Buffalo Grass is a is a short warm-season grass native to Western and Central North America. Scientifically known as Bouteloua dactyloides, it grows 6-8″ tall in full sun and well draining soil. Spreading by seed and above ground stems known as stolons, it naturally colonizes bare patches of soil. It is also valuable to many herbivories who forage on it.
In this article:
- What is Buffalo Grass
- What are the pros and cons of Buffalo Grass
- Identification / Characteristics
- How to grow plant from seed
- Using Buffalo Grass in the lawn
- How to grow and care for Buffalo Grass
- What Wildlife, Pests, and Diseases effect Buffalo Grass
- Where to buy Buffalo Grass
- Uses of Buffalo Grass
- Final thoughts
What is Buffalo Grass
Naturally found in the great plains of the United States and Canada, Buffalo Grass is a short native grass adapted to dry conditions. Although it resembles a shorter turf grass, it is deeply rooted and provides excellent erosion control.
It is one of the main grasses you encounter in the short grass prairies of the Western United States, and is extremely drought tolerant. It was one of the first plants I noticed on a trip to the Badlands, which has some very harsh growing conditions.
An important plant for wildlife, Buffalo Grass was one of the primary food sources for American Buffalo (hence the common name), as well as other mammalian herbivores. It also hosts several insects and feeds grasshoppers.
Resembling a more pale-green form of turf lawn, it rarely grows taller than 6-8″, and this will virtually eliminate the need to mow it. And that is one of the more attractive qualities of Buffalo Grass – it is often sold as a component in a low-maintenance, no-mow lawn either as the sole species, or key ingredient in a seed mix. It’s roots go much deeper (most at 6-8″)  than traditional turf and fescue grass (~2″), making it growing in popularity for lawns. 
Native Range of Buffalo Grass
The native range of Buffalo Grass is Western North America. From Saskatchewan to Arizona, East to Manitoba, Illinois, and Louisiana.
Buffalo Grass Reference Table
|Scientific Name||Bouteloua dactyloides|
|Common Name(s)||Buffalo Grass, Buffalograss|
|Native Range, USDA Zone||Central North America, USDA hardiness zones 4-8|
|Spacing / Spread||6″|
|Light Requirements||Full sun (anywhere) to partial shade (in a lawn only)|
|Soil Types||Sandy soil to clay loam|
|Moisture||Dry to medium-moisture|
|Fauna Associations / Larval Hosts||Grasshoppers, forage for mammals|
What are the Pros and Cons of Buffalo Grass
Pros of Buffalo Grass
Buffalo Grass is a short, spreading native grass that naturally fills in bare spots. It will spread via seed and above ground runners (stolons) that will spread the plant vegetatively.
As Buffalo Grass only grows about 6″ tall, that means mowing is optional! This is a true no-mow grass that doesn’t require much maintenance, if any. This means you save time by not having to mow, or pay someone to mow your grass as frequently!
Native to the great plains where drought is frequent, this grass will still be green while the rest of your lawn is brown. Now, the shade of green of Buffalo Grass is more pale-green, but it is better than dead and brown.
Soft to the touch
The texture of Buffalo Grass is very soft. It feels nice on bare feet or with your hands. It is not a stiff type of grass that will poke you.
Unlike many species of turf grass, Buffalo Grass provides some benefits to local wildlife. Besides being excellent forage for livestock, it also feeds grasshoppers and is a host for the Green Skipper.
Cons of Buffalo Grass
It’s a warm-season grass
Warm season grasses look great during the growing season, but they go dormant in Winter, turning a shade of white/brown. They will look dead once soil temperatures get too low.
Doesn’t tolerate competition
Buffalo Grass is a short grass, and doesn’t compete well. This is a characteristic it has because in it’s natural habitat, the climate and soil naturally aren’t habitable for too many weeds. But in temperate climates this is not the case.
Can’t be mowed too short
Buffalo Grass should be mowed to a height of 3″, but never less than 2″. Mowing shorter will stress the plant and promote weed growth. This height requirement probably isn’t a big deal for most people, but there are some homeowners who like to have very short grass.
Identification and Characteristics of Buffalo Grass
The blades of Buffalo Grass are unbranched, light green, flat, and smooth. They generally don’t grow taller than 6″.
There are several small leaf blades that alternate up the stem (culm) that are 4″ long and 1/8″ wide with a gray-green-blue hue.
Male plants have 2-3 staminate spikes at the end of the stem. These are around 1/4-1/2″ long and 1/8″ wide. Each spike is made up of 6-10 smaller spikelets.
Female plants are shorter and will have 2-3 spikelets that are grouped at the base. These are not as visible.
The root system of Buffalo Grass is fibrous and produces stolons. The roots go up to 6′ deep, however roughly 70% of the root mass will be contained within the top 6″ of the soil. Stolons are above ground horizontal roots/stems that will sprout new plants. Buffalo Grass spreads vegetatively from seed, and these stolons.
Diagram of both female (top) and male (bottom) Buffalo Grass plants. Grass plants, stolons, and new plants sprouted from stolons are shown.
