Buffalo Grass Lawn: How to Grow and Care Basics

What is Buffalo Grass Lawn?

Bouteloua dactyloides, more commonly known as buffalo grass, is a dioecious (two-gender) perennial.

It is a warm-season grass native to North America. This sod-forming turf spreads by stolons, creating new root structures and plants as it spreads.

It’s a drought-tolerant, heat- and humidity-resistant lawn option that handles foot traffic well.

Despite buffalo grass being low maintenance once established, getting it to that stage can be labor-intensive.

Buffalo Grass Characteristics

Life CyclePerennial
Country Of OriginCentral North America
Height4 to 8-inches
Width6 to 12-inches
Plant TypeOrnamental Grasses and Sedges
Growth RateRapid
MaintenanceLow Maintenance
TextureFine Textured
Soil DrainageWell-drained soil ranging from humid to very dry
USDA Plant Hardiness Zone4a, 4b, 5b, 5a, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8b, 8a
Leaf ColorBlue-green, gray-green, green
Leaf DescriptionCurly fine-textured
Landscape ThemeDrought Tolerant Garden
Resistance To ChallengesErosion, Foot Traffic, Heat, Humidity

Using Buffalo Grass as a Lawn

Buffalo grass is native to Colorado and much of the North American Great Plains. It’s a primary grass in short-grass prairie regions.

At its most active season, which is from late May to early September, buffalo grass generally emerges from dormancy in mid-to late-spring – quite a bit later than bluegrass or fescue lawn grass.

Buffalo grass becomes dormant with the first frost in the fall.

It is a less popular lawn grass alternative, mainly because of its extended dormancy and difficulty establishing.

That, however, is changing with the emergence of new cultivars.

These new turf-type cultivars are darker green, produce a dense, short-growing turf, and are more weed-resistant than prior versions.

Newer buffalo grass cultivars require 50-75 percent less irrigation than Kentucky Bluegrass to keep their lawn green and appealing.

It also requires less regular mowing and has to be fertilized once or twice a year to grow well.

Growing and Caring for Buffalo Grass Lawns

The fastest way to start a new lawn is by using sod, though it’s more expensive than seed or plugs.

It’s important to note that you will be using additional water to establish a new lawn.

This applies to most warm-season lawns, including bluegrass and tall fescue.

How to Grow Buffalo Grass from Seed

How-To-Grow-Buffalo-Grass-From-Seed

Whether you’re using sod, seeds, or plugs to plant your new buffalo grass lawn, preparing your soil will help get it going faster.

You will need to focus on three aspects – nutrition, absence of weeds, and timing.

Soil Preparation

Buffalo grass is a hardy grass. Since it is a native grass type, it will flourish in various soils without cultivation.

However, proper seedbed prep is strongly advised to ensure rapid early progress. Testing your soil should be an annual habit.

Make sure your site is well-drained. Adding some compost helps feed the grass and improves drainage significantly. Make sure the bed is level and rock-free.

Once you have added the compost, level it off and roll it to such an extent that you don’t sink in when you walk on it.

Weed-free Soil

Fight the weeds back while you have a blank canvas. You will be unable to use any herbicides while your lawn is not yet fully established.

Starting with a clean slate: weed invasion is the most common and bothersome pest problem on buffalo grass residential lawns.

Remove all weeds, specifically broadleaf weeds, before planting. Use the manual method to do this for seeds, not herbicides.

Remember that tilling soil encourages weed growth, so wait for them to emerge after adding the compost and pluck them while they are still young, roots and all.

Timing

Plant seeds in early spring, but know that they will only germinate once the soil temperature reaches 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you plant too late in the season, you risk having your seedling grass plants killed by the winter cold.

Planting Seeds

Seedlings will appear in 7 to 21 days with warm soil and constant irrigation.

Weed preventatives such as pre-emergent herbicides (“crabgrass preventer”) should not be used at the time of sowing.

Apply lawn fertilizer according to label recommendations two to three weeks after seedlings appear (avoid using a “weed and feed” product) – repeat about six weeks later.

Use a seeding rate of 3 to 5 pounds of seed per 1,000 square feet. Seed should be planted to half an inch depth, using a seed drill if available.

If the seed is spread on the rolled soil with a spreader, cover it with a thin layer (quarter to half-an-inch) of soil.

Planting a Buffalo Grass Lawn Using Plugs

Grow-Buffalo-Grass-Using-Slugs

Following the last spring frost and at least six weeks before the first projected fall frost, space plugs 12 to 18 inches apart.

Apply a starter fertilizer as directed on the label at the time of planting and again six to seven weeks later.

Irrigate for seven to ten days to keep the soil moist.

