There seems to be no argument when it comes to water conservation, heat tolerance, cold tolerance, and resistance to disease and insects. Buffalo grass (buchloe dactyloides) is the top choice. The Texas Water Commission, Texas Parks & Wildlife, Texas Department of Agriculture, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and in fact all major universities, extension services, or horticulture research organizations across the Great Plains from here to Montana agree on this.
Buffalo grass is a native prairie grass that has adapted over thousands of years to withstand the adverse conditions found across the Great Plains. The short (4-6″) grass gets it’s name from the huge herds of bison that it once nurtured. Buffalo grass prefers to grow in compacted clay or loam soils in areas that receive between 15″ and 30″ of annual rainfall. Spreading from stolons above ground the grass forms a dense sod that is suitable for lawn culture.
Buffalo grass is generally acknowledged to stay green with just one or two deep waterings a month even during drought situations. The slow growth rate and short height means less mowing. The fact that it thrives in poor soils means little or no fertilizer. The experts also agree that buffalo grass has little or no problems with the pests and diseases that plague other turf grasses. All this equates to less time and money spent on lawn maintenance.
There are dozens of cultivars currently on the market and available as seed or sod. Sod varieties offer instant success and have been selected for greener color, dense growth habit, and other traits desirable of lawn grass. Seed varieties offer affordability and the advantage of viable seed production which will allow the grass to spread or reseed itself naturally.
In a paper presented by Dr. Dick Auld from Texas Tech University in Lubbock to the 1998 Native Plant Society of Texas annual symposium, Dr. Auld stated that the university had collected 273 different genotypes of buffalo grass from the High Plains area. These grasses are currently being evaluated for agriculture and urban landscapes. This endeavor in addition to releases already made by Texas A&M and other research institutes should result in more specific cultivars available in the future.
With all this favorable information you would naturally assume that buffalo grass would soon become the grass of choice in most of central and western Texas. The truth is that even though the demand has increased dramatically and the future remains bright, buffalo grass lawns are still a rare sight in the average neighborhood even after more than a decade of good press. This article will explore some of the reasons why buffalo grass has been slow to catch on among homeowners.
1. Great Expectations: Americans are well known for their dedication to their lawns. We Texans are no exception. When confronted with a new alternative in lawn grass many of us automatically assume that this new grass will be the perfect solution to everything that was lacking in other grasses. Besides lowering maintenance costs, the new homeowner would like buffalo grass to thrive in deep shade, be free of weeds, stay green in winter, take over their old grass by simply over seeding it, and (of course) be more beautiful but cost less. While it’s certainly not wrong to seek perfection it really isn’t fair to discount buffalo grass for not being perfect.
In a report issued by Kansas State University it is proclaimed that “Buffalo grass is not a miracle grass nor is it the ideal turf grass for every situation.” The report also lists some disadvantages such as buffalo grass will not grow in deep shade, does poorly in sandy soils, doesn’t green up or stay green as long as other grasses, and yes, weeds can be a serious problem. In short, buffalo grass is just exactly what the experts say it is. Nothing more, nothing less, and certainly not perfect.
2. Bermuda grass: Bermuda is still the quickest and most cost effective way for a homeowner