Click on image to enlarge. From Manual of the Grasses of United States (USDA 1950). 
Buffalo Grass in Winter
In Winter Buffalo Grass will fade from light green to a tan/brown color. As a warm season grass, Buffalo Grass will go dormant once Winter sets in. But don’t worry – once Spring arrives it will perk back up to it’s nice green hue.
How to Grow Buffalo Grass from Seed
Buffalo Grass has no dormancy requirements. It just needs constant access to moist soil and warm temperatures to germinate. If you are going to try to start plugs, plant Buffalo Grass 1/4″-1/2″ deep in pots that are at least 2″ diameter by 2-1/2″ deep. Keep the container in a location that is above 70F, and keep moist. Germination should occur within 2-3 weeks.
You can transplant your plugs to their final location 8-12 weeks after germination. This will allow for sufficient root development.
Using Buffalo Grass in the lawn – what you need to know
Ok, so I’ve gone through all the benefits of Buffalo Grass and why it is a great addition or type of grass to use in the lawn. But is it that simple? Just plant it and forget it?
Is Buffalo Grass right for you and your location?
Buffalo Grass is adapted to the dry western plains of North America. It requires at least six hours of sunlight per day during the growing season, doesn’t require much fertility, and is best for sites with 10-25 inches of annual rainfall.
As a warm season grass, it will go dormant in Winter, being a white/brown color and looking dead. This aesthetic needs to be balanced against the other benefits of Buffalo Grass.
Also, Buffalo Grass should never be mowed to less than a two inch height. And there are many homeowners and lawn aficionados who like to keep their grass looking like a putting green, which would not be good for Buffalo Grass!
How to Establish Buffalo Grass in a lawn
There are three different methods for establishing Buffalo Grass as a lawn.
All three methods should have careful site preparation. It should be loose bare soil with no weeds. To achieve this, repeated tilling of soil followed by weed control sprays can be effective. Then wait 2-3 weeks before planting or installing.
How to seed Buffalo Grass
Patience is required to establish Buffalo Grass lawn from seed. But with the correct preparation and steps, it can be done.
Buffalo Grass should be seeded 1-3 lb per 1000 square feet. Seed should either be drilled 1/2″ into the soil, or can be applied with a spreader in a loose, prepared seedbed, followed by raking, then walking/rolling to ensure good contact.
A mulch of straw should then be applied to the seed bed. You should use one bale of straw per 1000 square feet. The key to getting Buffalo Grass seed to germinate is constant exposure to moist soil and not drying out, so plan on watering as needed to maintain this moisture.
When the grass reaches a height of 3″, you should mow it down to two inches. And never cut more than one third of the total height to avoid stressing the plant.
How to install Buffalo Grass plugs
Buffalo Grass plugs should be at least 2″ diameter by 2-1/2″ deep to allow for a sufficient plant size. Install these plugs 6″ on center in bare soil to allow for thick grass coverage. And the best time to plant plugs is early late Spring to early Summer.
Newly planted plugs should be fertilized with a general 10-10-10 fertilizer, and watered frequently enough to prevent moisture stress.
Installing Buffalo Grass sod
Sod can be installed in late Spring to early Summer. The site should be well moistened the day before installing the sod. If using sod pads, stagger them row to row so that they resemble a brick wall for better coverage/matting.
After laying down sod, either use a roller or drive over it with a lawnmower (no cutting) to ensure good contact between the sod and soil. And like plugs, newly installed sod should be fertilized with a 10-10-10 general lawn fertilizer, and watered frequently enough to prevent any moisture stress.
Weed control in Buffalo Grass lawns
Weed control in Buffalo Grass is a bit different than traditional turf. There are a few key points one should follow:
First, when using chemicals the product should clearly state that it is ok to use with Buffalo Grass. Also, do not use 2-4-D the first year though, and never when the outside temperature is above 80F. General broad-leaf weed control can be done in the Fall.
Second, once established Buffalo Grass should not require regular fertilizer and watering. Over fertilizing and watering Buffalo Grass will just increase weed competition.
And third, Crabgrass should be controlled only with preemergence chemicals in Spring.
Using Buffalo Grass only for harsh areas of yard
A somewhat novel way to use Buffalo Grass is to only plant it in areas that normal cool season grasses survive. This is what I’ve been doing, and let me explain.
I have a fully exposed front yard that will receive the full brunt of sun/heat/drought during the hottest parts of summer. Every year, usually in July/August I will have large patches of grass go dormant or die. This is probably compounded by my kids playing soccer and other games, but nonetheless this is the result.
And patches of bare soil invite weeds as well as being unsightly. So, I wanted a a more drought-tolerant grass. When I learned of Buffalo Grass and it’s ability to send above-ground horizontal stems to fill in bare patches…I was intrigued to say the least.
This picture was taken near the end of a severe drought. We had no rain for about a month, and most of my grass was dormant/dead. But the Buffalo Grass is plainly visible. During drought, it expands it’s range by colonizing bare spots. During normal rains, it just survives with my other grass and blends together well.
