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Master Naturalists: Buffalo grass easy to maintain

June 9, 2011 at 1:09 a.m.

Buffalo grass is a native, short grass that grows well in our clay soils.  It is soft, therefore not good in high-traffic areas, but makes an attractive yard turf, even without frequent mowing.  It should be mowed annually to foster new growth.  Buffalo's best characteristic is its drought-tolerance.

By Paul and Mary MeredithVictoria is in a Stage One drought contingency plan. If the Guadalupe River's flow drops more, Stage Two will be implemented, further restricting retail water use. And St. Augustine grass takes lots of water to grow and look good. Trouble seems to be on the way.


Carol, an Advocate reader, emailed us asking whether she could convert to water-smart grass at her place near Yoakum. She challenged us to write about that. Yes, Carol, you can convert to Buffalo grass (also called buffalograss) on your clay soil, and it will help your water and fertilizer use. Buffalo grass is a soft, thin-bladed, drought-resistant, blue-green (lighter than St Augustine) native grass that's low-maintenance once established.


We converted our backyard to Buffalo grass toward the end of the 2009 drought. We hadn't watered, to let our St. Augustine die. We tilled lightly; raked up the dry grass; bought a load of Buffalo turf; laid it; and watered it every other day for a month, until the rains came in fall 2009. It hasn't been fertilized. It looks great.


Other ways to switch involve seeds or turf plugs. For seeding, prepare your area as we did, spread treated Buffalo seed burs at recommended rates, roll them in, and water them well to foster germination. Keep watering daily until the seeds sprout, about seven to 10 days.

For plugging, buy turf; cut it into 4- by 4-inch plugs; plant plugs in rows 6-inches apart; and roll plugs in to increase soil contact. Buffalo grass' runners spread and will fill in open spaces between the rows. Areas between rows should be kept clear of other plants, reducing competitors' invasions there. Plugging, combined with seeding, is a good way to have a thicker lawn sooner.


According to Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Buffalo sod turns brown, going dormant right after installation. This natural reaction will pass as sod becomes established. Keep watering. After a month, mow turf and plugs to 2 inches to encourage more runners and more roots. Once established, water enough to maintain color (prevent browning) and avoid fertilization.

Buffalo grass is not as dense as St. Augustine. Weeds sprout no matter how you plant it, a problem in establishing Buffalo turf. Control's important and may require manual labor because weeds grow faster than grass seedlings or runners. Left alone, weeds will out-compete grass, mature, and reseed. Over-watering and watering too soon or too late in the season encourage weed growth. Many weeds establish themselves while grass is dormant if you water too much during wintertime.


Universities from Texas to Nebraska have been experimenting, finding different varieties of Buffalo to use in different areas and for different purposes. Carol, see your county's Agrilife Extension agent specializing in range management for advice about which commercially-available variety is best for your area and your purpose.

Paul and Mary Meredith are master naturalists. Contact them at



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