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Buffalograss is the only native turfgrass to North America

Buffalo Grass

Buffalograss (buchloe dactyloides)

Buffalo GrassBuffalograss, Buchloe dactyloides, is a perennial grass native to the Great Plains from Montana to Mexico. It is one of the grasses that supported the great herds of buffalo that roamed the Great Plains. Buffalograss also provided the sod from which early settlers built their houses.

Buffalograss is, perhaps, our only truly native turfgrass in North America. Its tolerance to prolonged droughts and to extreme temperatures together with its seed producing characteristics enables Buffalograss to survive extreme environmental conditions. Overgrazing and, in the case of turf, over use or excessive traffic are the pressures that lead to the deterioration of a stand of Buffalograss.

Buffalograss spreads by surface runners, or stolons, and seed. It forms a fine textured, relatively thin turf with a soft blue-green color. It does not possess underground stems, or rhizomes. Buffalograss is also destroyed quite readily by cultivation. For these reasons, it can be readily removed from flower beds and gardens.

Buffalograss is not adapted to shaded sites or to sites that receive heavy traffic. Also, under intensive management bermudagrass and other more aggressive grasses tend to replace Buffalograss in the lawn.

Roadsides, school grounds, parks, open lawn areas, golf course roughs and cemeteries are good sites for Buffalograss in central, west and north Texas. It is the ideal grass for those wanting a "native" landscape.

Buffalograss does offer many advantages for a low maintenance turf and is gaining acceptance and popularity in other Southwest areas. Buffalograss thrives in neutral or alkaline clay soil, even heavy clay soil. It is native to our shortgrass prairie region. Drought tolerance is its best feature. A lush buffalograss turf requires only 50% of the water requirements as does bluegrass and fescue. However, it will survive on a great deal less, going into dormancy that is readily broken by rainfall.

Buffalograss Maintenance

Mowing requirements are infrequent; once a month is sufficient, once a year for a naturalistic landscape. Fertilization is not only unnecessary, but harmful. Topdressing your buffalo turf with ?" to ?" of compost in the fall is helpful.

Establishing Buffalograss

Buffalograss can be established from pieces of sod or sod plugs not less than 2" square. These should be planted on a well prepared seedbed in about 18" rows. Plants can be spaced anywhere from 6" to 2' apart, depending on how quickly a complete cover is desired. The closer they are spaced, the sooner the ground will be covered. In digging up material for planting care should be taken to keep the roots moist as the plants die very quickly when the roots get dry. When planting, dig a hole deep enough to set the plants in so that the grass is above ground level. If the pieces of sod are covered with soil, they will die. The soil should be packed around the plants. Planting is best done in moist soil or where irrigation is available. The grass should be planted in early fall, spring or early summer, when moisture is favorable. Plants should be well watered after planting and as needed for several weeks, thereafter.

Buffalo Grass

Planting: seed, sod, sprigging, or plugging

Water: occassionally

Fertilization: little. Too much fertilizer (nitrogen) actually weakens the plant

Mowing height: 2" — 3"

Pests: chinch bugs, leaf spot

Types of Buffalograss

Over the last decade, buffalograss has experienced an increased interest. Breeders are creating 2nd and third generations of the plants with efforts to improve certain traits.

There are basically 2 types of buffalograss: seeded and cloned. The seeded types which has a mix of both male / female plants and are used for general utility turfs. The cloned varieties are only female plants that typically have a darker color than male plants are are available only in sod.

Seeded types available:

  • Texoka -- released in 1960

  • Sharp's Improved -- released in the 1960s

  • Bison -- released in 1991

  • Tatanka -- released in 1996

  • Cody -- released in 1996

Female Sod varieties:

  • Prairie Buffalo grass

  • NE 609 Buffalo grass

UC Verde

In California there is a buffalo grass called UC Verde that was developed by the University of California. It produces a dense bright green turf that is the grass of choice for Coastal California and the intense heat of the lower valley of Arizona. It grows to a height of 4" - 8" and shows a natural ability to inhibit weed growth.

Zones Estimated Planting Dates
Zone 11 February 15 through November 15
Zone 10 February 15 through November 1
Zone 9 March 10 through October 15
Zone 8 March 15 through October 15
Zone 7 April 1 through October 1
Zone 6 April 20 through September 15
Zone 5 May 1 through September 10
Zone 4 May 1 through September 1
Zone 3 May 10 through August 20
Zone 2 May 20 through August 1

In hot climates, seeds should be planted in June. If planting from sod or plugs, the plant will quickly loose its color after transplanting, even with proper watering. After about 2 weeks, the plants will start to re-green.