Advantages to Using Ornamental Grasses in the Landscape

As I was preparing for my next Native Plant School class on the Wonderful World of Grasses, I was reminded why I love grasses in the landscape.  Here are a few thoughts about why ornamental grasses are such an important component of a successful habitat garden.

Versatility

There is so many different ways you can use ornamental grasses in the landscape.  Distinct grasses introduced into your landscape will serve different purposes.

I love the way shorter grasses like prairie dropseed look along a walkway or border. Combine these grasses with shorter perennials and it really sets off the edge of a planting bed. Ornamental grasses are a great alternative groundcover to traditional turf grass such as fescue, too.

I use larger ornamental grasses typically as a backdrop for medium to tall perennial wildflowers or as a screen to hide something like a gas meter or transformer.  These taller varieties billow out to create volume as they grow to fill in spaces. They also can be used to punctuate the design as focal points.  Grasses are structure plants that mix well with other seasonal wildflowers such as black-eyed Susan or asters.

Varied Appearance

When it comes to ornamental grasses, there is one for just about every landscape situation. The distinct features, varied heights, forms, colors and varieties give you options to diversify and contrast plants in your landscape. Fine or coarse foliage of green, blue, purple, tan and red hues planted together with interesting seedheads add visual interest and texture in winter. All these features lead your eyes through your outdoor space. As the grasses transition into fall, many develop attractive fall color and interesting seed heads. In the winter, taller grasses capture snow and move with the gentlest breeze.

Sorghastrum nutans GOLDEN SUNSET® (‘MNYG318153’ PP33776) Photo by Walters Garden
Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Twilight Zone’ PP27432 Photo courtesy of Walters Garden

Easy Maintenance

Over the past few years, more and more people are including ornamental grass in their landscape. As we have said they are versatile and beautiful. They are also reliable in our unpredictable Kansas climate. Grasses are a low-maintenance landscape option once established. The deep roots help grasses combine well with other perennials. They don’t need fertilizer because that will make them grow quickly and flop. They grow on their own without the need for pruning or maintenance. We usually cut our grasses back in late winter around February or March in preparation for spring.

Environmental Benefits

Photos by Iralee Barnard

Most ornamental grasses and especially warm season grasses such as switchgrass and big bluestem are resistant to heat and drought. They don’t require a lot of extra moisture through the growing season which conserves water in the garden. Overall, native or ornamental grasses are pests or disease free which reduces the need for pesticides, so you don’t pollute local waterways.

As I mentioned earlier, grasses have deep root systems that are great at holding soil and eliminating erosion. Probably the biggest advantage of including ornamental grasses in your gardens is that they create habitat. Wildlife and pollinators use grasses for overwintering, resting, and sourcing food. Grasses are familiar elements of the natural environment for wildlife. Add a few grasses and see what and who arrives in your yard.

Purple Prairie Clover – KNPS 2023 Wildflower of the Year

I recently wrote a brief article on purple prairie clover for the newest edition of the Kansas Native Plant Society newsletter and thought it would be relevant to cross-promote on our blog.

Purple prairie clover (Dalea purpurea) is the Kansas Native Plant Society 2023 Kansas
Wildflower of the Year
(WOY). Found throughout Kansas, this erect perennial from the bean family (Fabaceae) grows with multiple simple or branched stems in height of one to three feet tall. Its preferred habitat is medium to well-drained, full-sun, dry upland prairie. Extreme drought tolerance is thanks to a deep taproot. The newer genus name (replacing Petalostemon) honors 17-18 th century English botanist, Samuel Dale.

Photo by Michael Haddock

The dense thimble-like clusters of tiny flowers help purple prairie clover stand out with a
splash of color amidst emerging prairie grasses in June and early July. The ¼” purple flower
has five petals and five yellow anthers. Each less than 1/8” pod or seed capsule contains a
single yellowish-green or brown seed. Delicate leaves are alternate branching and pinnately compound with 3-5 narrow, linear leaflets.

Line drawing by Lorna Harder

This non-aggressive, nitrogen-fixing legume is a popular choice for any prairie seed mix or
sunny flowerbed. It is common to see various types of bees and other pollinators gathering
nectar from the flowers of purple prairie clover. The vegetation is larval food for southern
dogface and Reakirt’s blue butterflies.

Photo by Michael Haddock

The drawings are by Lorna Harder and the photographs are by Michael Haddock. To see
more Dalea purpurea photos by Michael Haddock and a detailed species description, visit kswildflower.org.


