Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Buffalograss II

Buffalograss (Buchloe dactyloides) is described in the texts as a gray-green, fine-textured, warm-season grass.  Translation:  you're never going to get a dark green lawn out of this grass (so quit trying!) and it won't green up or start growing until the frosts end here in Kansas, usually around May 1st.   It is, of course, a major component of the short-grass prairie to my west and it thrives both south and north of the Flint Hills.  It is hardy from zones 3-9, and can be found growing naturally from Canada to Texas.

The native species grows 4-6 inches tall, with flowers that top the foliage slightly.  It is quite tolerant to drought and withstands some extensive repeated trampling by heavy quadripeds or bipeds. It is proclaimed as one of the "finest grasses for arid regions" in Greenlee's Encyclopedia of Ornamental Grasses. There are several breeding programs that are directed at decreasing the overall mature height and increasing the green-ness of this grass, in an effort to develop a perfect turfgrass that never needs mowing, but those goals are still just a far-off dream.  A major obstacle in the commercial acceptance of the grass is that this is a diecious species (with male and female plants), hence the formation of the flowers, and seeded varieties will always have the seedheads to mar (or improve depending upon your point of view) their appearance.  There are, however, female-only cultivars that can be established by vegetative plugs, sans flowers.  'Legacy' seems to have the lead in plug-grown varieties, while 'Bowie' is the up and comer for seeded types.*

Whether or not the flowerheads and subsequent seedheads offend your aesthetic senses tells a lot about the inner gardener in each of us.  Some gardeners will trim their buffalograss lawns at the first sign of a flower (usually these are old men with carefully trimmed topiary scattered around their gardens).  The same group will fertilize their buffalograss on a weekly basis in an effort to give it that "deep-green" look.  These people should not have started a buffalograss lawn in the first place.  At the other extreme are Birkenstock-wearing wild-eyed environmentalists (BWWEE) who think that the blue-green hue of the grass and the yellowish-brown seedheads were the carpet of the Garden of Eden, and who are prone to doff their clothes without warning and stretch out au natural on the sun-warmed buffalograss.  Mrs. ProfessorRoush tends towards the former and I must admit my sentiments lay towards the latter, so there is a bit of a marital clash on that point, thankfully limited to telling me to get off the lawn and go get some clothes on.  Lauren Springer-Ogden, touts buffalograss as a lawn in her book  The Undaunted Garden, and recommended placing small spring bulbs in the lawn to brighten up the beige appearance after winter.

A big advantage of a buffalobrass lawn, in my estimation, is that you can forever give up overseeding or patch-seeding.  Buffalograss spreads from rhizomes as you can see from the picture at the edge of my blacktop at the right, and it will fill in bare spots within a season if minimally cared for.  I've had large areas develop sparse grass in my buffalograss lawn, especially when I was learning to care for it, but they are easy to entice the grass to fill in with a minimum of treatment and fertilizer.

By the way, you may be wondering, is it "buffalograss" or "Buffalo Grass" or "buffalo grass?"  I don't care and the sources I've looked at all are different.  The latter two don't look right to me, so I'm sticking with buffalograss.  Just don't call it buffalograss to an Aussie, because they will think you're talking about St. Augustine grass.

Somewhere out there, this grass will continue to grow in acceptance despite the clamor of all those who want us to grow fungus-ridden Kentucky Bluegrass here in the arid Plains.  I'll never forget standing in line behind a priest several years ago at a very large and well-regarded local nursery in Topeka and listening to him ask a clerk about how to start a buffalograss lawn.  His thought was to decrease the mowing and care needed by the volunteers of the church, a worthy goal in my estimation.  The know-it-all clerk told him that it was too wet in Topeka to grow buffalograss(!) and what he really wanted was a K-31 fescue lawn and she proceeded to sell him a large bag of K-31.  And here I was behind him, just dying to blurt out that I had a buffalograss lawn, and a decent one in my eyes, just a scant 50 miles west.  I kept my own counsel, but a small part of me has always hoped that the clerk's soul shriveled up a bit at her act of buffalograss denial in front of the priest.  


  1. I have a section of my lawn that is buffalograss, and have trouble with grassy weeds. What's the secret to keeping those weeds that get a start before the buffalograss out of the lawn? I'm thinking I'll have to spray, as it's quite out of hand.

  2. I'm so glad I don't have grass anymore.


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