So, I started planting Buffalo Grass plugs that I grew from seed in these areas. They have to compete with my normal cool season grasses, but during times of drought, they stay actively growing. The benefit of this is that I don’t end up with so many bare patches, and their presence also prevents new weeds from moving in and claiming the bare ground.
This has been working for me, and I have several small ‘colonies’ of Buffalo Grass that expand to fill in bare patches with their above-ground stolons. The only drawback is that the Buffalo Grass will go totally dormant in Winter, and look white compared to the regular turf grass (which turns a drab shade of green itself).
Grow and Care for Buffalo Grass
Buffalo Grass needs full sun and open soil without significant competition from taller plants. It really needs to have at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. It will not tolerate shady areas.
Buffalo Grass grows well in most any soil texture as long as it drains well.
Buffalo Grass does great in dry to medium-moist soils. It is amazingly drought tolerant for a grass that can be used as turf.
No maintenance required. Just regular mowing if in a lawn, and possibly weed control.
Buffalo grass does not require any supplemental fertilizer.
Wildlife, Pests, and Diseases associated with Buffalo Grass
Grasshoppers will feed on Buffalo Grass. And several other insects and mites will feed on it as well. They will not completely devour the plant though, so if you are planting this in a lawn there is no need to fret. Also, it hosts the green skipper butterfly.
Buffalo Grass is not effected by disease.
Where you can buy Buffalo Grass
Where to buy seeds
I’ve bought Buffalo Grass from Everwilde Farms and had good success in the past. You can order right from Amazon through our link on our RECOMMENDED PRODUCTS PAGE. (We may earn a small commission when you purchase through our links, at no cost to you. This helps support our website.)
Varieties of Buffalo Grass
Due to interest and demand from the public, several cultivars of Buffalo Grass have been developed. These have been modified to survive in different temperature ranges and moisture conditions. Some of the common cultivars available as seed or sod are the following:
- Sharp’s Improved
Uses of Buffalo Grass
Buffalo Grass can obviously be used as a groundcover or lawn.
In full sun, Buffalo Grass can be used to control erosion. The roots of Buffalo Grass go deep in the soil which can greatly help stabilize banks and slopes.
Forage / hay
Buffalo Grass makes great forage for all manner of livestock. But is also noted for it’s ability to retain nutrients when dried/cured. This makes it particularly valuable for farmers, ranchers, and all manner of wildlife who forage on grass.
Another native grass that naturally grows near Buffalo Grass in the Wild is known as Blue Grama and Side Oats Grama. These grass plants also is short and blends well with Buffalo Grass. Although Side Oats Grama will grow up to two feet tall, but can be mowed as a turf grass and has deep roots like Buffalo Grass.
Native American Uses
Buffalo Grass was noted by the Blackfoot Tribe as being excellent forage for horses, particularly in Winter. The Keres also combined Buffalo Grass stolons with Yucca to make a head bath in order to promote hair growth.
Buffalo Grass is a wonderful drought tolerant grass that doesn’t grow tall and provides forage for mammals and insects. It can have a place in lawns, reducing the amount of water required to keep a lawn green. This benefit can come at a cost though in that aesthetically during the Winter the Buffalo Grass will turn dormant and be a bit unsightly compared to regular turf.
Personally I’m in favor of more use of Buffalo Grass as lawn if it means less watering and mowing, both of which cost money and have their own environmental costs. Perhaps the reduced labor would be attractive to some current homeowners who have well-manicured lawns. But alas, for now that is not the case.
 – Bouteloua dactyloides. USDA NRCS. Accessed 11AUG2023.
 – Brakie, M. R., 2013. Plant Guide for buffalograss [Bouletoua dactyloides (Nutt.) J.T. Columbus]. USDANatural
Resources Conservation Service, East Texas Plant Materials Center. Nacogdoches, TX 75964. https://plants.sc.egov.usda.gov/DocumentLibrary/plantguide/pdf/pg_boda2.pdf
 – Dunn, J.H. and E. Ervin. 2001. Establishment and Care of Buffalograss Lawns. University of Missouri Extension. https://extension.missouri.edu/media/wysiwyg/Extensiondata/Pub/pdf/agguides/hort/g06730.pdf
 – BUFFALOGRASS. USDA NRCS Plant Fact Sheet. 2002. https://plants.sc.egov.usda.gov/DocumentLibrary/factsheet/pdf/fs_buda.pdf
 – Weaver, John Ernest. “Summary and interpretation of underground development in natural grassland communities.” Ecological Monographs 28.1 (1958): 55-78.
 – Mintenko, A. S., S. R. Smith, and D. J. Cattani. “Turfgrass evaluation of native grasses for the northern Great Plains region.” Crop science 42.6 (2002): 2018-2024.
 – Huang, Bingru. “Water relations and root activities of Buchloe dactyloides and Zoysia japonica in response to localized soil drying.” Plant and Soil 208 (1999): 179-186.
 – Hitchcock, A.S. 1951. Manual of the grasses of the United States. Misc. Publ. No. 200. Washington, DC: US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Administration. 1051p.
 – Buchloe dactyloides. North American Ethnobotany Database. Accessed 10AUG2023.
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