Buffalo Grass

shadyplacesFebruary 29, 2008

Need some information. I don't normally do lawns, but am doing a landscape plan for a couple with bare dirt, and it will need something for lawn. I managed to talk them out of the $6 per square foot artificial grass(??) but they want xeric and low maintenance. Buffalo grass, right?

I have gotten totally conflicting reports from two different sources as to it's viability for foot traffic. Both sources are highly regarded, well respected companies, and we are specifically talking about the trademarked Legacy Buffalo Grass.

There is an old thread for this topic on here, but it addresses a different variety of buffalo grass which is seeded. Legacy, is totally female plants, with absolutely no seeds. Pollen free, which is a selling point to my couple.

Does anyone have this in their yard? How does it take foot traffic? Kids playing?

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I hesitated to reply because I don't have any direct experience. I considered buffalo grass (BG) at one time, but decided against it for several reasons. However, I did a lot of research, so I might be able to help you. If you stick with me to the end, I'll suggest some alternatives to BG.

BG that is all female has certain advantages and one big disadvantage.

The big disadvantage is cost. There are three ways to plant BG: seed, plugs and sod. Seed is the least expensive and sod the most expensive.

On the flip side, seed is probably the most difficult to establish and sod the easiest. Plugs are in the middle for both.

Another advantage to an all female BG is one you already mentioned--no pollen. On a related note, there are no seeds/seed heads. BG only grows to about 4 inches tall, so some people only mow it to eliminate the seed heads. With an all female stand, you could eliminate mowing.

As for wear and tear, I don't have direct knowledge about BG, but I can tell you that no grass will withstand extremely heavy traffic. BG does spread (via stolons), but not as aggressively as Kentucky bluegrass spreads by rhizomes.

Many people who plant BG lawns add some blue grama to the mix.

Now for the reasons I rejected BG. Everything I read about it said that it would only start to green up in mid to late May and would go dormant sometime around late September to early October. It also needs full sun and I have a lot of areas that get a lot of shade.

All of the following are cool season grasses and are also fine bladed.
I first looked at Crested Wheatgrass. This is an import from Siberia. It is originally a bunch grass, but some newer varieties are rhizomatous. It has gotten a lot of attention as an alternative turfgrass, but I'm not a big fan. I don't like the color so much (kind of yellow green) and it deals with drought by going in and out of dormancy quickly. One big advantage is that its seed is much less expensive than the other options I'll be listing. It not only costs less per pound, the seeds are smaller, so there are more seeds per pound.

I also learned about a few grasses that are native to the area.

My favorite is western wheatgrass. To me, it looks the most like a traditional lawn grass. It spreads via rhizomes and deals with drought by having a very deep root system. Other grasses deal with drought by going dormant quickly, so western wheatgrass will stay green longer. Since much of the root structure is deep, if it does go dormant, it takes more to bring it out of dormancy. In my experience, it is the most difficult to get started.

Another option is Streambank wheatgrass. If you have sandy soil, thickspike wheatgrass might be a better choice (some botanists say they're one species). It spreads via rhizomes and established fairly easily compared with western wheatgrass.

I recently learned about sheep fescue and creeping red fescue. There's some debate about whether these are native or not. Creeping red fescue spreads (but more slowly than something like blue grass). Sheep fescue is considered a bunch grass, but it tillers so it can repair damage to some extent. A seed salesman recently told me that sheep fescue would out compete western wheatgrass.

If you're going to plant a cool season lawn (maybe a mixture of these grasses), you should plant soon. If you're going to plant BG and/or blue grama, you'll want to wait until at least mid May.

You list zone 4/5/6, so that could be a determining factor. I'm technically zone 6, but that only tells how cold it gets in the winter. I grew up in an area that was probably zone 4 since it got colder in the winter, but I would usually be planting my garden by mow, rather than waiting for the snow to melt.

To me, the decision on whether to use BG lies with how much sun you'll get, when it'll green up in the spring and when it'll go brown in the fall.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2008 at 3:46AM
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BG sod is about 50% higher than KBG sod. But when you factor in the watering needs of KBG, balanced against the water requirements of buffalo grass, plus the need to install a sprinkler system, ($4500 for their yard) if they were to go with bluegrass, this begins to make economical sense over the course of 3 to 4 years as well as their desire to conserve resources.

Selling points to my client are the lack of mowing, and disease and insect resistance, and the lack of water required, but the big issue to them is the allergen free. (which was part of why they were considering artificial) This is not something that can be addressed with seeded grass.

