Wildscapes: Buffalograss

Tough Texas Turf

As summertime breezes float over the hills and plains of Texas, Texans long to walk barefoot through their own bit of prairie. We Texans must love our prairies, since nearly every residential and commercial development has been sodded with acres of grasses such as bermuda, zoysia, or St. Augustine.

An alternative to these water-hungry grasses is buffalograss, Buchloe dactyloides, a Texas native turf grass. This rugged short-grass prairie resident is naturally drought tolerant and disease resistant. It is ideal for residential and commercial turf, golf greens, and for erosion control. Both the cool green summertime color and the rich golden flax winter tones of buffalograss are exceptionally attractive.

Buffalograss provided rich grazing for the great herds of buffalo once found on the North American continent. It can also provide your home with a thick, rich, and beautiful native prairie. For those who want to provide a native, wildlife-friendly landscape, buffalograss is ideal.

Buffalograss produces a uniform and attractive turf that ranges in color from spring green to blue green. A short-grass prairie native, it reaches a mature height at 4 to 6 inches. The narrow leaves curl downward to produce a shorter-looking turf even without mowing. It can be left longer for a soft, prairie look, or cut to 2 to 3 inches for a tighter, neater looking turf. Buffalograss also has finer, "drier" leaf than other broadleafed grasses such as St. Augustine, and so resists clumping and thatching when you do choose to mow.

When supplemental water is limited, buffalograss is very competitive against weeds including johnsongrass, dallisgrass and bermudagrass. Because of this characteristic, buffalograss can be used as an effective weed barrier. The native Texas turf needs only moderate sun: from 4 to 6 hours of sunlight per day will promote dense growth. It is very hardy and will persist with drought conditions, periods of flooding, compacted soils, and can tolerate temperatures ranging from +120 F to -30 degrees Fahrenheit. Commercial varieties are vegetatively propagated female strains, so that no pollen or seed heads are produced.

Since buffalograss is hardy and disease resistant, there is little need for supplemental fertilizer or pesticides. The lower, slower growth rate of buffalograss also means less watering is necessary. Data from the Texas Water Commission indicates that buffalograss flourishes over most of Texas with only natural rainfall, and thrives in central, south, west, and north Texas. However, the sandy, acidic soil of east Texas and the very wet conditions of coastal Texas do not promote thick and lush growth of buffalograss. The Texas Water Commission suggests this watering schedule:

  • Buffalograss: every 21-45 days
  • Zoysia: every 7-10 days
  • Bermuda: every 5-10 days
  • St. Augustine: every 5 days

Buffalograss is a beautiful and water-thrifty alternative to traditional landscaping turfs. For those interested in creating a more native, wildlife friendly landscape, buffalograss is the natural choice. Commercially, there are four main varieties available:

  • Texoka: Texoka is an early cultivation of buffalograss that produces a thinner turf with a spring green color. It is ideal for planting in wildflower areas, since the relatively thin turf provides a pleasant background for colorful blooms.
  • Prairie: Developed at Texas A&M, the Prairie variety performs best in soils with high clay content and with neutral to alkaline soil pH. It is apple green in color and the turf is of medium density. It is low growing with a slow rate of spread.
  • 609: Developed at University of Nebraska, the variety "609" produces a rich blue-green turf. It has a quick rate of spread and has medium density.
  • Stampede: Stampede is a semi-dwarf grass with a mature height of about 4 inches. The turf has a beautiful kelly green color. Stampede is the most dense of these varieties, and has a rapid rate of spread.