Past KNPS WOY Selections

2022 Dotted blazing star (Liatris punctata)
2021 Compass plant (Silphium laciniatum)
2020 Blue wild indigo (Baptisia australis var. minor)
2019 Woolly verbena (Verbena stricta)
2018 Cobaea penstemon (Penstemon cobaea)
2017 Plains coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria)
2016 Golden alexanders (Zizia aurea)
2015 Green antelopehorn (Asclepias viridis)
2014 Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium species)
2013  Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)
2012 Lead plant (Amorpha canescens)
2011 Prairie coneflower (Ratibida columnifera)
2010 Catclaw sensitive briar (Schrankia nuttallii)
2009 Prairie larkspur (Delphinium virescens)
2008 Fringed puccoon (Lithospermum incisum)
2007 Purple poppy mallow (Callirhoe involucrata)
2006 Blue sage (Salvia azurea)
2005 Rose verbena (Glandularia canadensis)
2004 Missouri evening primrose (Oenothera macrocarpa)
2003 Large beardtongue (Penstemon grandiflorus)
2002 Fremont’s clematis (Clematis fremontii)
2001 Thickspike gayfeather (Liatris pycnostachya)
2000 Maximillian sunflower (Helianthus maximilliani)
1999 Butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)
1998 Black-sampson echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia)

Shiny New Plants for 2023

In one of the horticulture magazines I received this week, I was drawn to an article about some shiny new plants for 2023. I don’t know what it is about new plants, but I like to see the unique, unusual and up and coming each year. It is one of the great things about gardening – there are always new plants on the horizon. Like some people wait for the new models of cars, gardeners wait with anticipation for the newest varieties and forms of vegetables, flowers, grasses, trees and shrubs. I can’t afford a new car, but I can afford a few new plants.  

As I look at some of these new plants, I have to temper my enthusiasm. New isn’t always better. I have been burned by some of these shiny new plants in the past. There are some plants that are interesting, but will they grow here? Will they hold up to the rigors of the Kansas climate like true native plants do?

Natives – Always a good place to start

For obvious reasons, we promote the use of natives in the landscape – the same plants you would see growing out in the prairie are well-adapted to grow in Kansas.  If properly matched to your site, a community of native plants will thrive with little input once established.  This mixture of plants is a perfect habitat for wildlife (including pollinators) and requires less water and no pesticides over time.

Butterfly weed and Pale Purple Coneflower

With that said, is there a place for some of these new varieties in the landscape?  In my opinion, yes.  Certainly, there are some new plants that are NOT worth trying. These are usually discernible. They will wilt and/or struggle to grow in the Kansas climate. Think of a summer day with 30 mph south winds. That will make or break many of these new plants. However, a handful of new forms each year, if tested and tried, will survive the hardships of our climate.  

Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’, Schizachryrium scoparium ‘Twilight Zone’ and Aster oblongifolius ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ are a few examples of garden worthy ‘nativars’ for Kansas.  These sure forms have so much to offer in the garden. Their form, texture, color, habit, or blooms along with resilient qualities make them good choices in sunny locations. My approach to landscape design has always been to mix and match natives and varieties of natives. I like the predictability of some of these selected plants that can be combined with true natives to still create a layered, attractive and interesting combination of plants that creates habitat for wildlife. 

Twilight Zone Little Bluestem. I love that purple cast to the foliage. Photo courtesy Walters Gardens.

Yes, natives and selections

Again, not every new plants is appropriate for our garden situation, especially in Kansas. It is up to you how to determine how purely native you want your landscape to be. I take the “yes, native and ‘some others’” approach to my garden design. Sure there have been some duds regarding new plants that didn’t pan out, but others have been a success. 

To me there is value in having as diverse a landscape as possible, both native and ‘nativars’. Only by testing and trying these new plants will we be able to determine if they have the staying power in the garden. Do your research and choose wisely. I have become very selective/skeptical when it comes to new plants, but I can always find a place for a few new plants each year worth taking a chance on. Diversity attracts diversity. 

P.S.  Vegetables/edibles are in a whole other ball game when it comes to new plants and varieties.  Heirloom varieties are important because they hold the original genetic code and generally taste better.  However, newer varieties and selections are disease resistant, vigorous, and typically yield better. Another trend with vegetables is growing edibles in containers on your patio or deck. Who doesn’t like to walk onto your deck and pick a fresh tomato?