The dormancy issue is a concern, I had discussed it with them, and they are okay with that. We can't even get the sod until mid May. Traffic is the one issue I have not been able to verify to my satisfaction, before I realy recommend this is the way for them to go. One supplier calls it fragile. Another says it will withstand moderate foot traffic. We're not talking dogs wearing a path, here, we're talking a couple of toddlers. Granted they will grow, but certainly not into a track team. So, unfortunately that is where I'm stuck.

I suppose if I were trying to sell her sod or a sprinkler system, it would be more profitable for me to recommend one way but I don't do either one. I get paid for the design, and for my recommendations based on their needs, so I feel an obligation to make the best recommendation possible and do my research. I just hate it when all my research seems so contradictory.

The 4 5 6 zone depends on where I'm working. Areas of the metro area are 5 or 6ish, depending, but some of the areas I get calls to can be a 4. This particular home is central Denver, and well protected, so usually a 6 which will extend its season a bit.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2008 at 2:02AM
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The allergen issue probably makes sodded (or plugged) BG their best option, since they can get the all female varieties. I think some of those have slightly longer growing seasons, as well.

I'm not sure how dense BG gets in the first place, but I've read that it isn't as dense as KBG. It does spread (via stolons, which are above ground runners). It's not as aggressive as KBG, which is sometimes used as a selling point since it doesn't spread into gardens, etc. But it also mean that it wouldn't fill in bare spots as well.

I also think that it doesn't hold up to foot traffic as well as KBG.

I think the "frail" description is in comparison with KBG, and the "moderate traffic" description is saying that it will hold up to some traffic and fill in bare spots, but not as well as KBG.

I don't have direct experience, so I'm summarizing from what I've read.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2008 at 6:11PM
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I put in Legacy BG plugs last summer in part of my back yard. So, I don't have long experience with a usable yard, as it didn't fill in until later in the summer. With that in mind, it has been able to withstand some foot traffic. I wander over it with a hose, lay on it, walk on it, etc, but it isn't getting regular abuse (no dog or kids in residence). I would not categorize it as fragile.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2008 at 7:06PM
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jaliranchr(z5 EC CO)

I'll toss in my observation here. I'm with bp on the wheatgrass, which in my yard is already greening up before the end of March. That won't happen with the grama (which greens about same time as buffalo grass) I have planted. I might see the grama greening up in May. Just my two cents.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2008 at 6:37PM
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Okay, I have both generic BG, planted by seed about 17 years ago, and Legacy BG, plugged about 5 years ago. The generic grass gets mowed once a year (it's on a slope that is difficult to mow), so it hasn't filled in solidly like a turf grass. Over the winter and spring it has a pleasing curly low mounding look (4-5 inches) to it, so I don't worry that it doesn't green up early. The Legacy grass is shorter, doesn't have the curly mounding habit so much, and would probably be preferred by someone who wants a traditional lawn look.

The grass around our strawberry bed gets quite a bit of traffic in June, and seems to handle it well.

Catherine (near Santa Fe)

    Bookmark   March 27, 2008 at 5:16PM
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I just planted about 2500 sq ft. of Prestige Buffalo Grass plugs in our Thornton, CO back yard. I planted them on Saturday, May 3rd.

I chose Prestige over Legacy, because Prestige is supposed to green up earlier than Legacy, be more cinch bug resistant, tolerates real low mowing, but has slightly less winter hardiness. You can see buffalo grass at the Botanic Gardens in Denver--there is a patch of it that takes a lot of foot traffic and it still is alive (in fact it was the first to green up).

I did a ton of research. What I noticed was all of my neighbors yards, whose lawns are kentucky blue grass planted 6 years ago, were mostly brown through April until they started watering them. So you only get the benefits of early greening of KYB if you apply external water to it.

The plugs I have planted have gone a bit dormant, as was expected from stress of shipping, planting, etc. The stems of the stolons have turned a deep purple, and the tips of the stolens are turning green with new growth--indicating that the roots are also growing.

Buffalo grass will spread horizontally much faster than rhizome grass (KYB) especially in compacted clay. That is why Todd Valley Farms says I will have complete coverage in 2 to 3 months, even though right now the plugs are 18" apart and look brown from a distance.

The first year is going to require a lot of work: mowing, weeding, and watering. The first two weeks the plugs need to be kept wet, and after that it can be reduced apparently.

Todd Valley Farms recommends drilling holes only 1 and 1/4" This is too shallow, I put some at this depth, and some deeper, plugging the plugs in and then plugging some dirt on top of the plug root ball--and the ones in which I did the latter seem to be fairing better.

