Monday, September 2, 2013

Oh Give Me a Home, Where the Buffalo Grass Roams

Buffalo Grass, summer 2013 at Garden of Aaron in Tennessee
Yes, this soft, feathery grass is Buffalograss (Buchloe dactyloides) growing in a small section of my Tennessee backyard

One of the neat things about writing a blog is being able to track the stats and seeing which posts are most popular. The two most popular subjects drawing people to the blog so far are searches concerning "pine straw mulch" and "buffalograss".

With regard to the mulch, my most recent post on the topic tells how and why I lost my infatuation with pine straw. More recently, regular readers will know that I've begun posting reviews of the groundcovers with which I hope to replace most/all of my mulches.

But it's been quite some time since my last post on the test buffalograss patch. The last update was way back in January, when the buffalo grass was hibernating (i.e., dormant) and resembled nothing so much as little gold tufts of straw on a dirt background.

So how are things going now? Much better thank you!

As you can see from the photo at the top of this post, the buffalograss did eventually green up and has mostly filled in its designated area.

It's doing better in some parts of the rectangular test patch than others. I think it's happiest in full sun and has not filled in as much in the section of the test patch that gets a fair amount of shade from a neighboring crape myrtle.

Buffalo Grass, summer 2013, photo #2
Here's a section of the test patch where the buffalo grass has not filled in as thickly as I would have hoped.  

The best thing about this patch of buffalograss -- it has only been mowed once. That's right, buffalo grass not only grows slowly, but the soft and tender blades of grass sort of flop over so that they make a nice wavy texture.

Even the one time that the buffalograss was mowed, I don't think it really needed to be mowed. Our lawn care guy was mowing the rest of the lawn and I guess he decided to give the buffalograss a trim. To be honest, I liked it better when the buffalograss was a little bit longer. Sorry I don't have that 'before' picture.

So is a buffalo grass lawn right for you? Here are my thoughts after a year on the pros and cons:


1. No need to mow! Near as I can tell, you can skip mowing your buffalograss lawn altogether. Or maybe mow it once or twice a year if you really like a manicured look. That's a major improvement over the typical lawn that needs to be mowed once every week or two from spring to autumn to stay looking nice.

2. Drought tolerant. Buffalograss is supposed to need much less water than regular grass. We've had a pretty wet year so far here in Tennessee, but there have been some warm and dry spells over the last month. The buffalograss seemed to handle the warm, dry weather without any problem.

3. Soft. I remember soft (Kentucky bluegrass?) lawns from my childhood in Pennsylvania, but many of the lawns down here in Tennessee including our own are stiff and rough fescue-based lawns that constantly poke your feet and ankles. Not fun. The buffalograss, by contrast, is feathery-soft and very easy on the feet.

4. Fills in, but does not run rampant. The buffalo grass spreads above ground by stolons, so it's easy to see where/how it's spreading and to rein it in if need be. But the truth is that it does not spread at unmanageable pace. In fact, I wish it spread and filled in a bit more quickly.


1. Zzzzzz.... Yeah, there's that pesky dormancy period. Buffalo grass is not the only grass to go dormant. Zoysia also has a dormancy period, for instance, as does Blue Grama Grass. Anyway, the problem for me was that weeds (and Viola tricolor) took advantage of that dormancy period to establish themselves among the Buffalo grass bunches.

You can see what the dormant grass looked like as late as early April by scrolling down through this archived post.

And even when the Buffalo grass greened up and filled in late in the spring, a number of the weeds still coexisted alongside the grass.

So, is this a dealbreaker? I'm not sure. I'm eager to see whether the dormant Buffalo grass does a better job at resisting weed invasions now that most of the clumps have knitted together. Stay tuned for another update in late 2013 or early 2014.

Regardless of the weed invasion, the long dormant period was not particularly attractive, but maybe it will look better with an unbroken golden carpet this fall rather than the isolated tufts I had to look at last winter. I'm trying to keep an open mind.

2. The Swiss Cheese Effect. So Buffalo grass has filled in, but it has not filled in completely. There are still some bare patches, particularly in the shadier spots. Folks say that Buffalo grass loves the sun and apparently they're right.

3. The Net Effect. The interlocking stolons of Buffalo grass form a kind of net that seems to help it block a lot of weeds, but when a weed does get in there, it's pretty hard to pull it without ripping out a lot of Buffalo grass stolons in the process.

4. The Cost. I ordered my Buffalo grass plugs from Todd Valley Farms. I think one tray cost about $62 including shipping. That tray covered an area that is maybe 50-square feet. So if you've got a big lawn, you're looking at a lot of moola if you want to cover the whole area with Buffalo grass.

5. Brown Spots. Even where the buffalo grass has filled in nicely, I can still see brown spots. Is it the dead/dormant spots from last winter? What's going to happen this winter when the whole patch goes dormant? Will there be brown and green intermixed throughout next spring? Beats me, but I'll update you as soon as I know.

Buffalo Grass, summer 2013, photo #3
The Big Picture. The buffalograss has come a long way, baby. It hasn't exactly turned out to be the groundcover of my dreams nor has it matched the glowing descriptions from marketing brochures, but it certainly has its attractions. If only it were a little greener, a little thicker, a little more weed-proof, with a shorter dormancy period...


I'm happy that I trialed buffalo grass and I think it's an interesting, beautiful groundcover with some significant advantages over traditional lawns.

Unless I win the lottery, I can't imagine spending the money to cover an entire lawn with buffalo grass, but I could see using it again in the future for a small space.

I look forward to seeing how it will perform in its second winter and how it will green up next spring. If it gets stronger and more established, I'm curious as to whether it will become more aggressive at invading the flower beds and the fescue lawn, or whether it will stay mild-mannered and let me keep it in check.

Stay tuned for future updates! If you have any questions about your current or planned buffalo grass lawn, please leave a comment below and I'll try to provide answers!