Monday, July 1, 2013


Buffalo grass.
I never thought that I'd commit myself to daily weeding of the grass.

No, not weeding grass out of the garden -- weeding weeds out of the grass.

But for the past three years (or is it four?) we've tried to establish a good cover of buffalo grass in certain areas. It has worked only partly. We do have nice patches of it, but that should be large areas of buffalo grass.

I've never paid much attention to "lawns," but I do recognize the need to have some kind of short ground cover in places where you want to entertain, where the grandkids can play, where I walk between house and garden and from garden to fruit trees. Mud and dust aren't that great, and short grass makes less cover for wildlife that you don't really want hanging out at the edge of the garden or real near the house. I don't mind the deer wandering through from time to time, but I don't want them bedding down at the edge of the garden.

So we mow a fairly good size area around the house and gardens. Regular short mowing over the years has caused the brome grass (not native, but a formerly planted hay crop) to weaken and thin. Herbaceous weeds (those that die to the ground each year) have moved in, which makes for not a terribly pleasant "lawn." So we thought we'd plant buffalo grass and let it take over, eventually.

That has been expensive. Buffalo grass seed is not cheap -- $15 a pound this last batch. We ignored the advice of experts to kill out the competition before we planted. Since buffalo grass is a "warm-season" grass, it greens up and starts growing later than many typical lawn grasses, so the cool season brome takes over and smothers it before it gets growing.

I do not like using chemical herbicides. I more than dislike it, I hate it. However, I resorted to spraying the brome and other cool season weeds this spring before the buffalo grass started growing. This summer, we will lay tarps or similar things over the areas we plan to seed next year (we're taking it a little at a time) to kill most stuff out before next spring. We didn't do that with the areas we planted this year, because they had some fairly decent bits and pieces of buffalo grass we didn't want to kill.

Now the crabgrass has taken off, and we are furiously digging it out to keep it from smothering the buffalo grass.

But, we are making progress.

Aided by early rains, the buffalo grass (in the sunnier areas) has sprouted pretty well. Numerous clumps from previous year's seedings are healthy and sending out above ground runners that take root.

We were warned to be patient, that you don't see much in the first year of your buffalo grass. And so we are seeing some reward from previous years' work and expense.

Why do we want buffalo grass this badly?
It is highly drought tolerant. When conditions are inhospitable, it simply goes dormant. By the end of last summer's heat and drought, the buffalo grass was brown, but it came back this spring when the rain came, unlike some other grasses.
Most important of all, buffalo grass is a short grass (native to the Midwest Plains) reaching only 6 to 8 inches in height. So it needs mowed just once a month, if that.

So now you want a buffalo grass lawn?
First, get rid of whatever is growing there, however you want to do it.
Plant as early as you can during its planting season (starts April 20 here in Northeast Kansas) to take advantage of the natural rainfall. If you don't get much rain, water twice a week until it starts growing well. But don't overwater; it didn't evolve in rainy areas, after all.
Keep down any competition that sprouts.
Don't plant it in shade.
If you need to, seed into bare patches.
Wait. It'll happen.
Don't fertilize... much.

Of the dozen or so varieties available, we planted Texoka, because... that's what was available to us through the conservation district.

And, yes, buffalo (more accurately called "bison") apparently did eat buffalo grass when they roamed the Great Plains.

No comments: