Saturday, June 5, 2010

Watering Buffalo Grass: It's not rocket surgery!

It's tough being on the bleeding edge of lawn management. For example, how long should I run my lawn sprinklers to water my buffalo grass? How often? No one knows yet, but I think I'm on the right track.

Step 1 was to find out how much water my sprinkler system delivers. The "tuna can" method as explained by the University of Arizona's agriculture department measures your lawn sprinkler's output. UC Davis has a downloadable guide for California that explains a similar method.

Step 2 was estimated from bits of information. The original research for UC Verde buffalo grass indicated that it would survive, and maybe even stay green with half the water that Bermuda grass gets. I also know that deep, infrequent watering is better for lawns.

I had the Phoenix lawn watering guide site calculate the run times I would need for Bermuda grass with my sprinkler system. If you are in California, download the UC Davis brochure and use its watering times.

I converted the number of minutes of watering into minutes per month.

Step 3, I divided the monthly watering time in half to estimate what UC Verde buffalo grass would need. During April and May I watered twice a month, delivering half the water each time. 15 days was a bit too long between waterings; the grass was clearly water-stressed before the next watering session. So I've changed to delivering 1/3 of that amount every 10 days to see if a shorter interval will help.

Calculating your own watering times:
It's not rocket surgery!

Figure out how long warm season grasses need to be watered in your area, based on your sprinkler system's water output. Convert the daily or weekly amount into a monthly watering time.

Deliver between 1/2 and 2/3 of that water every month, split into 2 or 3 watering sessions.


epgsv said...

My husband recommends watering so that the buffalo grass gets about an inch a month. He studied buffalo grass when he was working on his masters. He said an inch is what they shot for on their research plots.

Lazy Gardens said...

Interesting, but where were these plots?

Humidity and temperature control the evapotranspiration, which controls the need for added water.

will said...

That chart is pretty close to what I am watering in San Diego to establish my buffalo grass.

I am a month and a half in. Parts of the yard are really growing in nicely... other plugs though seemed to have died initially and are now growing out one blade at a time.

I think I let the plugs get too dry in the trays and I also didn't soak them well enough after planting. Stupid me.

oh well I plan to have a lawn as nice as yours in the next 6 months using miracle grow and consistent watering.

lisa takao-mccall said...

Hi! We get customers asking all the time if the grass will hold up against dog urine or if it will leave spots. Since our trial garden doesn't get many dogs on it, do you know from your own experience? Thanks so much! Lisa

Lazy Gardens said...

Lisa -
From my limited experience, it leaves brown spots. However, our dog was elderly and she never went more than a couple of feet from the patio to urinate, so a very small area of grass was subjected to her "influence".

Buffalo grass has such a low requirement for nitrogen that it burned pretty badly. You can see the remnants of the brown spots here: (she died about a month earlier).

On the bright side, it grows so fast that the brown spots fill in quickly.

Jen said...

Hello! I've just recently heard about UC Verde Buffalo grass and was wondering if it is a good choice since I also live in Phoenix, AZ. How is your lawn doing? How long did it take for the plugs to spread into a nice lawn? Right now, we have a gravel backyard but I want a lawn for the children and it seems that Bermuda is the popular choice among landscapers.

Lazy Gardens said...

Jen - Just go back through the posts tagged "Buffalo Grass".

I went start to finish on prep, planting, establishing, and spreading.

Jen said...

I've asked two different landscapers but both have no experience and think it's risky to try it here in Phoenix. They've pretty much convinced me to go the Bermuda route since I want the lawn now. If I had the patience, I'd try the Buffalo grass. I was just curious to see how your lawn was doing since it's been a year since your last posting.

Lazy Gardens said...

The lawn is doing well, although it really needs to get its first watering of the year and some birthday pictures. I mowed it extremely short (about 20 mower bags of dry grass) in late March.

I was attracted to the low care and low water use, and the wild meadow look. I did not care whether it was instant lawn or not. The idea of infrequent mowing and decreasing water by 40 to 50% was attractive enough to overcome the slightly longer establishment time compared to sod.

NOTE: Sod has to be pampered and can't be played on immediately, no matter what the landscapers tell you.

COVERAGE TIME: For budget reasons, we planted the plugs at the maximum recommended spacing of 18 inches and had a solid cover turf in 16 weeks. If we had planted them at 12 inches (twice as many plugs) or 9 inches (4x as many plugs), the runners would obviously have filled in a lot faster.

The AZ buffalo grass distributor is Civano Nursery in Tucson (520)546-9200

Jim said...

Where do you find UC Verde in the Phoenix area? I've been to 3 nurseries and either they've never heard of it or they say "we don't have that in Phoenix." Please help! thanks.

Lazy Gardens said...

Jim - Civano Nursery in Tucson is the official distributor for AZ.


ShenaebytheBay said...

Just want to let your readers know, I am successfully growing UC Verde buffalo grass (giving a "shout out" to Takao Nursery in Fresno, CA) on the southern coast of the Monterey Bay. This area gets a lot of fog in the summer and the temps rarely reach 80 degrees. Because of the size of our large yard, we are planting our plugs in stages. Stage 1 was the test stage, which we planted at the end of March. It started growing in so well, we felt confident to move on to stage 2: the rest of the front yard. Now that the weather is a little warmer (mid 60's to low 70's) stage 1 has almost filled in and stage 2 is growing very well. Lot's of runners.

For stage 2 we planted about 800 plugs. The next morning we woke up to find that the crows had pulled out half of them! This went on for a few weeks and we lost about 20 plugs that couldn't survive the daily plucking by the birds and replanting by us. Eventually, the plugs rooted enough to make them too hard for the crows to pluck.

We have sandy soil. We put a good layer of compost down the day we installed the plugs and followed up with another layer (right on top of the plugs) about 4 weeks later to give the runners something to latch onto. We watered 2x/day the first week, 1x/day the second week, and every other day for weeks since.

We're excited to start planting the large side yard in September. Because we had such a heavy amount of kikuyu grass in the side yard, we have dedicated the summer to irradicating it. It's stubborn stuff, but I think we'll have it beat in another month.

Thanks to the Lazy Gardening blog. Your posts and comment section has been the key to our success!

BuffaloJoe said...

hi! What type of fertilizer are you using?

Lazy Gardens said...

Joe - Mostly, I'm not fertilizing.

We added a small quantity of ammonium nitrate before planting, and quite a bit of soil sulfur (granules) to compensate for the alkaline pH of the soil and free up some iron, but it hasn't been fertilized since it was planted.

It doesn't require as much fertilizer as other grasses.

I might fertilize it lightly after the weather cools off.

Lazy Gardens said...

Adding - because of the unusually hot weather this August, I have been watering more often.

However, it's still about 1/2 the amount of water it would take to keep Bermuda grass green.