What to Know About Buffalo Grass: A Low-Maintenance Lawn Option

Stone walkway made in sections of three interrupted by buffalo grass and other short plants.
Cora Niele/Getty Images

Buffalo grass (Bouteloua dactyloides) is a warm-season grass native to North America. Its native status makes it the lawn grass of choice for some homeowners of North America.

Homeowners who enjoy growing indigenous plants can use buffalo grass as that rare, native option for the lawn. Even those who make plant selections pragmatically often choose to grow native plants for low-maintenance benefits. Having adapted to the region in question, they can fend for themselves to a degree that many alien plants cannot (for example, they often can get by without artificial irrigation).

Buffalo grass is attractive either when mowed to create a more manicured look or when left unmowed to indulge in the natural look. Leaving the grass untamed allows the grass to flower and go to seed, attracting wildlife such as birds and butterflies. Having the option not to mow also means a reduction in landscape maintenance needs.

Buffalo Grass Drought Tolerance

Buffalo grass has adapted to the dry conditions of parts of the North American prairie, to which it is native. It can survive on very little rainfall. If you like the idea of growing native grass in your lawn and desire the maximum in drought tolerance, complement your buffalo grass with the even more drought-tolerant blue grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis).

 Classification  Bouteloua dactyloides
 How It Spreads  By reseeding and by stolons
 Shade Tolerance  Poor
 Drought Resistance  Very good
 Foot Traffic Tolerance  Fair
 Maintenance  Can be low
 Mowing Height  Mowing is optional
 Soil ph  Slightly acidic to slightly alkaline
 Soil Type  Well-drained loam with good amount of clay
 Where It Grows Best  Throughout most of North America
 Lifespan  Long-lived

What Is Buffalo Grass?

Buffalo grass (or buffalograss) is a perennial, warm-season grass. It is found throughout much of North America, to which it is native. Buffalo grass is a true grass, being a member of the Poaceae family. It spreads by seed and by stolons, and it forms a dense sod.

Stolons vs. Rhizomes

Stolons and rhizomes are types of shoots that grass plants put out, allowing them to spread. Stolons grow above ground, while rhizomes grow underground.

Because it has long roots, buffalo grass can be a good choice if you want to grow turf on a hillside. In such areas, erosion control must be kept foremost in mind. Many types of grass have shallower root systems that are not as effective as buffalo grass at holding back soil.

Other types of grass in the same genus include Blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis), Side oats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula), and Hairy grama (Bouteloua hirsuta).

The best way to begin to learn more about buffalo grass is to draw up a list of its pros and cons.

Pros of Buffalo Grass:

  • Extremely hardy
  • Very drought-tolerant
  • Native to North America
  • Attracts wildlife if allowed to flower
  • Suitable choice if you want your grass to "grow natural" (thereby avoiding mowing)
  • Tolerates heat well
  • Being soft textured, it is easy on bare feet, making it suitable around pool areas if you are willing to mow it.

Cons of Buffalo Grass:

  • As a warm-season grass it will not look good during the cold months of the year.
  • Not shade-tolerant
  • Holds up to foot traffic only moderately well
  • It does not offer quite as smooth a surface as do some of the other types of lawn grass.

Planting Buffalo Grass

It takes a long time to establish a lawn of buffalo grass by sowing seed, so homeowners often start it from plugs or from sod. If you do choose to start it from seed, there are some tricks you need to know:

  • Buffalo grass seed will not germinate until the soil temperature has reached 60 degrees Fahrenheit. But it is okay to sow the seed a little ahead of time if you don't mind waiting.
  • People generally sow buffalo grass seed from April to September.
  • The seed needs light to germinate, and its soil should be kept moist (but not drenched).
  • When buying, the seed package should say "treated." This indicates that you have seed with the maximum chance of germinating once the soil is warm enough.

If you choose the plug method of starting a buffalo grass lawn, the spacing will depend on how patient you are. If don't want to wait too long to have a lawn, the plugs should be planted about 5 inches apart. But if you want to save money and don't mind waiting, you can space them up to 12 inches apart. Keep the soil moist until the plugs become established. The sod method is the quickest, as you will simply be rolling out the rolls of sod across the desired area. Again, keep the soil moist but not soaked until the root system has taken hold.

No matter which method of planting you choose, most of the work will come in the form of preparing the soil ahead of time. This includes having the soil tested and adding the appropriate soil amendments.

Care and Maintenance for Buffalo Grass

Buffalo grass may be a lot of work to get established in the first place (especially if you use the seeding method), but, after that, you will have as low-maintenance a lawn as you want to have. Its drought tolerance largely eliminates the need to water it. If you plan on mowing buffalo grass, it should be mowed higher (5 inches) than most grasses, so you won't have to mow very often.

If you are attracted to buffalo grass by the thought of not having to mow the lawn at all, opt for a cultivar. There are seed, plug, and sod cultivars, but you are somewhat limited in your choices: For example, some types are available only as sod or as plugs. You will pay more for these, but they offer the best quality. Moreover, with some of the cultivars, you can get a plant that stays shorter (just what you want for a no-mow lawn). For example, while the species plant can reach 10 inches in height, the cultivar, 'Prestige,' matures at 4 to 6 inches tall.

Fertilize buffalo grass twice a year with 1 pound of nitrogen per 1000 square feet. Make one application in late May to mid-June; make another in late July.

Weed control is a bit trickier. It is safe to use a pre-emergent herbicide such as dithiopyr in spring. But using post-emergent herbicides such as 2,4-D on buffalo grass during the growing season can damage it. A safer alternative is to wait until the grass is completely dormant and use glyphosate for weed control.

Cost of Buffalo Grass

The more work you have to put into the planting process, and the longer you have to wait for results, the less you will have to pay. Starting a buffalo grass lawn from seed is the most labor-intensive and requires the most patience, so buying seed is the best bargain of your three choices. Laying sod is a breeze, and the result is an instant lawn, so you will pay the most for that option. The plug method is a compromise in each respect.

  • You can buy 1 pound of buffalo grass seed for about $50. A pound covers about 330 square feet.
  • The average cost of a plug of a quality cultivar of buffalo grass is $1. For example, you may buy a flat of 70 plugs for $70. If you don't mind waiting for a lawn and space the plugs 12 inches apart in each direction, they would cover 70 square feet.
  • Sod is sold by the "pallet." For a quality cultivar, sod will typically sell for about $250 per pallet, which will cover approximately 450 square feet.
  • Is buffalo grass good for a lawn?

    Yes. Buffalo grass is a good choice for a lawn, especially in low-rainfall regions where drought tolerance is a must.

  • Is buffalo grass hard to grow?

    Buffalo grass is difficult to grow from seed, but, once established, it is not hard to maintain. One of the virtues of buffalo grass is its toughness, a feature to be expected considering the variety of environments it grows wild in across the North American landscape.

  • Does buffalo grass spread easily?

    Yes. Because of its stolons, buffalo grass does spread well as long as it is located in full sun.

  • Is buffalo grass inexpensive to plant?

    It's inexpensive if you grow it from seed. But, as with all lawn grasses, installation costs go up if you choose the plug or sod methods.

Article Sources
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  1. Buffalograss Lawns. Colorado State University Extension.

  2. Management of Buffalograss Turf in Nebraska. University of Nebraska Extension.