds need light to germinate and should be kept in moist (but not drenched) soil.
- Buy treated seeds as they offer the maximum chance of germinating when the soil is warm enough.
If you choose to plant your buffalo grass with the plug method, the spacing depends on how patient you are. If you don’t want to wait long, the plugs should be planted around 5 inches apart. But if you don’t mind waiting (and want to save money), you can space them up to 12 inches apart. Keep the soil evenly moist until the plugs establish.
The sod method is the fastest, as you need to roll out the sod rolls across the designed areas. Again, keep the soil evenly moist until the root system has taken hold.
Care and Maintenance
While establishing buffalo grass requires effort, the resulting low-maintenance lawn is well worth it.
Its exceptional drought tolerance eliminates the need for regular watering, and mowing is less frequent, with a recommended height of 4-5 inches.
For those who prefer even less mowing, selecting a cultivar may be the way to go. Cultivars are available as seed, sod, or plug and can offer better quality and shorter plant heights, such as the ‘Prestige’ cultivar that matures at just 4-6 inches tall.
Fertilization is recommended twice per year, using 1 pound of nitrogen per 1000 square feet applied in late May-mid June and again in late July.
Weed control can be challenging, as post-emergent herbicides can harm buffalo grass, but a pre-emergent herbicide like dithiopyr is safe in the spring.
Glyphosate can be used on dormant grass to control weeds.
Buffalo Grass Benefits
Buffalo grass has many advantages that make it an ideal turf.
Although it first started as wild grass for the American bison, it has been cultivated as one of the best choices for a carefree lawn.
Drought Tolerance and Cold Resistance
One of the most significant benefits of buffalo grass is its exceptional ability to thrive in harsh, dry, and drought-prone conditions without browning or dying off.
Unlike some grass species that suffer from cold weather damage, buffalo grass enters dormancy in the winter and may turn yellow but will return to its vibrant blue-green color in early spring.
This makes it an ideal choice for regions with hot summers and cold winters, where it can maintain its lush appearance throughout the year.
Low Water and Fertilizer Needs
Once this grass is established, it needs little fertilizer and water to thrive.
Typically, 15-30 inches of annual rainfall is all this turf needs to survive.
Its deep taproots allow it to find the nutrients it needs in the soil, reducing the turf’s reliance on homeowners’ care diligence.
Most buffalo grass requires only 0.5 to 2 lbs of nitrogen per 1000 square feet.
It Can Be Established By Seed, Sod, or Plug
Buffalo grass cultivators have been carefully selected to increase the likelihood of lawn environment adaptation.
Buffalograss lawns can be established by seed, sod, or plug. Various methods provide gardeners with effective cultivating ways to resist pests and diseases.
Less Mowing Needed
The number of annual mowings required for buffalo grass can vary depending on climate, soil conditions, and the desired lawn appearance.
However, due to its low growth rate, buffalo grass typically requires less frequent mowing than other grass species.
On average, buffalo grass lawns may require 2-4 mowings per year.
Buffalo Grass Disadvantages
Some apparent disadvantages of buffalo grass are its slow establishment time and high rainfall can cause pest or disease damage.
Buffalo grass grows via stolons that extend from the central stalk, running along the ground and rooting at nodes.
This process produces new plants that can fill gaps and create a thick, lush lawn. However, due to its tendency to grow in clumps, buffalo grass can leave wide spaces between plants, which can become susceptible to weeds, particularly in the spring and summer.
Cannot Handle Heavy Foot Traffic
Buffalo grass is not well-suited to heavy foot traffic, which sets it apart from other turf grasses that are more resilient to wear and tear.
This can be a concern for homeowners with pets or children who enjoy playing on the lawn. If buffalo grass is subjected to frequent heavy foot traffic, it can suffer significant damage, leading to weed invasion or even the growth of other plants in its place.
Low Shade Tolerance
Buffalo grass may struggle to thrive in areas of your lawn shaded by trees or structures. Competing weeds and grasses can quickly overrun these shaded areas, leaving little room for this turf to grow.
It is essential to factor this when considering buffalo grass for your lawn and to choose areas with adequate sunlight to ensure optimal growth and density.
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Melissa Pino is a biologist, master gardener, and regular contributor for Planet Natural. Melissa's work focuses on promoting environmentally-friendly practices, helping people create healthy gardens and finding ways to achieve overall health and wellness.