A couple of challenges--Applying roundup to kill off existing weeds. I did this at the end of April, and am finding that there are thistles and other weeds that don't start springing up until May. So I am going to have to apply a broadleaf herbicide--carefully--to deal with this.

There is a buffalo grass lawn next to our downtown office that started greening up at the end of April without any irrigation. Now it is mostly green, with some brown. No irrigation, no mowing to me is worth a longer dormant period.

I will keep people posted

    Bookmark   May 8, 2008 at 5:47PM
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We're going with the Legacy Buffalo grass sod, from Green Valley turf farm as soon as it is available. I presented all the choices and pricing to the customer, and that is what they chose. I've done a lot of research myself into this, and I'm comfortable that this will withstand the use they intend to put it to. I've done the roundup twice already, and will do one more treatment before laying the sod. I'm also using an inhibitor to prevent any seeds that blow in from sprouting.

I'll keep posted and try to post pictures.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2008 at 1:33PM
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It has been one month and a couple of days since I planted the prestige buffalo plugs.

They went dormant, and now are coming out of dormancy. The stolons seem to be the most active. Weeds are an issue--there are a lot of weeds that are only coming up now that I am doing a lot of irrigation.

I would recommend planting the plugs deeper than Todd Valley Farms recommends and here is why:

The trays of plugs grow such that the root ball is distant from the 'knob' where the grass blades and the roots meet. Just sinking the rootballs into the ground leaves some roots exposed to the air, and this means they are too dry.

Not sure why the plugs went dormant--probably just overall stress in that they were moving from a consistently moist warm greenhouse to the relative harshness and variance of Denver in the spring.

It looks like there will be a lot of maintenance with fighting weeds this year, but once it is established, it should be low maintenance and low watering.

There is a property next to the Parkside Mansion that has buffalo grass--a seed producing variety. It was green by mid-May without supplemental irrigation, and looks really good. It was green much sooner that my neighbors who had planted Kentucky Bluegrass sod, and they haven't watered it much.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2008 at 5:07PM
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I actually didn't go with the Buffalo grass. Had to finish the job and was told the sod was still two weeks out.

What I did find, that so far I like, is Reville Bluegrass. It is a combination grass that requires substantially less watering than our normal Kentucky blue grass, but seems to have a better appearance than does the Buffalo, definitely greens up quicker, and stays green longer. It's at a property in the center of town, and she isn't planning on much watering, so we'll see how it works.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2008 at 11:57PM
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Thanks for keeping us posted, shadyplaces. I hope it turns out ok, but I'm afraid that any bluegrass will suffer if she doesn't water.

Let us know how it goes.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2008 at 2:14AM
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Update on prestige buffalo grass plug planting in Thornton, CO:

It has been almost two months.

I have learned a lot--a lot of things i would do differently the next time. I hope there is not a next time.

The plugs come very tangled with the stolons rooting in adjacent plugs. The roots are 'pot-bound,' and don't tolerate drying out. May 1st was too early to plant for two reasons:

One, still too cold. These plugs are coming from a warm greenhouse, so even if they would grow in May had they spent all winter in the ground, they got shocked going from the greenhouse to the reality of a Colorado spring.

Two, a lot of weeds have not come up as of May 1st. It may have been better to let those weeds come up for a couple of weeks in May, spray, then plant the plugs with less weed competition and warmer nightime temperatures.

I regrettably did not apply a pre-emergent. This was a mistake. On part of the area, I ended up spraying a Bayer or Ortho 2,4,D product, which the label says is rated for buffalo grass as long as it is not over 85 degrees. Well I sprayed it when it was about 80 degrees, and it knocked the plugs back for about 4 weeks. It did not kill them, but just now green is starting to emerge (I sprayed in 3rd week of May)

Back to planting the plugs--the key seems to be getting actual roots covered by the soil. This may seem obvious, but most plugs the tillers were connect by a half inch of bare root to the root-plug-ball. I found if I covered not just the root ball but also the bare roots, they seem to do better.

On the upside, it seems that once the roots start actively growing, runners start shooting off very aggressively. They seem to be well adapted to compete against weeds. If they shoot under a weed that shades them, then they just shoot longer until they reach a sunny spot. Also, they are very low growing--so mowing on a low setting will be effective as it wont cut the buffalo grass runners, but will cut the weeds.

Last week I began a tedious process of covering plugs with plastic beer cups and then spraying roundup on the weeds. This will be difficult to do this week as the runners have spread out a lot.

I have ordered some Drive 75 df herbicide, which is supposed to be able to be used on bufffalo grass to control crabgrass and broadleaf weeds.

