Summer is the Time for Establishing Native Grass Lawns

We Americans love our lawns. And a nice green lawn can beautify our landscapes and help to cool down the air in our surroundings. But there are aspects to lawns that need changing. And one big thing, especially in times of drought, is reducing the water needed to irrigate our lawns.

One excellent alternative to having a water thirsty lawn is to convert your turf to a low water native turf grass. Or start with a native grass lawn when a new property needs a new lawn. One of the best all around native grasses for lawn use would be Buffalo Grass Buchloe dactyloides (pronounced >Boo CLO ee< > dac tee Lloyd ees<). This rugged native grass is widespread over much of the drier sections of the Great Plains and has been bred by agronomists in the past as a pasture grass. Until recently, Buffalo grass had only been available as pasture grass varieties which is grown from seed. And Buffalo grass seed is notoriously difficult to germinate evenly when sown for a new lawn.

A 'Legacy' buffalo grass lawn thriving in arid Boise, Idaho.

But grass breeders at the University of Nebraska developed a dwarf, tight growing selection of Buffalo grass named of ‘Legacy’. ‘Legacy’ lawns are a quantum leap in quality when compared to the old seed grown varieties that grow to 8 inches in height un-mowed, and contain both male and female plants. (The male plants have hard, tough-on-the-feet flower heads.)

As compared to seed grown pasture type Buffalo grass, ‘Legacy’ is:

  • An all female clone that is planted from plugs (rooted grass sprigs) solving the problem of patchy Buffalo grass lawns grown from seed.
  • Grown as plugs planted on 12 inch by 12 inch centers. And it will fill in completely (in the warm months of summer) in about 3 months.
  • Pollen-free (no male plants) and has been bred to mature to an unmowed height of only 4 inches and can be mowed as little as once a month to keep it tidy. This saves time and money.
  • Very water wise needing only 2 to 3 inches of inches of water per month to keep it green and lush saving homeowners between 40 and 75% of the water required for thirsty Kentucky Bluegrass depending on your soil type and average daytime temperatures.
  • Buffalo Grass Lawn

    Pictured here is a beautiful ‘Legacy’ lawn that I spied on a recent trip to Boise, ID.

    ‘Legacy’ will grow in any soil type, but it is most water wise when grown in clay or clay-loam soils. It does best in regions that get 30 inches of precipitation of less. ‘Prestige’,another University of Nebraska variety plug grown variety was breed for higher rainfall, more humid areas of the US including the Southeast.

    Summer is ideal time for planting ‘Legacy’ and ‘Prestige’ because Buffalo grass grows fastest in the heat of summer and spreads rapidly to form a thick, deeply rooted green carpet of lawn.

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44 thoughts on “Summer is the Time for Establishing Native Grass Lawns”

  • Lynne Walters
    Lynne Walters 07/26/13 at 3:46 pm

    Is it too late to plant a Legacy lawn in Bayfield, Colorado?

    • David Salman

      Lynne:
      Mid-summer is an excellent time to be planting a 'Legacy' buffalo grass lawn. Usually, the first part of September is the latest you'd want to plant the plugs in Colorado.

  • Arkie

    Will the Prestige grow in deep East Texas Sand? At this time, we

    are in a drought....Centipede is even having a hard time....

    Have no clay....The sand goes all the way to China.....In the summer, watering is a daily chore......

    Thanks for your reply to arkie789@yahoo.com

    • David Salman

      Arkie, buffalo grass will grow in sandy soils but will require a lot of water to stay green and healthy, So there is no water saving advantage to growing it in sand. East TX is also too wet for buffalo grass. Your climate is unique and I'm not sure what is recommended as a drought tolerant turf. I would check in with the agronomists at TX A&M for their advice.

  • Patrick

    Is it too late to plant Legacy in south Texas, avg daytime temp is 100+, also most are saying buffalo grass is not suited for our area, south Texas. We have very hot dry summers and clay soil with lots of limestone.