New Native Plants for Florakansas

“New native plants” is a misnomer we use a lot throughout our blogs and newsletters. In fact, they have been here for eons! But we get pretty excited around here when we can add a lesser-known native to our inventory for the first time. “New” just means newly available to our customers. Thanks to growing demand for natives in the landscape industry, more wholesale growers are expanding their offerings, which means we can expand our FloraKansas selection.

Solidago flexicaulis, zig zag goldenrod

A goldenrod that prefers shady, woodland conditions, Solidago flexicaulis can be found in far eastern Kansas and throughout the Ozarks, all the way to the east coast! This plant presents a great opportunity to get some color and pollinator attraction in shaded areas. Its name refers to the zig zag pattern of blooms up the stem. To identify it from other shady goldenrods like Solidago odora or Solidago caesia, look for the wide leaves with dramatically serrated edges. Companion plants include wild geraniums, columbine, and jack-in-the-pulpit.

Fritzflohrreynolds, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Douglas Goldman, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Clinopodium arkansanum, limestone calamint

Rob Routledge, Sault College, Bugwood.org (Cropped by uploader), CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

At less than a foot tall, we don’t want you to accidentally pass this one by! Limestone calamint is found growing in the open glades and rocky prairies of Missouri and Arkansas, along with a few populations scattered in New Mexico, Texas, and the upper Midwest states. Tube-shaped flowers typical of the mint family will attract plenty of pollinators. Plant in soil that is well-drained, rocky, and slightly alkaline, in full to partial sun. Plant with similar sized friends that like rocky soil too, such as blue grama grass and perky sue.

Rosa carolina, pasture rose

Photo by D. Gordon E. Robertson, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Most roses you see in the flower shop or floral department of the grocery store are not native roses. Not even close! Shipped from all over South America, they have made us forget the simple beauty of our own native rose species. Wild roses may not have the massive, overstuffed blooms and countless layers of petals, but these natives are much easier to care for, provide tons of nectar to insects, and smell heavenly. Pasture rose is 1 to 3 feet tall and likes open, sunny exposures. As a native species, it is more resistant to rose-rosette disease than ornamental types. Very thorny, these roses can be used to form low hedges or a living fence.

Viola pedatifida, prairie violet

Photo in public domain at Wikimedia Commons

These diminutive and inconspicuous native plants live their life in the prairie understory, shaded out by taller species all around them. Blooming in spring, they are great next to sidewalks and in areas you pass by frequently so you don’t miss them! Prairie violets very closely resemble the other species of violet we carry, Viola pedata (bird’s foot violet), but that one has orange stamens and prairie violet does not. Both are host to many butterfly species but they do not spread as aggressively as common violets. These look great with crocus, and spread nicely underneath grasses like little bluestem.

Spring will be here before you know it! Which native plants will you add to your garden in 2023? Check our FloraKansas page for updates about the spring event.

New Year, New Plants

Winter is a great time for gardeners to curl up on the sofa and pore over seed and plant catalogs. Every year I try to order a few new plants to spice up our inventory and widen our species diversity. Just looking at all those beautiful blooms to choose from gets me excited for spring! Luckily, when I am ordering plugs and bulbs to grow in the greenhouse, I get to spend hours doing just that. Here are some new adaptable plants we will be offering at our spring FloraKansas:

Gazania linearis

Gazania linearis flower, photo by S Molteno, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

This tough South African native is hardy to zone 5 and loves dry conditions. An extremely long bloomer, showing off its sunny yellow flowers for much of the summer, it only reaches six inches tall. Strappy grass-like foliage can be thick and form a ground cover. This plant is right at home in rock gardens and tough spots that don’t get much irrigation. Pair with native flax (Linum perenne) and fame flower (Talinum calycinum).

Peony Itoh x Pink Double Dandy

Photo from GrowingColors.com

Itoh peonies, also known as intersectional peonies, are stronger and larger than regular garden peonies. A rare and hard-to-find hybrid between tree peonies and garden peonies, they are becoming more readily available these days. Known for fantastically huge blooms and an upright habit, never flopping over in the rain like other peonies do. This is a new introduction, with blooms boasting a bright pink center and paler pink edges. It makes a great centerpiece of any garden, or show-stopper when planted in groups along a driveway or border.

Heuchera ‘Peachberry Ice’

Coral bells is a favorite shade plant for many people. Colorful foliage, low maintenance, dainty blooms – it has a lot of appeal! Given a bit of moisture and some protection from sun during the hottest parts of the day, coral bells is long lived and easy to grow. This new selection from Proven Winners has a showy range of copper to blush leaves and a bushy habit. We are excited to try it out on our grounds if we can find the right spot.

