Buffalograss (Buchloë dactyloides) is a warm-season grass native to the western plains of the U.S. Because it is a warm-season grass, it grows quite differently than the cool-season grasses. It grows slowly in the spring and fall and will go dormant for up to 7 months of the year in Idaho and other northern parts of the U.S. It turns a purple-gray color after a killing frost in the fall and will remain dormant until late spring. The leaves are hairy and gray-green in color and fine textured. Buffalograss has a spreading growth habit with aggressive stolons that are difficult to contain.
The big advantage of buffalograss is its excellent heat and drought tolerance as a result of its deep root system and very low water use rate. It also has a very low nitrogen fertilizer requirement and is slow growing requiring less frequent mowing. The major disadvantage of buffalograss is its very short growing season – mid May to approximately mid September (see figure). It is not recommended for high elevation areas (>6,000 ft). Weed encroachment can be a major problem since sunlight may be able to penetrate the dormant turf, especially in thinner areas. It is not shade tolerant and does not tolerate heavy traffic.
Buffalograss can be established from sod or plugs, but availability is very limited. Seed is also more difficult to find and is quite expensive compared with the cool-season grasses. The seed is inside of a hard burr that should be treated with a KNO3 (potassium nitrate), a non-toxic salt to help soften the seed coat and break dormancy. When seeding, it is important to ensure good soil contact and cover seeds to a depth of ¼ to ½ inch. The large burr is more difficult to cover with soil, so extra care should be taken at this step with additional raking if needed. It is important to remember that buffalograss is only drought resistant once established. New seedlings are still susceptible to drying until they can develop an adequate root system. This may take one full season to attain. Buffalograss should be seeded in late May or early June with a mature stand possible by September.
Once established, buffalograss should be mowed from 2½ to 4 inches for a higher quality lawn. Mowing may be required only every 2 to 3 weeks. Fertilization requirements are less than 2 lbs of nitrogen (N) per 1000 ft2 per year with applications made during the summer months, unlike the cool-season grasses. Buffalograss requires about 1 to 2 inches of water every 2 to 4 weeks to produce acceptable quality.