    Thanks, Patrick

    • David Salman

      Patrick, Legacy buffalo grass loves clay soils and hot summer temperatures. However, if in your part of TX, Burmuda grass is the dominant turf grass, buffalo grass is not a good choice. Burmuda grasses reseeds itself readily and will be a constant invader in a buffalo grass lawn, and Burmuda grass will overgrow it.

  • Chris

    Do you have to start with bare dirt? How do you plant the plugs?

    • David Salman

      Chris, it is easiest to plant into bare dirt because you can amend and enrich the soil prior to planting the buffalo or blue grama grasss plugs. Which will help to create a healthier and faster growing lawn. The plugs are planted into the ground on 1 foot centers using a hand trowel.

  • Evan

    Is it possible to just start plugs in the middle of an already existing lawn? Would they be more aggressive than the standard bluegrass and slowly take over nicely? Or do you have to shave off your old lawn and prepare first...

    • David Salman

      Evan, cool season grasses like Kentucky Blue grass must be killed off completely. It is not possible to plug buffalo or blue grama grass into a live lawn. You should smother or herbicide the existing grass, then mow it on the lowest setting of your lawn mower to scalp it back to the nubs. Then the plugs can be planted into the dead turf.

  • Judy Kolz

    If I already have an established lawn, what are the steps I take in converting to a Legacy lawn?

    • David Salman

      Judy, there are two ways to get rid of your existing lawn and replant with 'Legacy'. You can spray the existing grass with a grass killing herbicide (like Round-up) or go the non-herbicide route described by Shirley in her post (above). It really depends on how quickly it needs to be done. Smothering the lawn (see Shirley's post) take 3 to 4 months to complete. The use of Round Up is much faster. But you need to be very careful with systemic herbicides wearing protective clothing and gloves and being very careful not to let the spray drift away from the lawn grass area.

  • Linda Sanchez
    Linda Sanchez 08/06/13 at 11:22 am

    Do I have to completely remove my Bermuda grass lawn first before planting Buffalo grass?

    • David Salman

      Linda, yes Burmuda grass will re-invade your buffalo grass if it is not killed off completely. In TX and other areas where Burmuda grass is the dominant turf grass, buffalo grass is not a good choice because the Burmuda grass seed will continuously blow into the buffalo grass and must be weeded out so not to overgrown it.

  • Kristen

    I added a Blue Grama front lawn by seed a couple of years ago and love it! It takes very little water and it looks pretty good. Not as pretty as Kentucky Blue, but who cares! I only water it 2 times a month in dry weather vs 2 times a week for KBG. Also, I only mow it once a month!

    The time it looks the worst, though, is definitely May. All of my neighbors' yards are lush and bright green and my lawn looks dead, since its a warm season grass. However, come June, its all caught up!

    • David Salman

      Kristen, this is a common complaint about warm season native turf grasses. But with most everything in life, there are always trade offs for every choice. But saving lots of water, cutting your water bill and putting in many fewer hours behind a lawn mower makes folks more tolerant of a late green-up.

  • Tyler Glenn
    Tyler Glenn 08/06/13 at 11:22 am

    I live in Phoenix. My backyard is shaded for most of the day and is currently planted in St Augustine, which is a form of bermudagrass I think. I would like to convert to something less thirsty. Will Legacy work down here or is there something better suited?

    • David Salman

      Tyler, Buffalo grass is not at all shade tolerant. (BTW, St. Augustine in not Bermuda grass, but a completely different species of grass.) I would consult with the AZ State Agricultural Extension office in Phoenix to ask what they recommend.

  • Fayde

    How would Legacy do in Southern Calif. with <14 inches of rainfall? Summertime irrigation a given.

    • David Salman

      Fayde, 'Legacy' will grow in your area. It will need some supplemental irrigation; about 2 to 3" per month during dry periods. But if you are in the Central Valley where day time temperatures are very hot in the summer you would be better of planting 'UC Verde' which was developed by the University of CA, Davis for the hot summer regions of CA and the Southwest. The same watering requirement will apply.