Dianthus ‘Red Rouge’

Dianthus is a stunning late spring early summer bloomer, and good for pollinators too! Photo courtesy of Walters Gardens

Dianthus, also known as cheddar pinks, is a tough little plant that loves sun and hot weather. The single blooming variety (seen above) is also great for pollinators, and pairs well with Kansas native Hymenoxys scaposa and Sporobolus heterolepis, both short and sun loving as well. Dianthus tend to rot if the roots stay moist too long, so be sure the soil has good drainage. Plant along sidewalks and at the front of the garden border.

I never get tired of researching new plants and trying them out on our grounds and in the greenhouse. Look out for our next post all about the new Kansas natives we have added to our inventory for the upcoming spring sale. Hopefully dreaming of these beauties will help you get through the long winter still ahead. And when the ground thaws, we can all get our shovels dirty once again!

Welcoming the Year Ahead

As 2022 comes to a close, we reflect back on all the wonderful things we accomplished with your help in the past twelve months – completed our island renovation project, replaced our greenhouse roof with a more wind-hardy solution, watched the plants persevere through a very wet spring and an extremely dry summer and fall, and installed a new welcome sign! And now we dream of what 2023 will bring for our prairie garden.

In this period of rest and dormancy, we invite you to join us in welcoming all of the possibilities that the coming year holds for you and for the land that you steward.

From left to right: Scott Vogt, Executive Director; Katie Schmidt, Horticulturist/Grounds Manager; Brad Guhr, Prairie Restoration/Education/Concert Series Coordinator; Janelle Flory Schrock, Public Engagement Coordinator

Songs of the Solstice

When the weather is cold and the days are short, I just want to curl up on the couch and rest. And according to prairie plants, that’s exactly what I should be doing! As much as it pains us to see our favorite plants dry up and freeze in the fall, cold weather is an essential pause in the growth cycle for some plant species. Dormancy, vernalization, and cycles of freezing and thawing are an important part of their development.

A winter sunset dips below the horizon behind a bur oak tree and a snowy landscape.
Photo by Gerry Epp

Baby It’s Cold Outside

Contrary to how we feel about it, cold weather is a very good thing for plants in our region. In fact, there are many species of plants that cannot bloom without a prolonged cold period. Apple trees cannot form proper buds without 500 to 1,000 “chilling hours”. Tulips will not bloom without 12 to 16 weeks of cold soil temperatures. And even the historically finicky peach tree will not set fruit without a proper cold spell during the winter months. This cold period for plants is called ‘vernalization’. It all has to do with needing some rest — after a strenuous growing season, many plants use the signal of dark days and cold temperatures to go into their dormant phase, an energy-saving adaptation that allows them to jump back into full blossom in the spring. Why fight the harsh winter conditions when you can just sleep through it?

On Dormancy, or Rest Ye Merry Gentle(Plants)

Dormancy is not death, it is more like a long, deep sleep. In preparation for winter, plants stop actively growing and begin to transport their sugar reserves into their roots. This means the foliage may look shriveled and dried, but the roots are more alive than ever, packed with energy to get through the winter. When they go dormant, all the internal chemical processes of the plant slow down. Isn’t that good advice for us too? Slow down, give up trying to keep up all those lush, green appearances and just focus on your roots and energy reserves! Remember to give your plants a bit of water of the winter if things get abnormally dry; they are resting, but still need moisture to stay alive until spring!

The dormant trees of the Arboretum take the spotlight during our Prairie Lights event. The lights accentuate their form and help us to appreciate them even in the off season. Photo by Amy Sharp Photography.

Let It Snow

Native prairie seeds are especially in need of cold, moist winters. These seeds have incredibly hard seed coats, called testas. The outer shell of the seed is hard for many reasons: to protect it from the elements, to prevent it from germinating too soon when conditions are unfavorable, or to survive the inside of a stomach once it is eaten and, – *ahem* – expelled. But this hard seed coat does finally break open after many freezes and thaws in a Kansas winter. Moisture works its way into the seed and helps the process along. Without deep cold, seeds would not germinate as well or at the correct time.

Seeds take many shapes and forms. Line drawing by Lorna Harder, can be found on our “Prairie Restoration” informational sign on the Arb grounds.

