A Beginner’s Guide to Identifying Buffalo Grass

How to Identify Buffalo Grass

Are you thinking about planting buffalo grass in your garden? It’s a great choice because this super hardy can handle drought, foot traffic, and much more! 

In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about buffalo grass, from how to identify it to how to grow and care for it. 

Are you ready to become a buffalo grass whisperer? Read on, and you’ll be a pro at spotting them in no time!

What is buffalo grass?

What is buffalo grass
Image: The Spruce

Buffalo grass is a common turf grass native to Australia and is a good choice for lawns in hot and dry climates. This perennial grass is known for its drought tolerance, resistance to pests and diseases and benefits for erosion control. 

It is a low-growing grass that typically reaches between 6 to 8 inches. Up close, you’ll see it has fine blades with blue-green colors and see them growing in clumps as they spread through their stolons. 

Buffalo grass grows best in places with only 10 to 30 inches of rain annually and thrives in lower elevations, around 6,500 to 7,000 feet.

Check out this table for an overview of the physical characteristics of buffalo grass.

Scientific nameStenotaphrum secundatum
Common nameBuffalo grass, St. Augustine grass
FamilyPoaceae
LightFull sun
SoilWell-drained, sandy loam
Growth rateSlow to moderate
Maintenance rateLow
Garden Use/sLawn, erosion control, groundcover

What does buffalo grass look like?

Buffalo grass is a blue-green turf with fine blades that grows slowly and spreads through its seeds and runners. It thrives in hot, dry climates and is resistant to pests and diseases. 

Let’s look into each aspect of buffalo grass’s appearance so you can correctly identify them. 

1. Appearance

Appearance
Image: Yates

Buffalo grass is a low-growing turf between 6 to 8 inches tall. It has fine, blue-green leaf blades about half an inch long and a V-shaped fold. 

The grass usually turns brown during winter as it prepares to go dormant. It has a slow growth rate but can tolerate drought, pests, diseases and high foot traffic, making it an excellent hassle-free garden choice. 

2. Leaf Blade

Leaf Blade
Image: Ultimate Backyard

Buffalo grass has a delicate, blue-green leaf blade with a distinct V-shaped fold in the middle. They’re typically half an inch long but tough enough to withstand high food traffic.

The V-shaped fold helps protect the leaf from drying out. It’s also covered in a waxy coating, which helps reflect sunlight, prevent water loss from the plant, and allow it to survive in hot, dry conditions. 

3. Color

Color
Image: The Spruce

Buffalo grass is blue-green, caused by the pigments chlorophyll, carotenoids and xanthophylls, which help the plant photosynthesize and make its own food. Its color also helps the plant reflect sunlight and prevent water loss to thrive in hot, dry conditions. 

The color of buffalo grass also varies depending on the variety and growing conditions. For instance, in shady areas, they grow yellow or green; in the fall, they turn brown as they go dormant. 

Different varieties of buffalo grass also come in different colors. Sir Walter buffalo grass is deep green, while  Kentucky bluegrass is dark green.

4. Runners

Runners
Image: Lawn Solutions Australia

Buffalo grass spreads through runners or stolons, which are horizontal stems that grow from the base of the plant. These runners help buffalo grass spread by rooting at the nodes. 

One advantage of its horizontal spread is that it allows the grass to form a dense mat of roots that helps in erosion control. Its runners are typically half an inch thick and one to two feet long, with short hairs that help anchor the plant to the soil. 

It also helps the grass survive in hot, dry climates because spreading out can shade the soil and prevent it from drying. You can trim the runners to control their spread or use them to propagate buffalo grass. 

5. Seedheads

Seedheads
Image: MDC

Buffalo grass has small, brown, plume-like seedheads that are usually half an inch long and emerge in the fall. These are the plant’s reproductive structures that are made up of flowers that can be pollinated. 

These flowers then produce seeds that are usually dispersed by the wind. But if you want to control the spread of buffalo grass in your garden, you can mow these seedheads or remove them by hand. 

6. Tolerance

Tolerance
Image: Lawn Solutions Australia

Buffalo grass tolerates drought, heat, shade, salt, and foot traffic. 

It can survive prolonged periods of dry weather as the grass can turn dormant during dry periods and return to green when it rains again. It can also withstand high temperatures of up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Buffalo grass can also thrive in partially shaded areas and grow even when there are high salt levels in the soil, making it a good choice for lawns near the coast or areas prone to flooding. 

This hardy grass is also tolerant of high foot traffic because of the dense root system that helps it anchor itself to the soil and fine leaf blades that are strong enough not to be crushed by foot traffic. 

7. Texture

Texture
Image: Lilydale Instant Lawn

Buffalo grass has a soft, fine texture, making it a comfortable grass to walk barefoot or use in children’s play areas. Its fine texture makes buffalo grass less likely to thatch and easy to mow and care for.