Active grass growth will be promoted by brief irrigation cycles every two to four hours starting at 8:00 am and finishing early enough to allow the grass buffalo to dry.

Just bear in mind that after planting, buffalo grass plugs and sod turn brown before recovering.

Six to twelve weeks after planting, pre-rooted plugs can provide total cover. Appropriate soil preparation is just as crucial as seeding when utilizing plugs.

Sodding a Buffalo Grass Lawn

Adequate soil preparation and careful post-plant care will help your new sod establish quickly.

Transplanted buffalo grass sod should be irrigated like any other transplanted sod: that is, it should be given enough water to maintain a moist, but not saturated, root zone under the sod.

It is common for buffalograss sod to quickly turn brown following transplanting, even though it is irrigated.

Generally, sod consists mainly of female plants to prevent the male seed heads from growing into spiky blades.

Fertilization

Fertilization improves the color and growth of an established buffalo grass lawn.

Still, there’s no benefit when more than two pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet is applied in any growing season.

One pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet should be used in late May to mid-June, followed by another application in late July.

Excess fertilization, especially when combined with excessive water, can quickly lead to weed invasion in buffalo grass lawns.

Irrigation

Irrigation-for-Buffalo-Grass

After establishing itself, buffalo grass may survive without water.

On the other hand, buffalo grass that isn’t irrigated remains dormant in the early summer and is susceptible to weed invasion.

Buffalo grass lawns require at least one to two inches of rainfall or watering every two to four weeks during the summer to maintain rapid development and a beautiful green appearance.

Soaking, less frequent irrigation (one inch every two to four weeks, including rainfall) produces a higher-quality buffalo grass lawn that is more resistant to weed invasion.

As with any grass, watering during the morning before the full sun comes out is best.

Weed Management

Weed invasion in the buffalo grass residential lawn is the most common and bothersome pest problem.

To prevent annual grassy weeds like crabgrass and foxtail, use pre-emergent herbicides on well-established, mature buffalo grass lawns in the spring.

However, controlling existing weeds – both grassy and broadleaf – is a more difficult task for buffalo grass lawn management.

These treatments can be used safely on entirely dormant buffalo grass with spot treatment in the spring or fall.

However, they may cause minor to severe discoloration (yellowing or browning) in developing buffalo grass during the spring and summer.

Disease Management

Disease-Management-for-Buffalo-Grass

For the most part, buffalo grass is disease-free and low maintenance, but it can occasionally succumb to a few turf grass ailments.

The following are the most common difficulties:

Brown Patch Disease

Brown patch is a disease that occurs in the late spring and summer. To activate the condition, you’ll need temperatures above 80 degrees Fahrenheit and a lot of moisture.

The areas with the highest levels of humidity will have the most challenges.

The spread of disease can be accelerated if the ground remains damp for several hours at night. Watering in the late evening or at night should be avoided.

Summer Patch Disease

Summer Patch is a disease that affects both the roots and the crown of the grass.

If the pathogen is present, the grass may show symptoms during hot, wet conditions.

Small circular areas of yellow-green to tan-colored grass, a couple of inches in diameter, are the initial signs of the disease.

The patches might have a diameter of a foot or more. Patches are frequently joined together to make larger patches.

The afflicted grass cannot be rescued at this time and will perish.

Insect Management

Leafhoppers and grasshoppers are regular annoyances, yet they don’t harm healthy buffalo turf grass.

Very few insects bother buffalo grass, although chinch bugs can be a problem for some varieties.

Does buffalo grass make a good lawn?

Buffalograss is the only natural grass that may be used as lawn grass in addition to its other functions. A warm-season turf, buffalograss lawns are drought tolerant and have stronger cold resilience than other warm-season grasses. The grass is extremely tolerant of a wide variety of environmental conditions and can be grown from using seeds, or planting sod, or plugs.

Is buffalo grass invasive?

Many homeowners are concerned that buffalo grass could take over the landscape wherever it is planted, however, this is very unlikely since the grass is non-invasive. In fact, they are considerably more prone to be overrun by nearby grasses, particularly those with inherently tight growth patterns.

How fast does buffalo grass spread?

A healthy buffalograss lawn has the ability to grow at a breakneck speed. It is indeed possible for a Buffalo grass that receives proper irrigation and fertilizers to grow nearly a foot high every month or so at the height of the warmer season. 

Conclusion

As an indigenous, high plains grass, buffalo grass is a hardy, low maintenance grass that requires occasional mowing.

It can also grow with other grass species, such as blue grama.

Some new variants offer great results, though some can only be planted from sod or plugs.

Other types of grass to consider

If you are looking for other varieties of grass to grow in your yard, check out our other related posts:

References

About/Mentions: Buffalograss, Lawn, Gardening , Sod

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