What if there was a grass you could mow maybe once or twice a year and once it became established you didn’t have to water more than once every seven to 10 days? Interested?
If so, consider buffalograss, which started out as a prairie grass native to North America and has since had denser turf type cultivars developed. Buffalograss, Buchloe dactyloides, is a perennial warm-season grass that spreads over an area by stolons, which are aboveground stems. Buffalograss tolerates the more extreme temperatures and dryer conditions common to this region. Now, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to water it, but it does mean that once it is established you will water less than half as much you would need to water a cool-season grass. Also most turf type buffalograsses only grow to about 4 to 6 inches tall, so for many, that means it will only need to be mowed one or two times each year.
However, as with any grass, all is not perfect and the downsides begin with buffalograss requiring full sun for best growth, so it will not do as well if planted in shady areas.
Also, buffalograss will not stand up to the traffic or play that other grasses do. So if you are going to be having ball games or partying on your lawn this might not be the grass for you. However, when a spot is worn out, buffalograss is able to creep back in to cover it up due to its stolon growth habit.
Another downside for some is the fact that the buffalograss species that grow well in our area are not usually as dark green in color as cool season-grasses. Rather, they are more of a blue-green color.
Finally, being a warm-season grass, it won’t green up until later in the spring and will start to go dormant and brown once frosts begin.
However, with all that being said, during the growing season it’s a great grass for our area.
Establishing a buffalograss lawn used to be a lot of work because for years the only way to start it was by using seed. The seed requires planting in the summer — June through the first week or two of August — when it’s hottest here. It’s critical to cover the seed appropriately, about one-quarter to one-half inch and keep it carefully watered until it is up and growing well, and since its summer, it can take more water to get buffalograss seed germinated and growing than is used on a fescue or bluegrass lawn.
However, some years ago, friends planted a large area using grass plugs. This is definitely the way I would recommend planting buffalograss now. Plugs are small pieces of growing grass that have roots. I was amazed at how fast the plugs covered the area. Keep plugs well watered until planting and plant them on 12- to 18-inch centers in a grid pattern. As with anything planted in the summer, make sure you keep them well watered until the grass is established.
At planting you do want to apply one pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. For those who love to apply fertilizer there is no benefit to fertilizing the plants more than twice a year. Initially, you will need to water daily to keep the plugs alive until they start spreading out their roots and growing. At that point you can back off some on the watering. But remember that for the first season you will need to water more than will be needed after the grass is established. Legacy is the best plug variety for our area but it’s possible that Prestige might work — although there is some concern about our winter temperatures.
As with any grass, there can be weed growth if you don’t water and fertilize appropriately. And if you let the plants reach their maximum height that will help shade out weeds. Should there be some weed growth there are some pre- and post-emergent products to control weeds, but choose carefully, since some of the more common lawn weed control products can damage buffalograss.
The bottom line — this can be a really nice ground cover or lawn for our area, requiring a lot less mowing and watering if you establish it correctly and care for it properly.
Thought for the day: “Plant smiles, grow laughter, harvest love.” —Unknown
Previous articles are available at The Times Independent website, www.moabtimes.com. Have an idea you’d like Mike to consider writing about? Want more information about these topics? Call the Utah State University Extension Grand County office at 435-259-7558 or email Mike Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.