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Buffalo grass gains fans in Kansas

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, Sep. 13, 2013, at 11:53 a.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Sep. 18, 2013, at 3:05 p.m.

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Talk: Native Prairie Grasses for Your Home Landscape

What: Kay Drennen, environmental specialist at the Wichita WATER Center, will talk about the benefits of using prairie grasses for landscaping and how to care for native species such as buffalo grass, little bluestem and switch grass.

When: 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. Sunday

Where: Lionel D. Alford Branch Library, 3447 S. Meridian

How much: Free

“I’m sick of putting water on fescue,” Kim Oblak announced as she walked through her water-thrifty lawn. Part of her yard in east Wichita is in fescue, but more of it has been converted to a mix of buffalo and blue grama grass.

“Grasses are pretty,” Oblak said as she admired the seedheads on a patch of blue grama in the backyard that has been allowed to grow tall for her dogs to roll around in. In the front yard, her husband, Brad, keeps the warm-season lawn cut to a more socially acceptable height.

There’s a lot of interest in buffalo grass in Kansas, from Wichita to Kansas City, said Jared Hoyle, assistant professor and Extension turfgrass specialist at K-State.

“It’s a very low-maintenance grass. It takes a lot less water ... and time in mowing,” Hoyle said.

Oblak says her lawn’s transition to buffalo grass three years ago was not easy. She wanted a mix of it with blue grama grass, because the blue grama fills in immediately, while the buffalo grass takes a bit longer to establish. She found the seed mix, called Native Wonder, online at www.westernwonder.com. That’s before she knew she could find it locally, at such places as Valley Feed & Seed.

Then, while she waited for the grass to get established, the lawn was overrun with weeds. Buffalo is a thin lawn, and weeds take advantage of the open space.

“I weeded myself to death” the first year, Oblak said. “My husband said, ‘Let’s bail.’ ” But the next year, she found that a weed killer had been developed that works on buffalo — Fertilome’s Weed Out with Q.

“The second year I used that, and it was like a dream.” The grass filled in and looked pretty. Then came the heat wave of 2012 coupled with no rain.

“I looked like a genius,” Oblak said. The buffalo-grass mix “was awesome in the drought. Even with my flower garden, my water bill was never over a hundred bucks. I had to water the fescue and the flowers. We did water the buffalo a little bit ... When it started to dry out we’d water, and it would turn green again for a couple weeks. It looked gorgeous to the end.”

Buffalo does have its limitations. It must have at least six hours of full sun a day, preferably more. It won’t grow in a very sandy soil. Oblak had some patches of that where the seed didn’t take. She repaired those spots, replanting with buffalo sod she bought at Easton Sod Farms in Derby. “I ripped it up in little pieces, because it spreads. It filled in really nicely.”

And because buffalo is so drought tolerant – you can let it go without water in all except the hottest summers – too much rain or water can harm it. Because of the previous two summers of drought, though, the rain didn’t hurt it this summer, because the ground was so dry, extension agent Rebecca McMahon said.

“This year it was really lush looking ... it did fine with all the rain,” Oblak said of her buffalo grass.

Buffalo also can’t handle much fertilizer — only one application a year, in June.

“It doesn’t grow as fast as fescue,” Oblak said. Even with the rainy weather, her husband mowed the buffalo only every other week.

If you water it occasionally, “it’s pretty soft. It’s a nice lawn.”

Reach Annie Calovich at 316-268-6596 or acalovich@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @anniecalovich.

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