However, the texture of buffalo grass can also be affected by the amount of water or fertilizer it receives. For instance, if it gets less water, the leaf blades will become brittle and dry, while if it’s overfertilized, they will become thick and coarse. 

What are the types of buffalo grass?

Here are the most common types of buffalo grass.

Common NameScientific NameKey FeaturesGood Choice For
Sir WalterBouteloua gracilis ‘Sir Walter’Dark green Fine texture
Drought tolerance
Lawns in hot, dry climates.
MatildaBouteloua gracilis ‘Matilda’Semi-dwarf leaf
Drought tolerance
Good shade tolerance
Lawns in areas with limited sunlight or that are heavily used.
PrestigeBouteloua gracilis ‘Prestige’Dark green Fine texture
Drought tolerance
Low thatch production
Lawns in hot, dry climates.
SapphireBouteloua gracilis ‘Sapphire’Blue-green Fine texture
Drought tolerance
Lawns in hot, dry climates.
ShademasterBouteloua gracilis ‘Shademaster’Shade tolerance
Drought tolerance
Lawns in areas with limited sunlight.
PalmettoBouteloua curtipendulaDwarf leaf
Drought tolerance
Salt tolerance
Lawns in hot, dry climates and coastal regions.
Image: Cobbity Lawn Turf

Sir Walter is a popular buffalo grass variety, especially in Australia. This drought-tolerant grass has a dark green color and fine texture, making it a good choice for lawns in hot, dry climates.

Matilda
Image: Seed and Turf

Conversely, Matilda is a semi-dwarf variety of buffalo grass and is prized for its shade and drought tolerance. It’s best used for lawns with high foot traffic or in areas with limited sunlight. 

Prestige
Image: Windsor Turf

Prestige is your go-to buffalo grass if your lawn is prone to thatch buildup. Since it has low thatch production, that layer of dead plant material that can build up on lawns will make your plants less susceptible to pests and diseases.

Sapphire and Shademaster
Image: My Home Turf

Sapphire and Shademaster are other blue-green buffalo grass with a fine texture. They’re shade and drought-tolerant, so we recommend their use for lawns in hot, dry climates or areas with limited sunlight.

Palmetto
Image: Brisbane Turf Supplies

Finally, the Palmetto is a dwarf leaf buffalo grass variety that is drought and salt-tolerant, making it a great choice for lawns in coastal areas and hot, dry conditions. 

How to Grow Buffalo Grass

How to Grow Buffalo Grass
Image: Angi

Here’s a table of the required growing conditions of buffalo grass.

Growing ConditionRequirement
ClimateHot, dry climates
SunlightFull sun
SoilWell-drained soil
pHNeutral to slightly alkaline (6.5 to 7.5)
WaterDrought-tolerant, but needs to be watered deeply during the growing season
FertilizationNeeds to be fertilized once or twice a year
MowingMowed at a height of 2 to 3 inches
Pests and diseasesRelatively resistant to pests and diseases

As a warm-season turf, buffalo grass grows best in hot, dry climates. It can even tolerate temperatures up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Buffalo grass generally needs full sun and well-drained soil to thrive. The soil pH should be neutral to slightly alkaline. 

Although drought-tolerant and low maintenance, you should still water buffalo grass deeply during its growing season and once a week during the summer months. You should also fertilize it at least once a year in the spring or fall. 

If you want the buffalo grass to grow more slowly, we recommend you mow them at a height of 2 to 3 inches regularly. 

After preparing the required growing conditions of buffalo grass, let’s plant them in your garden. Follow these easy steps on how to grow buffalo grass. 

DifficultyAverage ●●●○○
Duration7 to 14 days
Things You Need

Buffalo grass seed
Soil
Sand or gravel
Water
Fertilizer
Rake
Leveler
Mower

How To Do:
1. Prepare the soil and improve its drainage by adding sand or gravel.
2. Make sure it is free of weeds.
3. Rake the soil smoothly and sow the buffalo grass seed at 1 pound per 1,000 square feet. 
4. Lightly cover the buffalo seeds with soil and water the seedbed thoroughly. 
5. Keep the seedbed moist until the buffalo grass seed has germinated within 7 to 14 days from planting. 
6. Fertilize the buffalo grass once a month during the growing season. 
7. Mow the grass when it reaches 2 to 3 inches tall to slow its growth.