  • Patti

    How hardy is it? I live in WI.

    • David Salman

      Patti, if you are refering to buffalo grass it is extremely cold hardy. But Wisconsin is a bit too damp for buffalo grass. Generally I recommend it for areas of the country that get less than 30-35 inches of precipitation per year. I would recommend either our 'Low Work and Water' dwarf tall fescue seed mix or our 'No Mow' seed mix.

  • Shirley

    On the theme of low-water lawns, we are happy we planted a HCG Hachita blue grama grass from seed last summer (we had less than 1" precipitation all summer in Denver) and it's doing GREAT this summer. We put it in 2 small areas (about 400 sq feet or so). We didn't follow the rules for planting...in that we did not use any herbicide for existing weeds. Instead we removed the weeds that were there, covered the whole area with cardboard and clean manure and some dirt on top. What we got is a healthy, thick turf that seems (for the most part) to be repelling the weeds, which included bind weed, mallow, and other nefarious intruders.

    • David Salman

      Shirley. your method of going herbicide-free to prepare your planting site is excellent. But some folks don't have the patience or the energy to do what you did. The key to weed control in blue grama grass is to dig the weeds in early to mid-spring when the grama grass is still dormant but the weeds (which are usually cool season growers) are green. This makes them easy to find and eliminate and saves a lot of work later in the summer.

  • Todd Ririe
    Todd Ririe 08/06/13 at 4:20 pm

    What about a legacy lawn in Chino Hills, CA; will it work in our climate and what about timing for planting?

    • David Salman

      Todd, yes 'Legacy' buffalo grass should be a good choice for your area. Summer is the best time to plant while the temperatures are warm and the days are long. But be sure you can provide regular irrigation to get it started. I wouldn't plant after mid-September.

  • Janelle

    I planted legacy plugs May 26th. At first I didn't think they were going to grow in my clay soil. It took 4 weeks before they didn't look dead in the ground. It took two months before they started to grow really at all. Currently they are growing and looking healthy and strong but I will not have complete coverage in three months... There is just no way it will grow that much in the three weeks remaining before they hit three months old. I followed directions closely, doing everything as required. I think three months til coverage is a stretch at best. I wish they didn't claim that because it made me feel disappointed. I think next year I may have complete coverage? I hope so anyway. I planted it thinking my kids would have grass to play on by the end of August. Not so. However when it finally does grow in it will be water wise... We have that to look forward to. It is also a pretty green.

    • David Salman

      Janelle:
      Growing conditions can vary significantly across the country and greatly affect the speed at which the 'Legacy' buffalo grass fills in. If the summer weather has been rainy and cool, this will lengthen the time the plugs need to fill in. There are also other factors such as soil preparation, watering schedules and weed competition that will affect the rate of spread.

      Having installed many Legacy lawns myself, the three month time period has been my experience. But if you expect plants to grow on an exact schedule, you'll never be a happy gardener.

  • Leonard Ladin
    Leonard Ladin 08/06/13 at 6:50 pm

    Does HighCountry sell the plugs? If not who does(U of Nebraska)? How much per 100? How will it do in Northeast where there is heavy rainfall (non-xeric conditions)

    • David Salman

      Leonard, High Country Gardens sells the 'Legacy' buffalo grass developed by the University of NE. You can check the highcountrygardens.com website for pricing. If your area gets much more than 30-35 inches of precipitation a year, buffalo grass is not your best choice. I would recommend the 'Low Work and Water' dwarf tall fescue blend instead.

  • Keith Serxner
    Keith Serxner 08/06/13 at 6:53 pm

    I live in Genoa, Nv, near carson city. Low rainfall, 5000 ft elevation. I would like to plant Buffalo grass as a small lawn.
    2 Questions...How tough is it traffic wise (2 large playfull dogs) and...I'd like to intersperse some clover seed in the lawn.
    Any thoughts? Thank you.