Winter can be a beautiful season if you know where to look. Prairie plants provide interesting textures and colors even through the darkest days of December and January. And more than being aesthetically pleasing, leaving gardens standing through winter provides the necessary habitat and shelter for wildlife to survive cold temperatures. As you enjoy your own kind of dormancy this winter solstice, I hope you find some comfort in the natural cycles of waking and rest happening all around you!

Leave The Leaves

Leaves are everywhere this time of year, and for good reason! Leaves have an important role in the ecosystem. Trees and the organisms living in and below them have evolved for millions of years together, working in sync to create vegetation and break it down in an efficient cycle. But most Americans don’t realize this, quickly raking the leaves away as soon as they fall on our precious lawns. Well, here are some facts that might change your mind and urge you to leave that rake in the garage!

The leaves of ‘October Glory’ maple are beautiful but my do they fall everywhere!

For the Love of Lawn

Most people rake leaves out of concern for their lawns. Rightly so, as a thick layer can damage turf grass. Leaves staying wet too long causes snow mold, and without enough airflow even grass smothering, leaving bald patches next spring. But a light layer of leaves shouldn’t be cause for alarm – remember, a few leaves here and there will feed the lawn the nutrients it needs. You may consider using a leaf blower to thin them out if they are piled too high in some areas, allowing the turf to breathe through the winter. And when you think about it, if your non-native turf grass is so fragile and takes so much special care to grow well outside it’s natural environment…*maybe the problem is the grass, not the leaves?

*Our obsession with a 1950’s American Dream Lawn (which actually harkens back to medieval castle-dwelling elitism) is a problem; its a multi-billion dollar industry that relies heavily on chemical inputs, replaces native habitat, and sucks up millions of gallons of drinkable freshwater, but produces no useful food crop. Ready to ditch that old fashioned thinking and consider downsizing your traditional lawn space? More info here, here and here on alternatives.

Oh Leaf Me a Home

Leaves are home to lots of overwintering insects. We may not notice them, but these tiny friends are there, clinging to the underside of leaves and crawling into the leaf piles that collect in garden beds. While the well known and well loved Monarch butterfly migrates, most of our native insects do not! They desperately need these natural places to hid in winter, often as an egg, chrysalis, or hibernating as an adult. Many gardeners work hard to support declining insect populations all summer, only to ruin all their hard work in the fall when they take all their leaves to the curb.

Many butterflies and moths depend on leaf litter for shelter.

Paper or Plastic

Too many folks spend their beautiful fall days bagging up leaves and sending them away. This creates a lot of plastic waste. Not only are we sending enormous amounts of plastic to the landfill, all the insects, eggs, and larvae already on those leaves will die inside the bag, never to take their place in the ecosystem! The nutrients in that foliage will not return to the soil, and instead stay trapped for hundreds of years in their plastic prison.

Free those leaves, folks! Let them decay and feed the soil microbiome. If you must haul them away, load them onto a tarp for transport, or opt for paper bags that can be composted with the leaves.

Our student employee Rachel shows the size of a typical paper yard waste bag.

I love a lush, green lawn as much as the next person, but we can all aim to achieve a useable lawn space while also being kind to the environment. If you have too many leaves in one area, spread them out, move them to your garden as free mulch, or start a neighborhood leaf compost pile. If you must haul them away, stick to compostable or reusable containers and consider taking them to a city compost area or even your local Arboretum! Doing your part to help the environment, in this case, means less work for once. So stay inside and watch that football game, the leaves in the yard can wait.

Valley Center Public Library Pollinator Garden

Earlier this year, I created a native plant design for the Valley Center Public Library. After a group of volunteers helped get it planted, they have diligently weeded and watered it through the summer. Thankfully, they have an automatic sprinkler system. But they established the plants by hand watering, which was no small task.

Sumac next to small foot bridge over the drainage swale

Focal Points

Last week I took a field trip to check out the progress of their garden. It survived the summer and really filled in nicely. Some of the highlights were the Raydon’s Favorite aster, Twilight Zone little bluestem, American beautyberry, and switchgrass. The solar powered bubbling fountain and large butterfly bench donated by a local resident add a nice spot to sit and enjoy the garden.

Butterfly bench in the garden

Opportunities for Education

The garden is just north of the new library. It has walking paths and a small bridge over a wet area. It has a diverse selection of plants to create habitat for pollinators. We included several types of milkweed scattered throughout the garden, which will attract monarch butterflies. The adult monarchs laid eggs on the milkweed, which hatched into caterpillars, which then turned into adults. The garden stewards were able to share this lifecycle with the children and adults who visited the library.

