By Debbie Roland and Emmy Ulmschneider, Master Gardeners
An article about our short native grasses lets me talk about two of my favorite things: Native plants and bison. Since I was very young, I have been fascinated by bison. They were a cornerstone of the grassland ecosystems of the Great Plains and their elimination has forever changed those systems. Here on the Llano Estacado the impact has been great.
The soil of the Llano Estacado is a valuable resource for our prairie, which began as a vast grassland. In our last article we discussed how the eastern plains were more of a wet climate, able to support tall grasses. In the 1800s, West Texas was a short grass prairie, consisting of mostly blue grama and buffalograss. Grazing animals (no cows back then) and grasses evolved together to build the land the early settlers saw – much different than today.
Buffalograss, Bouteloua dactyloides, was and is a staple of our short grass prairies providing excellent grazing for bison and now cattle. Like Little Bluestem, Buffalograss has year-round interest: male and female flowers and seeds in the spring, green stolons spreading outward, going everywhere. Left unmowed, it has a curly, shaggy, buffalo coat texture that invites one to lay down. And its color changes from shades of green while growing to shades of soft golden browns when dormant in winter or during drought. In an urban prairie, Buffalograss can be an understory to taller shortgrass prairie grasses such as Little Bluestem (Blog Entry 4-17-2023) or Sideoats Grama (Blog entries 1-24-2021 and 4-10-2023). Interestingly, Buffalograss has both male and female plants.
As a sod forming grass, buffalograss is the responsible alternative to Bermuda, St. Augustine, or fescue lawns. And you will spend less time watering, mowing, and fertilizing. Buffalo grass can survive on as little as 1.5 inches of water per month, Bermuda grass needs 3-4 inches, St. Augustine and fescue needs 5-6 inches per month. Buffalograss will grow up to 6” tall forming a thick bluish green mat. It resists heat and drought, along with most lawn diseases. It will not grow in full shade but will tolerate some.
There are several ways to establish a buffalo grass lawn: Seed, plugs and sod, all of which are commercially available. If you want male and female plants, you will have to start with seed mixtures, plugs, or sod that are both male and female seeds and plants.
Seeds are slow to germinate, waiting for the sol temperatures to warm up, taking up to 4 weeks to show up. Keep the soil moist by watering often and quickly. Once you see the grass appear, continue with this water cycle another two weeks. At that time water less often but deeply to get the root system started.
The restoration of the plains and a reminder of our heritage begins in your yard.
If you have questions, call the AgriLife office in Odessa at 498-4071 or in Midland at 686-4700.
Additional information, and our blog for access to past articles, is available at westtexasgardening.org. Click on “Resources”.