    • David Salman

      Keith, buffalo grass will handle moderate foot traffic but your dogs will wear paths in the grass. I would recommend our 'Low Work and Water" grass seed mix for a lawn that gets a lot of foot (paw) traffic. Low growing clover can be mixed into the grass seed to help put nitrogen into the soil.

  • Diana Johnson

    Does Buffalo grass turn brown in the winter? Is it suitable for the DC area?

  • Teresa

    Planted legacy buf.falo couple years ago from plugs. Live in n. central kansas. Areas that are dense, does it need to be thatched? Are chinch bugs an issue. I will find fly-like bugs with wings. The grass can be pulled as if no roots. Do you fertilize and if so when? How tall should the grass be before mowing?

    Many questions....I appreciate your time!
    Your answers will be most helpful!

    Teresa

    • David Salman

      Teresa:
      Buffalo grass doesn't need to be thatched. It is impossible for me to know if the insects you are seeing are chinch bugs. If you are getting itching bits then they could be. But otherwise they are probably harmless. Buffalo grass should be fertilized with organic or natural fertilizers in fall and spring; two times per season and no more. Buffalo grass spreads by stolons which don't root right away if they're not touching the soil. Buffalo grass should be mowed to a height of 3 to 4 inches and not cut too low.

  • Toni Coon

    I have a Buffalo lawn, came with the house. Should I use lawn fertilizer just to green it up a bit?

    • David Salman

      Toni, if buffalo grass is too dry it will be off-green in color. If lack of water is not the problem, use an organic or natural lawn fertilizer on it after the beat of summer is over, usually September of October. Avoid using commercial chemical fertilizers with herbicides ("Weed and feed" formulations as buffalo grass is sensitive to some common lawn herbicides.

  • Bob Strawser
    Bob Strawser 08/14/13 at 11:50 am

    I live in north-central Indiana between Indianapolis & Fort Wayne. What type of Buffalo grass would be best for my (usually) 30-40" of rain annually?

    • David Salman

      Bob:
      'Legacy' buffalo grass would be your best choice. And August is a good time to plant it as it is still hot. Buffalo grass needs head to grow vigorously.

  • Evangeline Bond
    Evangeline Bond 08/15/13 at 11:12 am

    I live in Santa Fe, NM and have dry spots in my Kentucky Blue grass. Can I plug in "Legacy" Buffalo grass?

    • David Salman

      Evangeline, unfortunately any type of buffalo grass is incompatible with Kentucky Blue Grass. The Blue Grass will actually invade the buffalo grass during the cool weather of fall and spring when the buffalo grass is dormant. And it crowds out the buffalo grass.

      I would seed the "Low Work and Water" fescue seed mix into the bare patches in September or October. This is a drought tolerant cool season grass blend that is compatible with the Blue Grass.

  • Thomas

    I live on the west slope of the Sierra in Pollock Pines, CA at about 4000ft. We get about 4 or 5 snowfalls here every year, and the snow usually lasts about a week to 10 days, sometimes longer. In between, it's usually very nice, with hot, high 80's low 90's, summers.
    I have a slope, less than 1000sq.ft., that I would like to plant some grass on that I would NEVER mow. It has good southern exposure with lots of sun. I could supplement irrigation if needed.
    Any suggestions? I'm not sure that Legacy or Prestige would work.

    • David Salman

      Thomas:
      If you want the look of a meadow on your sloped area I would recommend plant seed of Hachita Blue Grama grass. It is a native bunch grass with very attractive flowers/seed heads in late summer. It is also a good choice if you wanted to add some wildflowers as they seed easily into established Grama grass.

      If you want the grass for play and recreation, the 'Low Work and Water' dwarf tall fescue seed blend is the best choice. It will give you the look of a more information lawn as it won't be mowed short.

      Both grasses will need supplement irrigation if you leave in the summer dry/winter wet section of California. But the Blue Grama will take less water. Grasses benefit from removing excess organic mater in the spring to give the grass room to grow and expose the soil to the spring sun so it warms up. So If you're not going to mow, rake it out once a season in early spring.

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