Bubbling fountain perfect for supplying water to pollinators

It was a warm sunny day when I visited. There were dozens of pollinators working on the asters, which were in full bloom. The garden has been a tremendous success. The ladies who manage the site have done a wonderful job. They are connecting people of all ages, but particularly children, to the outside world and showing them different pollinators that can be attracted to a garden using native plants.

As the garden matures, the educational opportunities will become more numerous. These connections with nature are important formative experiences that will impact people for years to come. Keep up the good work!

It’s hard to see but this Aster ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ was covered with all sorts of pollinators.

Final update: Buffalograss Experiment

As the growing season comes to a close, I like to take account of the garden before it goes completely dormant. Certainly, this has been a challenging year in the garden. The plants I installed last May in front of my house are still alive, but it took daily watering through the summer to keep them going. It is safe to say that without regular attention and water, I would have lost all of those tiny plants. I am still watering them twice a week.

Aster oblongifolius ‘Raydon’s Favorite’
Amsonia hubrichtii ‘Butterscotch’

Here at the Arboretum, I find the resiliency of the prairie and certain display beds encouraging. While they are under stress, these plants adapt well to the high and lows along with wet and dry conditions. I have also been monitoring the buffalograss experiment I started over two years ago in the fall of 2020.

Our Experiment

As a reminder, in the fall of 2020, we tried a new seeding technique with buffalograss. We had our area prepared and ready for planting. That November, we seeded the area with annual ryegrass and buffalograss seed. The ryegrass is a cool season grass that prefers cooler weather. Once it germinated, it held the soil through the winter while the buffalograss seed naturally planted itself with the freezing and thawing of the soil. The round buffalograss seeds did not germinate because soil temperatures were below 60 degrees.

Area before planting, November 2020
Annual ryegrass mowed for the second time in the spring of 2021

The Next Year

In the spring of 2021, the buffalograss seed germinated as the soil temperatures warmed. By May, the new seedlings had started to spread under the canopy of the ryegrass growing from the previous fall. As the temperatures warmed into the summer, the annual ryegrass faded since it is a cool season grass and the buffalograss became more prominent. By the end of the summer, new small clumps of buffalograss established, slowly spreading but healthy.

Since Germination

We mowed the annual ryegrass weekly that first year. It is important to keep the canopy open so the sun could warm the soil allowing the buffalograss seeds to continue to germinate. Buffalograss takes two to three weeks to germinate. The seeded annual ryegrass expired on its own with warmer summer temperatures. As the ryegrass died, the roots of the ryegrass continue to hold the soil as the buffalograss spread slowly the rest of the summer.

Buffalograss clump will benefit from a pre-emergent herbicide application next spring.

UPDATE: Analysis and what I would do differently

I would deem this buffalograss experiment a success. Honestly, I thought the buffalograss would spread more over the past year, but there are many clumps sprinkled throughout the area that are getting larger. The additional costs to purchase annual ryegrass seed are offset by the time and water saved compared to the traditional seeding method.

We will be putting down a pre-emergent next spring to keep the crabgrass and other summer annuals from germinating. Some pre-emergent herbicides safe for use in buffalograss are Barricade (prodiamine), Pendulum Aquacap (pendimethalin), Dimension (dithiopyr), and Specticle (indaziflam). There are some nice clumps of buffalograss, but they are hampered by intense weed competition. Weed competition was aided by tillage (soil disturbance), and the backfill soil added along the new sidewalk, which was full of weed seeds.

I would only use this seeding method on smaller areas of less than 1000 sq/ft. In my opinion, larger areas that are properly prepared should be planted from seed in the summer before August 15th. We seeded a larger area this past summer to buffalograss using the traditional method and had good germination and coverage. Here are some other things I would do differently:

  • Reduce the seeding rate of the annual ryegrass: Though the packaging recommends that you plant 3-4 lbs./1000 sq. ft. I would only seed 2-3 lbs./1000 sq. ft. The seeds will still germinate to hold the soil through the winter, but not be so dense that they shade out the buffalograss seeds in the spring.
  • Plant buffalograss seed first and slightly cover it: I had some buffalograss seed float off the soil as I established the annual ryegrass seed last fall.
  • Start the process earlier in the fall after the first freeze (October 15): It is better to establish annual ryegrass with slightly warmer temperatures, but not so warm that the buffalograss seed germinates.