Buffalograss – Selection and Establishment

Home Gardeners
Buffalograss – Selection and Establishment
Sarah Browning, Extension Educator
Buffalograss – Selection and Establishment
Image of male pollen heads on a seeded buffalograss cultivar.

Hot, sunny and dry conditions are facts of life for Nebraska gardeners. If your lawn has suffered in recent years from drought, it might be worthwhile to consider buffalograss as an alternative to your current Kentucky bluegrass or tall fescue lawn. Buffalograss is a native grass, so it's well adapted to Nebraska growing conditions and soil types, growing particularly well in clay soil.  It's also very drought tolerant and low growing, so watering and mowing are reduced once it's established.

Prestige buffalograss, image from Todd Valley Farms, https://toddvalleyfarms.comIf you’re considering establishing a buffalograss lawn, it’s important to understand how it differs from our standard turfgrasses – Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue. 

Buffalograss is a warm season grass, so it grows most actively under warm conditions during the middle of summer.  It begins growth later in spring than Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue, which are both cool season grasses.  And buffalograss goes dormant earlier in fall, usually following the first hard frost. So it has a shorter growing season, which means less management when it's dormant.

Buffalograss is a monecious plant, meaning it has separate male and female plants, although some plants do produce both male and female flowers on the same plant. This is important because the male pollen heads are held above the grass blades, giving the turf a more “wild” or prairie look.  Buffalograss cultivars sold as seed naturally contain both male and female plants. Vegetative cultivars - those sold as plugs or sod - are female lines which produce few, if any, male pollen heads. Consider which look you prefer – with pollen heads or without – when choosing the buffalograss cultivar to use in your yard.

To grow its best, buffalograss requires full sun and won’t establish well under even partial shade. However, once established some cultivars such as Prestige, can do fairly well in partially shaded areas. Very shady areas of your landscape are not great sites for buffalograss, so make other plans for shade beds or groundcovers in these locations.

Buffalograss Cultivar Selection

Several buffalograss cultivars are available, most developed through the turfgrass breeding program at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. Breeding efforts have focused on developing buffalograss cultivars with faster establishment, darker green color, early green up and good turf density. Remember - seeded cultivars contain both male and female plants, so they do produce male flowers. 

  • Cody – seeded cultivar. Released in 1995, it’s a reliable performer against which other buffalograss cultivars are measured. It’s widely adapted with good density and drought tolerance.

  • Bowie – seeded cultivar. Released in 2001, Bowie has medium green color with fine leaf texture and good turf density. It also has improved color, compared to older cultivars, along with quicker establishment, winter hardiness and early spring green up.

  • Sundancer – seeded cultivar.  Released in 2014, Sundancer has darker green color, fasterSundancer buffalograss, image from Stock Seed Farm, https://www.stockseed.com establishment and improved canopy density compared to older cultivars. Once established, it outperforms other buffalograsses for turfgrass quality, density, color and spring green up.

  • Legacy – vegetative cultivar sold as plugs or sod. Legacy is a female line, with very few male flowers. Released in 1997. It is a darker green, low-growing and very dense grass with excellent turfgrass quality. 

  • Prestige – vegetative cultivar sold as plugs or sod. Prestige is a female line, with very few male flowers. Released in 1997 and available on the market since 2003. Prestige has bright green colored leaves and increased resistance to buffalograss chinch bug. It has earlier spring green up and stays green longer in fall than other vegetative buffalograss cultivars.  

Buffalograss Establishment

June is the best time of year to establish buffalograss, either by seed, sod or plugs. But for any planting method to be successful, good site preparation is essential. Buffalograss cannot be successfully over-seeded into an existing cool season lawn, such as Kentucky bluegrass or tall fescue. Cool season grasses are competitive enough to prevent the buffalograss seedlings from establishing or spreading.

When preparing to convert a lawn to buffalograss, first either remove scrape off the existing grass with a tractor or sod cutter, or kill it with a non-selective herbicide. If you decide to use a non-selective herbicide, once the old grass is dead you can mow it short but allow it to remain in place. It will help to prevent erosion while the new grass becomes established. Then you can seed or plug into the dead grass.

When using sod, the new grass must be placed on bare soil. 

When establishing buffalograss from seed, it is important the seed comes in direct contact with the soil. If you are overseeding into a dead turfgrass stand, use a planting method which allows the seed to penetrate through the dead grass and into the soil, such as a seed drill or slit seeder.  

For more specifics on establishing a buffalograss lawn, including seeding or plugging rates, refer to:

Establishing a Buffalograss Turf in Nebraska, G1946, http://go.unl.edu/buffalograss

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Associated Video

Buffalograss Seeding

UNL Extension Turfgrass Specialist Zac Reicher shows how to seed buffalograss

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