Monday, June 6, 2011

Buffalograss Brief

All this time I've been blogging and I've never really written about my buffalograss (Buchloe dactyloides) lawn.  I'll try to rectify that situation right now, as well as provide (perhaps in part III) a few tips for the gardener who wants to own one.  And I think, while I'm writing about this great native grass, I'll just declare these next couple weeks "Native Prairie Weeks" on Garden Musings and also write a few blogs about the native wildflowers that are beginning to bloom in my yard. Stay tuned, friends.

If you are building a house out on the Kansas prairie, planning for a buffalograss lawn makes simple sense, as well as having a  certain nostalgic charm.   I mean, it's Kansas, right?  Pictures of buffalo over the prairie in the movie "Dances with Wolves" should be running through your mind.  In fact, my "lawn" now has a split personality, with the immediate 30 feet or so surrounding the house a named commerical buffalograss variety and the other 90% of my lawn is, or at least was, mown native prairie.  I've noticed over the years that as I keep the prairie area mown down, more and more native buffalograss has moved in, to the point where about 30% of the grass everywhere is buffalograss.

But what kind of buffalograss did I want, and how to plant it?  Many new buffalograss varieties are established by the planting of plugs, and I had little patience or energy to plant hundreds or thousands of plugs in my landscape.  Fortunately, a search located Stock Seed Farms of Murdock, Nebraska, a retail outlet that specializes in native prairie flowers and grasses.  At the time, they offered 'Cody' and 'Tatanka', two seeded varieties of  buffalograss developed by the Native Turf Group in association with the University of Nebraska.  'Tatanka' was supposed to green up a little earlier, so I chose that for the lawn of my immediate house, and my neighbor chose 'Cody'.  Establishing my lawn was a breeze.  The ground was already cleared, and I simply waited for mid-June, seeded it, threw down a little straw for a light mulch, and began to water.  Up came the buffalograss, and by the end of the season, I had a decently dense buffalograss lawn.

For the gardener contemplating a buffalograss lawn, I've three important things to tell you right off.  First, I love my buffalograss lawn and wouldn't trade it for the world.  It doesn't need to be mowed as frequently as most other turfgrasses, and I rarely give it extra water except in the worst of Kansas summers.  If you like the fine texture of bluegrass, then you'll be amazed at buffalograss.  My children have always loved the feel of walking on it barefooted; soft and very dense.  Yes, it fades in the fall to a nice buff brown color, but the color is very even-toned and pleasant, and your mowing ends with the first frost.  I also love how it fills in bare spots;  no over-seeding or spot-seeding necessary, just apply a little more water and fertilizer to the area and soon the buffalograss will fill in. 

Secondly, if you're going to grow a buffalograss lawn with the intent of mowing less frequently, then I recommend that you should obtain the agreement of any spousal units beforehand.  I probably wouldn't mow my buffalograss at all, except that She Who I Must Obey (Mrs. ProfessorRoush) doesn't like the seedheads which pop up about every two weeks;  so of course I'm on a two-week mowing schedule.  Still, that's twice a week for about 5-6 months, much less frequently than a cold-season grass would require.

Lastly, while a buffalograss lawn is  LOW maintenance, it is not NO maintenance.  To keep its best appearance, my lawn has taught me that it does like to have some fertilizer and a little help keeping the broad-leaf weeds and crabgrass out.  It doesn't require watering often, but it can use a little water if the summer heat of July and August go on a little long while the rains stay away.  And it responds enthusiastically if you burn it once in a while.  But I learned my lessons well and a former turf grass expert once told  me that I had the best stand of buffalograss he'd ever seen.  I won't say that I actually crowed, but a peacock would not have out-strutted me at that point.

I'll discuss the species Buchloe dactyloides in Part II and provide some tips and some specifics on buffalograss care in Part III.  In the meantime, visit the Stock Seed Farm site link above and view the propaganda there.  I warn you, it will suck you right in, particularly if you read it on a sunny 95F day when you've just mowed your fescue for the third time this week.

1 comment:

  1. When I lived in San Antonio they would go into 7 year droughts. Much like they are in now. During that time period, ben crehshaw started a turf production enterprise primarily with Prairie Buffalo initially then with 609 (that's six-zero-nine not six o nine), which I believe were both Nebraska varieties and propagated from sod or plugs. This was a big fad back then, low maintenance and low irrigation needed. I planted one lawn area with 609 which was an awesome blue turf which I allowed to grow uncut and mow once a month, looked like a prairie. Of course my neighbors thought I was nuts. Love buffalograss, I understand california researchers have some nice varieties.

    Look forward to your posts.


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