Difference Between Buffalo and Kikuyu Grass

Difference Between Buffalo and Kikuyu Grass
Image: Cobbity Turf Lawn
FeatureBuffalo GrassKikuyu Grass
Scientific nameBouteloua gracilisPennisetum clandestinum
OriginNorth AmericaAfrica
ClimateHot, dry climatesWarm, tropical climates
SunlightFull sunFull sun to partial shade
SoilWell-drained soilWell-drained soil
pHNeutral to slightly alkaline (6.5-7.5)Neutral to slightly acidic (6.0-7.0)
WaterDrought-tolerant, but needs to be watered deeply during the growing seasonWater-loving, needs to be watered regularly
FertilizationLow-maintenance, but may need to be fertilized once or twice a yearHigh-maintenance, needs to be fertilized regularly
MowingMowed at the height of 2-3 inchesMowed at a height of 1-2 inches
Pests and diseasesRelatively resistant to pests and diseasesSusceptible to pests and diseases, such as grubs and nematodes
Shade toleranceLowHigh
Foot traffic toleranceGoodGood
Spreading habitSpreads by rhizomesSpreads by stolons
HardinessZone 3 to 9Zone 9 to 11

The main difference between buffalo and kikuyu grass in their preferred climate. Buffalo grass has hot, dry climates, while kikuyu prefers warm, tropical climates. 

Although buffalo and kikuyu grasses share fungal diseases, kikuyu is particularly susceptible to leaf spots, large, brown patches, grubs and nematodes.

Looking at their appearance, you can see that kikuyu grass has a medium leaf blade while buffalo grass has a broad leaf blade. In terms of color, kikuyu is bright green, while buffalo comes in deep green or blue-green color.

If you dig up kikuyu grass, you’ll see rhizomes not present in buffalo grasses that propagate through their stolons or runners. 

Is Buffalo grass better than Kikuyu?

Is Buffalo grass better than Kikuyu
Image: King’s Pride Buffalo

Buffalo grass is better than kikuyu grass because it is drought-tolerant, low-maintenance, and relatively resistant to pests and diseases.

Buffalo grass can survive long periods of hot, dry conditions, while kikuyu grass needs regular watering or it will turn brown. Buffalo grass is also low-maintenance since it doesn’t require a lot of watering, fertilizing and moving, compared with kikuyu grass. 

Finally, buffalo grass is resistant to more pests and diseases, making it a great choice for laws with high thatch production. On the other hand, Kikuyu grass is susceptible to grubs, nematodes and leaf spots. 

How to Keep Your Buffalo Grass Healthy

Here are our tips and tricks on how you can keep your buffalo grass healthy. 

1. Fertilize your buffalo grass in early spring.

Fertilize your buffalo grass in early spring

Although it’s a low-maintenance plant, buffalo grass still needs to be fertilized once a year, and the best time to do it is in the early spring. 

During this time, the grass is just starting to grow, so using a high nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer will help it grow strong roots and leaves. You can use a slow-release fertilizer to avoid burning your buffalo grass.

2. Check your buffalo grass for pests and diseases.

Check your buffalo grass for pests and diseases
Image: AG Buffalo Turf Supplies

Buffalo grass is resistant to most pests and diseases, but prevention is still better than cure. So, check your lawn regularly to get ahead of any plant problems. 

Common problems that buffalo grass encounters are rust, dollar spots, brown patches or fairy rings. Once you see any sign of pest or disease, treat them immediately to avoid killing your grass or spreading them to your garden. 

3. Do not mow buffalo grass too low.

Do not mow buffalo grass too low
Image: My Home Turf

Cutting buffalo grass too short is a rookie mistake because it causes excessive stress to the plant, making it vulnerable to pests and diseases. The rule is to mow your buffalo grass when it reaches 2 to 3 inches tall. 

4. Aerate your buffalo grass. 

Aerate your buffalo grass
Image: Buffalo Turf

Aerating your lawn will help improve the drainage and oxygen levels in the soil. All you have to do is to regularly poke holes into the soil surface using a garden fork, preferably once a year in the fall. 

5. Check your lawn for weeds.

Check your lawn for weeds
Image: Buy Turf Online

Weeds are a big problem for buffalo grass because they compete and deprive them of water and nutrients. So, if you see weeds growing between your buffalo grass, remove them by hand or use a herbicide to kill them. 

FAQs on Buffalo Grass

How has buffalo grass changed over the years?


Buffalo grass used to be sharp and scratchy, but new varieties, such as Sir Walter, have been developed to have a soft, fine leaf texture. 

Does buffalo grass spread quickly?


Buffalo grass spreads quickly through its runners or stolons. They send out new shoots that form new plants and can spread up to 12 inches yearly.

Is carpet grass a buffalo grass?


Carpet grass is not buffalo grass. Buffalo grass is a warm-season grass that can tolerate hot, dry climates, while carpet grass cannot tolerate long periods of dry conditions and prefers moist soil.

Why is my buffalo grass yellow?


Buffalo grass turns yellow because of under or overwatering, nutrient deficiency, pests, and diseases. It can also turn yellow as it grows older than 10 years.

How long does it take to grow buffalo grass?


It takes approximately 2 to 3 months for buffalo grass to be established in lawns and up to one year for buffalo grass to reach its full height.

How do you fix dead patches of buffalo grass?


You can fill dead patches of buffalo grass by adding new turf or topsoil to encourage the existing lawn to fill the area. 

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