For extreme environmental conditions, nothing beats Buffalo Grass. Native to the Great Plains, this is a very tough grass that the buffalo thrived on as their huge herds moved from place to place; hence the name.
The western settlers used it also, cutting squares of it to build sod houses against the bitter Plains winters. Although it’s a warm season grass it survives deep cold and high heat, as well as drought conditions. With irrigation it even will grow in desert areas. It’s this country’s only truly native turf grass. Buffalo Grass and curly mesquite look a lot alike and often are found together in the wild, so sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between the two.
If you live in a wet environment, this probably is not a grass for you, as it doesn’t handle lots of rainfall very well. It does best when it receives between 15 inches and 30 inches of water a year.
You can start a lawn of Buffalo Grass either by seed or by sod. It spreads from seeds and stolons or surface runners, so once you get it started, it spreads on its own. However, it makes on a shallow root system so it’s not aggressive in flower beds or other places you don’t want it, and it’s easy to pull up or kill by cultivation.
If you’re going to start from seed, get treated seed; its germination rate is about 90%. Plant in the spring—usually in April and May—when you have good soil moisture and mild temperatures.
Sod also works well for establishing Buffalo Grass, as do sod plugs. Prepare the soil well so plugs survive, and plant them in 18-inch rows from 6 inches to 2 feet apart. Each plug should be at least 2 inches by 2 inches.
Be sure to keep plugs damp while you’re planting them, because they’ll die if they dry out. After you’ve planted them, water them well for several weeks until they get established.
When you plant from seed you will get patches of male and female plants; the male plants produce seed stalks that some people don’t like. When you get sod plugs, you almost always get female plants, since they don’t produce tall seed stalks.
Care & Maintenance
One of the biggest advantages of planting Buffalo Grass is that it takes very little maintenance. However, it doesn’t do well in high traffic areas or whether other turf grasses are planted. It also doesn’t like shade or very wet environments.
Because Buffalo Grass doesn’t get very tall—8 to 10 inches—it doesn’t need a lot of mowing. And because it produces only a thin turf, it’s ideal if you want a “native” landscape; you can mix other native plants with it and create a wildflower landscape with an under planting of buffalo grass.
In a lawn situation, mow Buffalo Grass to a height of 2 to 3 inches. You may need to mow once a week to keep it at that height.
Buffalo Grass doesn’t need to be fertilized, but you can put a light application of nitrogen on it. Don’t over fertilize or overwater it, as both will encourage Bermudagrass to crowd it out.