Tag Archives: grass types

Buffalo Grass

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

buffalo plush toy
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.

Growing A Shady Lawn

grass for shady lawnThe earliest grasses grew on the plains—open areas of full sunlight. If you look around in nature you will see grasses in open sunny fields but not in dense forests.

While some grasses adapt better to shade than others, none will grow in deep shade. By choosing a grass that tolerates shade and that is adapted to your growing area you can establish a lawn in a lightly shaded area that gets several hours of full sun per day.

Shade Tolerant Grasses

Among the grasses that grow in cool areas of the country, called cool season grasses, creeping or red fescue and velvet bentgrass are the most shade tolerant. Used by itself or as a mixture red fescue is good in all types of turf areas, including lawns, parks, ball fields, cemeteries, and airfields. With its fine texture, thickness, and low growing habit, velvet bentgrass is a popular choice for golf greens in the far north.

Rough bluegrass, creeping bentgrass, and hard fescue have good shade tolerance in northern areas, but not as good as red fescue or velvet bentgrass.

St. Augustine grass and manila grass have excellent shade tolerance in warm season areas from the Texas gulf to the Carolinas. St. Augustine grass produces a thick dark green lawn in full sun or moderate shade. Manila grass is a fine-textured, dense type of zoysiagrass.

Maintenance for a Shady Lawn

Mow grass in shady areas one-third higher than in sunny locations. The increased blade surface absorbs more sunlight. Remove leaves and grass clippings from the lawn because they reduce the sunlight that reaches the grass. Trim surrounding trees, especially lower branches, to increase sunlight.

Water deeply and infrequently. Deep watering penetrates the roots of the grass, where shallow watering encourages tree roots to come to the surface and compete with the grass for water and nutrients. Too much water, however, leads to disease problems. Watering a shady lawn is not the same as watering a sunny lawn; it may take time to achieve the correct balance between too much and too little water. A walking sprinkler can be set to put the correct amount of water on.

Shady lawns do not need as much nitrogen fertilizer as lawns that get more sunlight. Use deep root feeding to feed trees in lawns in order to prevent high levels of nitrogen from reaching the grass.

Avoid walking on shady lawns. Foot traffic is more damaging to shady lawns, which are in general more fragile.

Alternatives to Grass for Shady Areas

In high shade areas where sunlight cannot be increased by trimming branches of trees, plants other than grass may be more successful as groundcovers. As with the grasses, suitable plants depend on climate and growing conditions. Possibilities include pachysandra, ivy, moss, periwinkle, sweet woodruff, and many others.

Where no plants will grow straw, woodchips, or mulch can provide effective and attractive cover for the ground. Paving stones, bricks, or gravel are other options that can be incorporated into the landscape in places where plants do not thrive.

Choosing the Right Warm Season Grass

If you live where summer temperatures regularly reach 80-95 degrees and want to have a lawn, you need to choose a warm season grass. Warm season grasses share several characteristics in addition to thriving in warm or hot climates. Because they grow very actively in the summer they have fewer problems with weeds, diseases, and insect pests. But during the winter they brown up at the first killing frost, going dormant for four or five months until they start to grow in mid-April or early May. Warm season grasses do not have heavy irrigation needs; in fact, they need 30 percent less water than cool season grasses.

Major types of warm season grasses are bermudagrass, zoysiagrass, centipedegrass, and St. Augustine grass. Let’s take a look at the positive and negative qualities of these four.


Bermudagrass is a good choice for athletic fields, golf course fairways, lawns, and parks because it withstands heavy traffic extremely well. It also holds up under extreme heat and drought and has low water needs. The highest quality bermudagrass is only available in sod, although some types can be seeded.

Bermudagrass grows laterally both above and below the ground, making it a very aggressive creeper—hard to keep out of flower beds. It does not tolerant shade at all and needs frequent mowing in summer.

The recommended fertilizer application rate is 1-4 pounds of nitrogen (N) per 1,000 square feet per year. As with other grasses, how much you use depends on your needs and expectations for your lawn. Mowing height is 1 ½-2 inches.

Read more on Bermuda Grass.


Zoysiagrass grows more slowly than bermudagrass and is more tolerant of shade. This dense turf grass stands up well to traffic, but its stiff blades make it very hard to mow. You need a powerful mower with sharp cutting edges to keep it ½ to 2 inches high.

An all-round, well-adapted turf grass, zoysiagrass has outstanding cold and drought tolerance and few weed and pest problems. Recommend nitrogen application is 1-2 pounds per year.


Centipedegrass grows very slowly, which means it does not invade flowerbeds but is slow to establish from seed. Compared to zoysia, this warm season grass is not as hardy but equally shade tolerant. Because centipedegrass has poor traffic tolerance it’s a popular choice for cemeteries, utility turf, and golf course roughs. It can work in lawns and parks that are more for show than walking on.

Centipedegrass tolerates drought and low fertility. Of all the warm season grasses it needs the least mowing (1 ½ to 2 ½ inches mowing height). Its nitrogen needs are also low (1 to 2 pounds per year). Overall, centipedegrass is a high quality and low maintenance warm season grass.

St. Augustine Grass

Wide-bladed St. Augustine grass is an aggressive grower that invades plant beds, but it’s not as aggressive as bermudagrass. While no grass grows well in dense shade, St. Augustine grass is the most shade tolerant warm season grass on the market. It does not, however, have good cold tolerance and has more pest and disease problems than other warm season grasses.

Like centipedegrass, St. Augustine grass does not tolerate heavy traffic. Homeowners value St. Augustine grass for the thick, lush turf it creates with relatively low maintenance. This turf grass needs 1-3 ½ pounds of nitrogen per year and a mowing height of 3-4 inches.

Choose the Right Grass

These four turf grasses provide a range of options for warm season growing. The right choice for you depends on your growing conditions, usage, and expectations for your lawn.