A far-ranging collection of essays on gardening and life, meant solely to relieve this gardener’s daily frustrations and lamentations over gardening in general and particularly gardening in Kansas. Though I am an old gardener, I am but a young blogger (apologies to Thomas Jefferson).
So, for the person who wants to own one, what have I learned about caring for buffalograss lawns? Who should have one? How do you keep the weeds out? What problems may develop? What about watering?
As I've stated before, buffalograss is a low-maintenance grass, but not a no-maintenance grass. When I first put it in, I followed instructions to wait until the average daily temperature was above 80F, I planted it in the correct concentration and then mulched it sparsely with straw to help conserve the moisture, and I kept it watered well. The result was a thinly-covered piece of ground around the house that filled in pretty well by the end of the summer, but also developed more than a few weeds. I controlled these by regular mowing in the first two years, but I didn't apply any extra water or fertilizer to the lawn.
By the third year, there were areas of the lawn that were unhappy and became sparse. I wasn't able to find symptoms of disease as the cause, but resorted to applying a little fertilizer and watering these areas and even a dense-head like I am could tell that the grass loved the extra treatment. So I've settled now into providing a nice bit of high-nitrogen fertilizer in early June, after the grass has greened and is growing well, at about half the rate recommended for a fescue lawn. That seems to encourage it to keep a very dense, even turf appearance and helps it to be just a little more green. And in the height of summer here, late July and early August, if we've gone several weeks without rain and the temperatures have been over 100F, then I have been known to give the front yard a little watering every other week or so. That keeps it from going entirely dormant and it will green up again quickly when the September rains hit. Usually the right time to water is about when every one else in town is watering on a nightly basis and my co-workers begin complaining about their water bills.
Weed control is another aspect of buffalograss care that can't be neglected. There are commercial herbicides that are labeled for use on buffalograss during the growing season, but I haven't used them. Instead, I've been happy with a program of applying Barricade crabgrass preventer at the recommended time in early spring. To control growing weeds, you can either burn the buffalograss each spring (see below), or you can spot-treat any weeds that green up (dandelions and other broad-leaf weeds) while the buffalograss remains dormant. As long as you are sure the buffalograss is still dormant, you can use about any herbicide necessary, including Roundup. Once the buffalograss greens up, I simply hand pull weeds or keep them mowed down. As far as insect problems on buffalograss, I've never seen any. My neighbor occasionally treats his buffalograss areas for what he was told was some chinch bug damage, but I'm not sure whether he actually has chinch bug troubles or whether it was just an excuse to sell him some insecticide. He has a different variety ('Cody') than I do ('Tatanka') so it is also possible that I'm just too cynical about plant store representatives and 'Cody' is simply more susceptible to cinch bugs than 'Tatanka'.
And one last tip; buffalograss loves to be burnt annually. When you think about it, that's hardly surprising since it evolved in the face of the frequent prehistoric burns that kept the prairie free of trees. I believe that the removal of the dead understuff helps the grass to thicken up and it seems to green it up faster as well. And the weeds that have started to grow simply hate being burnt and they disappear, never to be seen again. Perhaps the positive effect on the buffalograss is merely a result of wiping out the competition, but I prefer to think that it is thanking me for recognizing its true nature and history. Because buffalograss has a soul that you will recognize if you take it for your own. As Todd Rundgren sang, "Like buffalograss, you crawled across my heart, oh like buffalograss wrapped yourself around my heart."