I keep watching my neighbors struggle with their KBG sod -- mowing watering fertizlizing. I hope my toiling is rewarded by someday having limited mowing, watering, and fertizling--but it won't be this year

    Bookmark   June 27, 2008 at 1:19PM
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Okay follow up on the planting of Prestige plugs, one year one month and a couple of weeks out...

It looks awesome! The grass is a dark green, and the the bare spots where it didn't come in well last year due to poor planting/herbicide technique have filled in.

I have given it a slow release fertilizer and have yet to turn on the sprinklers, although I have watered in spots in encourage rooting of the runners over the bare spots.

The ready to spray hose end herbicides listed on Todd Valley Farms appear to work well when applied in the coolness of the evening after the thunderstorms.

I have only mowed it once, just for fun. My wife said it looked like a golf course.

I will post again after we get a hot and dry spell.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2009 at 1:30PM
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Thanks for the update.

Out of curiosity, when did it green up this spring?

    Bookmark   June 16, 2009 at 2:26PM
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jnfr(z5b CO)

I think what we planted last year was legacy buffalo grass. I know it was recommended by High Country for our area of Colorado, but I'm not at the computer where I could check for sure. We planted last fall and I actually thought it was all dead because it took so long to green up. I didn't realize that it normally greened later than the other grasses around us. I think it turned green close to what would be our average last frost date, or a little earlier - roughly late May to the first of June. It is distinctly more blue-gray than the rest of our grass, but I like it very much.

Once it got up and growing it started sending out runners all over the place. We had planted it in a large bare patch of the lawn, and I think it will likely fill in most of that patch this year. I'm really impressed, and will happily keep growing buffalo grass.

One interesting and very odd thing: the buffalo grass has a very distinct look to my eye, and once it got up and growing, I noticed that the far back of our yard had a couple of small patches of what was obviously buffalo grass. This is an area we have just been mowing but don't intend to keep in grass, so it was kind of surprising to me. I looked and could see that the grass was actually moving in from the weed-filled city mowing strip that is adjacent to the far back of our yard. There's lots of buffalo grass out there. I had no idea.

We plan to dig it for sod and replant it around the rest of our yard. Much cheaper than buying plugs :)

    Bookmark   June 19, 2009 at 2:56AM
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Thanks for the update. I like a longer green season, so BG is out for me.

"We plan to dig it for sod and replant it around the rest of our yard. Much cheaper than buying plugs :)"

As a suggestion, consider getting a bulb planter. You can use one to create a fairly good sized plug and a hole to replant it.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2009 at 3:03AM
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jnfr(z5b CO)

Thanks for that suggestion. We'll give it a try.

I can definitely see how it wouldn't be a good grass for everyone, but it works for us. Nice to have options other than bluegrass, isn't it?

    Bookmark   June 19, 2009 at 2:35PM
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It is nice to have options. I think bluegrass makes the nicest looking lawn, but it uses a lot more water than some of the alternatives. I'm trying for a low water lawn that has a longer green season. My lawn will need a little more water than buffalo grass to stay green in the summer, but much less than bluegrass. I'll trade the longer green season for the little extra water.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2009 at 3:08PM
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This is the second spring since we planted (we planted prestige plugs in May of '08). Last fall I mowed maybe to a height of maybe 3 inches. My thinking was that the tan grass blades would act as an insulator to the the grass crowns.

The grass turns into a khaki color--lighter than dormant blue grass in the winter. One huge benefit over the winter was on those unseasonably warm days that we get a couple of every winter month in CO, I was able to walk barefoot on the grass because it was dry and warm from the sun. We have a new born (born April '09) and we could play on the grass on those sunny days in Dec, Jan, and Feb. Try doing that with a bluegrass lawn. You can't because it retains water in its leaves and that water is cold and wet.

One of my neighbors said it looked great in the summer but he doesn't like the brown color in the winter. It is kind of a head scratcher because all the blue grass lawns that get southern sun in the winter are about 95% brown.

Last spring, it began greening up in March, although we had a warm late winter/early spring.

This spring, I am experimenting with mowing heights--on the first Sat of March this year, I mowed one third of the grass at the lowest possible setting on the mower (below the notches), 1/3 at the lowest notch, and the rest I haven't mowed.

The lowest setting essentially acted as a 'dethatcher' and exposed the more of the crowns and ground to the sun.

The theory is that exposing more ground to the sun now will speed up the 'green-up,' although I may have gone too early. Also, this could result in more weeds.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2010 at 3:08PM
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