Buffalograss: Looking Ahead to Summer

This week, I will be leading a Native Plant School class on “How to Establish a Buffalograss Lawn“. Though the time to plant buffalograss is still months away, winter is the time to start thinking about how your lawn might benefit from a switch to buffalograss and what steps you need to take to prepare.

(Due to popular demand, I’m reposting this previous blog post from June of 2015, which gives a wonderful overview to the process. I will give more in depth information about establishing buffalograss in the upcoming class.)

What to Expect from Buffalograss

The Arboretum has benefited from the established stands of buffalograss we maintain.  The fine leaves stay a nice blue-green during the growing season, and it requires less mowing, watering, and fertilizing compared to our fescue or bluegrass lawns.

Newer varieties of buffalograss (Bowie, Cody, and Sundancer) green up faster in the spring, stay green longer in the fall, spread quickly by stolons to cover a planting area and remain shorter. They therefore require less mowing.

Once established, we have found it to be a tough, durable alternative to many cool-season grasses.  It thrives in dry, sunny conditions and even survived the extreme drought of 2012. We will be planting some additional areas to buffalograss in the coming year.

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Here are some ways to ensure a favorable outcome when planting a buffalograss lawn:

Give it sunshine.

Buffalograss needs at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day and a well-draining soil to grow best.  It will not grow well in low areas with periodic standing water or areas of moderate to heavy shade.  Typically, if it is unhappy, you also will be unhappy with its overall appearance.

Weed control prior to planting.

Just like establishing a flower bed, your seeding area needs to be as weed free as possible.  I have found that several applications of Round-Up in the spring prior to planting is the best way to control weeds, especially Bermuda grass and bindweed.  I also lightly till (1/4-1/2 inch deep) the area before planting so that I have some loose soil to just cover the seed.  Keep in mind that every time the soil is tilled new weed seeds will germinate, which will need to be eradicated before spreading the seed.

Proper seed selection.

There are new forms being discovered and introduced every year, but the forms we have used at the arboretum have been Cody, Bowie, and Bison.  We seeded them in June or July at a rate of 2-3 lbs. of seed per 1000 square feet.

Proper establishment.

Buffalograss needs soil temperatures that are above 60⁰ F for germination to start.  I normally spread half the seed in one direction and then spread the other half perpendicular to the first half of seed.  I lightly rake the area and then pack it in (drive over entire planting with a mower or tractor) to get good seed-to-soil contact.

I water the whole area deeply the first watering to completely saturate the soil (just to the point water is running off) and then follow with frequent light watering until the seeds germinate in 14-21 days.  Once germination is complete, infrequent deep soakings will keep the new seedlings spreading.  Full establishment of an area from seed can be completed in the first year.

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Weed control after planting.

These new forms of Buffalograss perform well in our area.  In ideal conditions, they form a thick, dense lawn that can out compete weeds.  In marginal situations, weeds can become problematic, requiring weed control through herbicides or manual eradication.  We apply a broadleaf weed control in the fall to eliminate henbit, dandelions, bindweed and other broadleaf weeds.  Management of weeds in your buffalograss both before planting and the first few years after establishment will, over time, reduce future weed control, watering, mowing and overall maintenance.

I have found buffalograss to be a valuable turf for open, sunny spaces, but keep in mind that it is not a miracle grass that can solve all your lawn problems.  The natural look of this native grass should be appreciated because it is adapted to our area.    It should also be planted with the expectation that over time, it will require less financial input and minimal work to maintain a dense, attractive turf.  For these reasons, I have found buffalograss to be a low-maintenance lawn alternative that is worth growing.

Three Native Sedges Made for the Shade

One of the toughest areas to grow plants is in dry shade.  There is a smaller plant palette that grows in these harsh conditions compared to more sunny locations in your yard.  Root competition really limits what will do well under the trees.  While most home landscapes have at least one area that is either partially or fully shaded throughout the day, it can be difficult finding native alternatives to the standard plants like hostas chosen for these shady niches.

There are a few native plants that will thrive in this tough environment.  Here are three native sedges that are worth considering.

Appalachian Sedge – Carex appalachica

An exciting native sedge that works well in mass plantings (one to two foot spacing), along shady slopes and “no mow” lawns.  It is gaining in popularity because it is so easy to grow.  We have carried it the last few years at our plant sales and customers who have tried it come back wanting more.  It forms a true clump with narrow leaves only getting 6-8 inches tall.   Each clump spirals upward as each blade intermingles with the others.  It is a shade to part sun-loving sedge that is quite appealing.

Carex appalachica Photo Courtesy Hoffman Nursery, Inc.

Carex appalachica        Photo Courtesy Hoffman Nursery, Inc.

Bristle-leaf Sedge – Carex eburnea

This fine-leaved sedge makes an excellent ground cover or lawn alternative for that shady spot.  The fountain-like clumps of dark green foliage are soft to the touch.  It stays short only reaching 6-12 inches.  Over time, the individual tufts will grow together forming a thick sod.  In the fall, the clusters turn a nice tan.  It appreciates sharp drainage, but not too much sun.  Plant them in mass for dramatic effect.

Carex eburnea Photo Courtesy Hoffman Nursery, Inc.

Carex eburnea      Photo Courtesy Hoffman Nursery, Inc.

Pennsylvania Sedge – Carex pensylvanica

This sedge is tough.  It spreads by runners forming a dense mat after several years.  This quality is why many use it as a great lawn substitute for the shade.  The fine textured leaves are soft under your feet, too.  It is most effective when planted in mass.  You will appreciate its drought tolerance and resilient nature once it is fully established.

Carex pensylvanica  Photo Courtesy Hoffman Nursery, Inc.

Carex pensylvanica        Photo Courtesy Hoffman Nursery, Inc.

 

See, there are some plants that flourish in the shade of trees. They even mix well with many other types of woodland wildflowers such as woodland phlox, columbine, wild geranium, and golden ragwort, and Short’s Aster.  You can find these companion plants along with the aforementioned sedges at our FloraKansas Fall Plant Sale.  Each of these low-growing sedges are delicate with arching leaves that are very appealing as ground covers.  In my opinion, they are definitely worth trying.