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How to grow buffalo grass seed

Buffalo Grass Field

Native plants are coming into their prime in domesticated gardens, and for good reason. They thrive naturally without the extra care and cost that hybridized plants require—they don't want or need fussing over. For a low-maintenance lawn, buffalo grass seed is among the best. Native to North America, it requires less water, fewer nutrients, and less frequent mowing compared to standard residential lawns like bluegrass and fescue. Buffalo grass also tolerates most soils, including clay, making it adaptable for many locations.

What Is Buffalo Grass Seed?

Buffalo grass seed produces a warm-season native prairie grass with slender, blue-green blades that grow just 4" to 6" tall. Mow it for a manicured look, or let it grow into a natural meadow. It is great for residential lawns and larger commercial applications in sunny locations. Give buffalo grass at least 6 to 8 hours of sun for best results; it does not like shady areas. Buffalo grass can withstand drought conditions; it does not do well in standing water. Buffalo grass seed spreads by stolons for rapid, full coverage. Varieties such as Cody, Sundancer and Bowie stay naturally shorter, green-up faster in the Spring, and stay green longer in the Fall.

Preparing and Planting

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Spring and Summer are the time for planting buffalo grass seed, once soil temperatures have reached 60 to 70 degrees, and the air temperature is over 70 degrees. If in doubt, use a soil temperature thermometer to be sure the soil is warm enough for the seed to germinate. The ideal soil pH level is 6.0 to 7.5. You can determine the pH level using a simple soil test kit available at garden centers and hardware stores.

When selecting a brand of buffalo grass seed, look for quality over savings. As with most things, you get what you pay for: better grass seed will yield a superior lawn. All lawn seed bags have labels detailing the seed blend and germination rates. It is rare to find packaged grass seed containing just one variety of grass. For the best quality seed and optimum results, look for:

  • The highest percentage of buffalo grass seed
  • The highest germination rates

Before sowing the buffalo grass seed, you must prepare the area for planting. Preparation steps will vary depending on whether you are installing a new lawn, or renovating the previous cool season's lawn.

Preparing the Ground for a New Lawn

lawn mower in grass

Photo by Skitterphoto from Pexels

First, clear the area of any existing plant material, especially weeds and old grass. It is best to tear out the old plants rather than applying an herbicide (plant-killing chemical). Should any of the herbicide remain in the soil after clearing out the old plants, it could prevent the new buffalo grass seed from germinating. Finish the clearing process by raking the area to pick up any remaining roots or debris, leaving a clean area to work with.

Next, till the soil at least several inches deep, breaking the soil into small sizes not larger than a pea. This is the time to add an organic amendment, or compost, to the soil along with a starter fertilizer. Added compost is essential for bulking up sandy soil, which buffalo grass does not perform well in. These steps will help the buffalo grass seed germinate, but they encourage weeds too. Prior to sowing the seeds, apply a little water to the newly prepared site and watch for weed growth. Clearing out weeds like crabgrass before sowing the lawn seed can help keep the area weed-free after planting.

Preparing to Renovate an Existing Cool Season Lawn

Renovating a cool-season lawn involves overseeding with a warm-season grass, like buffalo grass seed, to keep the lawn looking green throughout the year. The cool-season grass will look great in the Winter, then go dormant while the warm-season grass shines Spring through Fall; they take turns in the spotlight. With an existing lawn, you are not starting the seeding process with bare soil as you would with a new lawn, but there are still important steps to take to prepare the area for sowing.

First, dethatch the existing lawn using a vertical mower. Run the mower at least twice, in a crossing pattern, for best effect. This will help eliminate built-up dead material. Finish by mowing or raking up the debris created. The new buffalo grass seed is unlikely to penetrate below the existing lawn, down to the soil level, so apply a thin layer of lawn soil right on top of the existing cool-season lawn. The new seeds will germinate in the top layer of soil, then work their roots down into the ground itself as the seedling grows.

Planting Steps for Both New and Existing Lawns

person digging on soil

Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels

Whether you are starting from scratch in a bare patch of land or overseeding an existing lawn, now you are ready to broadcast the buffalo grass seed. Measure the proposed lawn area to determine how many square feet it covers. Apply 1 1/2 to 3 pounds of seed per 1,000 square feet of lawn. Higher application rates result in a thicker, prettier lawn, with less room for weeds to take root.

While it is possible to throw the seed by hand, you will get far better results and more even coverage using a spreader. First, spread the seed in a horizontal direction, then vertically, for best coverage. Gently rake the area to cover the seed with a thin layer of soil. The seed should be no deeper than 1/4" - 1/2" deep to germinate. Then, to ensure good contact between the seed and soil, run a lawn roller over the area.

At this point, you can lightly water in the new seed. Apply the water in a gentle spray so it does not disturb the seed placement; do not allow the water to run off, carrying the seeds away. It takes an average of 14—and up to 30—days for the seed to germinate. It is important to keep the soil moist, but not wet, in these first few weeks; the key is to not let the soil or young seedlings dry out. As the weeks pass and seedlings mature, you will gradually pull back on how frequently you water. If the weather is hot, however, you may need to water several times a day.

Maintaining and Managing

Watering

Mowing

Fertilizing

Weeding

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Conclusion

Growing buffalo grass seed follows the same process used in growing any other lawn seed:

  • Prepare the planting area
  • Sow the seeds
  • Water the new lawn

The big difference comes in the ongoing care and maintenance of buffalo grass—it's much easier than traditional lawns. Buffalo grass lawns require less water, less fertilizer and less frequent mowing than a standard bluegrass or fescue lawn. It's not fussy about soil types, doing well in everything but sandy soil. Aesthetically, buffalo grass is versatile: it looks great both when mowed like a traditional lawn, and when allowed to grow longer into a more natural meadow look.

For all the benefits buffalo grass provides, it is well-worth the effort of installing. Within a year, you will have a fully established, beautiful, easy-care, money-saving, tough warm-season lawn to enjoy from Spring into Fall.

Featured Image: Image by Mike Goad from Pixabay

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