University of Missouri Extension

G6730, Revised November 2001

Establishment and Care of Buffalograss Lawns

Ilustration (by Dennis Murphy)John H. Dunn and Erik H. Ervin
Department of Horticulture

Buffalograss (Buchloë dactyloides) is the only grass native to North America that is used widely for turf. Fossils discovered in Kansas show that buffalograss existed in that region at least 7 million years ago. It was the principal forage grass for the American bison, hence the name. Buffalograss is well adapted to the drylands of the western prairies and plains, and in recent years new varieties have been developed to extend its natural area of adaptation.

Buffalograss is a warm-season grass that spreads by aboveground stems called stolons. Reproduction is dioecious — female and male flowers are located on separate plants. Seedheads on male plants are located high in the turfgrass canopy, while female seedheads are found near the base of the plant. Because male flowers extend above the canopy in unmowed turf, selecting a cultivar with both male and female plants (Table 1) can be an aesthetic consideration. The female burrs, or protective shells, each containing one or more seeds, are difficult to harvest because of their location deep in the turfgrass canopy. For this reason buffalograss seed is more expensive than the seed of most other turfgrass species.

Buffalograss adapts best to full sun, but acceptable turf can be grown with 6 to 8 hours per day of direct sunlight. It is one of the most heat and drought tolerant of turfgrass species. During extended dry periods without moisture, buffalograss goes dormant to avoid drought stress and will remain dormant until moisture is available. Buffalograss has better cold tolerance than other warm-season turfgrasses, but the degree of cold tolerance varies among cultivars.

Table 1
Commercially available buffalograss cultivars.

Cultivar Flowers Planting method
Bison male/female seed
Bonniebrae female vegetative
Cody male/female seed
Legacy female vegetative
Midget female vegetative
Mobuff female vegetative
Sharps Improved male/female seed
Stampede female vegetative
Tatanka male/female seed
Texoka male/female seed
Topgun male/female seed
Plains male/female seed
'315' female vegetative
'378' female vegetative
'609' female vegetative


Buffalograss may be seeded or it may be vegetatively established using either sod or plugs or both, depending on the cultivar (Table 1). Seeded cultivars will have both male and female flowers, while sodded types are predominantly female.

The best time to plant is late spring or early summer, although sod and plugs may be planted as late as August or early September, assuming that the weather remains warm enough for a root system to develop before winter. Success with a late-summer planting also depends on cold hardiness of individual cultivars.

Vegetative planting
Plugs should be set at least 2 inches in diameter and 2-1/2 inches deep. Plugs may be planted on 6-inch to 24-inch centers, depending on how fast coverage is needed. Pre-rooted plugs that have been allowed to develop roots in pots for several weeks are preferred and will establish more rapidly than plugs that are not pre-rooted.

Fertilize the newly planted area with 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet using a 10-10-10 or similar fertilizer. Irrigate often enough to prevent moisture stress. Careful use of herbicides is needed during the establishment period to minimize plant competition to the new buffalograss planting. Begin mowing when plugs are well rooted. Mow often enough to remove about one-third of the vertical growth at each mowing. Frequent mowing will also help to reduce competition from weeds.

Sodding is more expensive than plugging but will give instant turf in areas that must be used immediately or on slopes where erosion may occur. Soil to be sodded should be moist before the sod is installed. Sod should be placed so that the ends of adjacent strips overlap as in brick laying. Place sod pieces snugly against adjacent pieces and lightly roll or tamp to ensure good sod-soil contact. Post-installation care for sodded areas is the same as that for plugged areas.

Buffalograss seed burs should be planted at a rate of 1 to 3 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Seeding at the higher recommended rate should provide complete lawn coverage in one season. Seed burrs should be planted at a depth of 1/2 inch or less. Grooves can be made in the soil to receive seed using a verticutting machine or with a slicer-seeder machine that opens grooves in the soil and then deposits seed during one operation. It is important to use burrs that have been primed for germination by soaking in potassium nitrate to weaken the coat. Burrs may also be broadcast on the prepared seedbed using a box (drop) fertilizer spreader. Hulled, deburred seed is sometimes available but is much more expensive than burrs. Gently rake broadcast burrs into the soil surface and then roll to ensure good burr-to-soil contact.

After seeding, straw or other mulch may be applied at a rate of one bale per 1,000 square feet. Lightly water the seedbed daily when there is no rain. As seedlings emerge and develop, irrigate less frequently but often enough to prevent drought stress. Mow seedlings at a height of 2 to 3 inches when the new seedlings have reached a height of 3 inches. Try to remove no more than one-third of the vertical growth at each mowing. About six weeks after seeding, apply a slow release nitrogen fertilizer at a rate of 1 pound nitrogen per 1,000 square feet.

Patience and perseverance are often the key to establishing a buffalograss lawn. Buffalograss does not germinate as a dense stand like tall fescue. One seedling per square foot is adequate because buffalograss becomes progressively thicker each year as the stolons spread. During the first and second years, persistent attention to weed control may be required. Weeds may be removed by hand or by spot spraying with Roundup.

Keys to weed control in buffalograss

  • Avoid frequent irrigation. Water only as needed to maintain desired buffalograss quality.
  • Avoid overfertilization with nitrogen.
  • For chemical weed control, use only products labeled for buffalograss
  • Control crabgrass with annual applications of approved preemergence chemicals.
  • Do not use 2,4-D on buffalograss during the first year of establishment or when temperature exceeds 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Fall applications are preferred for control of broadleaf weeds in buffalograss.

Managing established buffalograss

Buffalograss is a low maintenance grass and will fail if overmanaged. Established buffalograss requires only 1 or 2 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per year. Select a fertilizer with a nitrogen-to-phosphorus-to-potassium ratio of 3-1-2 or 4-1-2 and at least 35 percent slow-release nitrogen. Apply fertilizer at a rate of 1 pound nitrogen per 1,000 square feet in June and repeat the application in late July or early August.

Irrigate buffalograss only enough to maintain growth and prevent dormancy, if desired. Buffalograss will survive extended drought but will lose color as it enters dormancy. Overwatering will promote weed competition and may increase the incidence of disease.

There are several options for mowing buffalograss. Where moderate to high quality turf is desired, mow once per week at a height of 2 to 3 inches. For low-maintenance areas mow at 3 to 4 inches every three to four weeks. Buffalograss may also be left unmowed except for an annual spring mowing at 3 to 4 inches to remove old growth.

Annual weeds may be controlled with spring applications of pre-emergence herbicides labeled for use on buffalograss such as Dacthal, Dimension, Ronstar G and Surflan. Other preemergence herbicides may give equally effective annual weed control. Broadleaf weeds, including dandelions and plaintains, may be controlled with any of several products that contain 2,4-D and are labeled for buffalograss. For control of winter annual weeds and invasive cool-season grasses like Kentucky bluegrass, spray Roundup on dormant buffalograss in winter before greenup begins.

G6730, revised November 2001

G6730 Establishment and Care of Buffalograss Lawns | University of Missouri Extension

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