Thursday, August 23, 2012

Buffalo Grass Trial - Day #2

Buffalo grass plugs newly installed, Day #2, August 23, 2012

Yesterday, my mail order of Prestige buffalograss arrived from Todd Valley Farms.

(Yes, this is the same Todd Valley Farms referenced in my interview with Wayne Thorson about the virtues of buffalograss. In case you're wondering, I did not get any perks or discounts from Wayne or Todd Valley Farms in exchange for the interview. You can read the Trust section of this website if you'd like to learn more about my policies and promises on editorial integrity. I bought my buffalo grass fair and square in a 95-plug tray for $48 plus $14 shipping and handling. I looked around and investigated buying the buffalo grass through other mail order outlets, but the ones I investigated seemed to basically just be distributors for Todd Valley Farms, so I just decided to buy from the source.)

I have to admit that I was very excited to open the box and see the thick carpet of Prestige buffalograss therein. Despite three days in transit in mid-80s to low-90s weather, the plugs looked healthy, strong and green. Yes, the grass is a softer, greyer color than fescue or bluegrass, but it was incredibly soft and all the blades were nicely interconnected in a way that seemed like it would do a good job of excluding weeds.

In fact, the stolens on the buffalograss were so interwoven that it was impossible to pull the plugs apart without cutting them. My wife graciously volunteered for this task while I set to work trying to dig holes in the rock-hard clay that we call soil.

(I'm sorry I didn't take a photo of the buffalograss looking so pretty in its tray. I was eager to get the plugs untangled and planted. As it was, the job took us ~3 hours and we only finished around sunset. It would have taken far longer without the help of my generous and kind wife!) 

Incidentally, this buffalograss test patch was installed where we previously had our raised garden bed. I disassembled the bed a few days ago, distributing some of the soil therein throughout the landscaped beds and raking the remaining soil to the point where it looked relatively smooth with a nice slight grade away from the house and patio.

Anyway, back to the digging. It was hard work, chopping at the soil with a small shovel. If I were planting more than one tray (and even if I were doing one tray again), I'd certainly consider buying some sort of auger attachment for my drill to make the work go faster and easier. Or I might try the approach my wife suggested, which would be to use a big shovel to chop up the top layer of dirt throughout the whole planting area and then plant all the plugs into that loosened soil. Or maybe it would have been better to use a tiller? I'm not sure yet and confess that I still have a lot to learn about soil!

Prestige buffalograss plugs close up after installation

In any case, we watered down the area, watered down the plugs themselves and chopped out holes in the soil. I didn't worry too much about placing the plugs at exact distances from each other, but I did try to stagger the rows as recommended in the planting instructions. (By 'stagger the rows', I mean that I wanted the post-planting area to have a checkerboard pattern.)

The planting and care instructions sent by Todd Valley Farms are rather chemical dependent. They recommend soaking the plugs with Miracle Gro®or a similar sod/seed starter fertilizer and using chemical herbicides to suppress weeds.

As an organic gardener, I basically ignored those instructions. Instead I scattered some chicken manure and earthworm castings into each of the holes and plan to spray some organic liquid fertilizer in a few weeks. As far as I can tell, the fertilizers that are recommended (every 30 days according to the planting instructions) are not absolutely essential - after all, no one was spraying buffalograss with fertilizer when it was the dominant grass on the Great Plains! - but rather just to encourage the buffalograss to fill in its area before weeds pop up to compete. Since I'm not using an herbicide - some of which like 2-4D can apparently harm the buffalograss itself - I'll need to just be vigilant about weeds and try to pull them before they get established. Since this is a compact area (probably not more than 50-60 square feet), I'm hoping I can deter the weeds until the buffalograss fills in and gets strong enough to screen them out on its own.

Update - Just called Todd Valley Farms and was told that using organic fertilizer is fine, just to try to use one that supports root growth - i.e. one that has more P and K, versus N that would encourage top growth, which would be counterproductive without the roots to support that growth.

An overhead shot of the buffalograss plugs. The slightly darker patch of soil in the middle of the photo is where I emptied out the last of the earthworm castings. I wish all my soil was that dark and rich. Yes, I have Soil Envy!

So that's where things stand for now. The instructions emphasize keeping the plugs wet for two weeks, so I soaked the area thoroughly right after planting and again this morning. I spoke with Todd Farms to ask exactly what this meant in terms of how often to water the plugs, but was told that it was impossible to give a hard answer since the watering frequency would depend on temperature, soil, etc. Basically I was told that I should keep the area 'wet' for two weeks (wet meaning you wouldn't want to walk on it) and then 'moist' for another two weeks (moist meaning you could potentially walk there). I was also given the reassuring news that the plugs are a bit less sensitive to drying out than the sod.

And while some buffalograss buyers have reported problems with their grass turning brown, again as I understand it that is more of a problem with buffalograss sod and/or with spring plantings where the grass is taken out of a warm greenhouse and plopped into a colder environment. Since it's going to be in the low 90s today and for the next couple of days, I don't think I have to worry about cold temperature shocks with the buffalograss!

Prestige buffalograss plugs and one zinnia, one of a couple plants that I didn't have the heart to remove when I was preparing the buffalograss bed

So, I'm very excited to be giving this a try! Hopefully temps will cool off in a week or so (that's the long range forecast) and we'll get some rain which will cut down on the amount of watering I need to do, but for now I'm willing to do some intensive short-term watering for the future promise of less watering down the road. As the "General Care Guidelines After Establishment" in the planting instructions state:
"You should not need to water your buffalograss except in times of drought. If this occurs, deep water (1 to 2 inches) once per month. This will keep your lawn looking lush. Adjustments to this may need to be made due to soil conditions and/or local climates. If you choose not to water, this will not harm the grass (my emphasis) but you may notice a slight browning of the blade tips. Buffalograss will go into dormancy in extreme droughts."
All of this sounds awesome to me. The promise of a lawn - or at least a patch of a lawn - that needs hardly any supplemental water and grows slowly to a maximum height of 4-6 inches tall? That is the dream I am pursuing with this buffalograss trial.

Will the buffalo grass ever knit together into a green carpet? Or will it remain as a patchwork of isolated clumps? Find out (eventually) with free email updates.


  1. Putting plugs in is hard work, whether it is bermuda or buffalo, know it took a good deal of time. Will keep watching to see updates as your newly planted grass grows and forms a mat.

  2. Wow... looking forward to reading about your success... I can sense your excitement.

  3. Wow, I sometimes say the soil is hard as a rock, in your case it sounds almost literally true. Good luck with the buffalograss!

  4. I have been curious about this grass for a while. It is nice to watch your experience with it. I hope it fills in quickly.


Need to add an image? Use this code [img]IMAGE-URL-HERE[/img]