Sunday, May 4, 2014

Watching Grass Grow: Grooming the Buffalo

De-thatching the lawn

It's time for a makeover and spa week for the lawn. Five years after planting, some bald patches had developed, the turf was thinning, and it was looking as patchy as a shedding bison. It had a rough couple of years in 2012 and 2013 because I wasn't here to monitor the watering and mowing. And some of the Bermuda died, leaving bald spots.

Shaggy buffalo eating grass

In the wild, buffalo grass would be closely grazed by bison or cows and occasionally be burned to the ground in a grass fire. I'm going to mimic that by mowing it short and de-thatching it. For comparison, annual de-thatching is recommended for Bermuda grass.
  1. Mow It. My mower doesn't have the power to close-cut long grass, so I set the mower at the highest level and mow the grass. Use the collecting bag.
  1. Mow It Shorter. Lower the blades to the middle setting and do it again. Do not "scalp" the Buffalo by mowing it at the lowest setting. It doesn't like that.
  1. De-thatch It.  I used a thatch rake, also called a "Bermuda rake". Doing the 1200+ square feet of lawn took me about 5 days, working a couple hours every day in the morning and evening to avoid the sun.
    De-Thatching Rake
De-thatch a 2- 3-foot strip across the lawn, then rake the de-thatched area lightly at right angles to your previous raking. Pick up the thatch and dump it on your compost pile. Repeat with the next strip.
This is only part of the thatch I removed.
After de-thatching on the left, before on the right

  1. Mow it ... again at the same setting, and collect the clippings.

    This is a quick mow that gets rid of the tufts left by the de-thatching process. I collected less than a bag full for the whole lawn.

DE-THATCHING TIP: Trying to rake by pulling horizontally through the grass takes way too much muscle power. The most effective technique is to rake towards yourself until the tines snag under the thatch, then lift up and lift the thatch out of the grass. It's a circular lifting motion, a lot like fluffing up a poodle.

Set the rake like this, and use the teeth at the left - for raking and lifting.

Why not use powertools for de-thatching?

A thatching bladed on a mower might work, but you will still be raking up piles and piles of dead grass afterwards. We couldn't find a de-thatching blade that would fit our mower.

The "Verti-cutter" power de-thatching machines would probably just chew up the roots without helping the grass.


MissizSmart said...

Where do you end up getting your buffalo grass from? We also live in the Valley of the Sun and are interested in it because I have read about it being more allergy friendly. Thanks!

Lazy Gardens said...

We bought from Todd Valley Farms in Nebraska and had the plugs shipped in.

Civano nursery in Tucson is the AZ distributor. The trays of plugs are light-weight and you could easily bring them up from Tucson, or have them shipped.

READ THIS: It's most of the mistakes we made.

AND THIS: It's the whole series on Buffalo Grass. The Zeba Root Dip is ESSENTIAL!

IF you are allergic to Bermuda pollen, the almost-seedless Bermuda hybrids, like TIF 419, might work.

UC Verde Buffalo - because it is a female-only clone - produces no pollen.

If you have a skin allergy to Bermuda. Buffalo might work. It has thinner, softer blades.

The Military Gardener said...

Have you done any core aerating for the buffalo lawn? I've never had a problem with thatch since I started core aerating twice a year.

Lazy Gardens said...

No core aerating, which is just another way to remove stuff

We would not have had the thatch problem if I had not abandoned it to the black thumb of the SO. He cut it short, didn't collect the clippings a few times and basically treated it like Bermuda and not Buffalo.

He's been edumacated since then.

Megan Jones said...

There is a lot that goes into lawn care that I didn't know about. My dad used to aerate the lawn when I was at school. When I came back I was confused because I thought something had defecated all over the lawn. I had thought just mowing and watering a lawn would keep it healthy.

Jamie Cloud said...

Looks like you’ve forgotten core aeration. This method can save your buffalo from dying as aeration helps your lawn develop a deeper and stronger root system. If you don’t mind me asking, what type of buffalo do you have? I have a Sir Walter buffalo turf

The Military Gardener said...


The buffalo grass you're talking about is called St. Augustine grass here in the states. The buffalo grass Lazy is growing is different species native to the plains of America. St. Augustine typically doesn't grow above the latitude line of Atlanta Georgia to Dallas Texas. West of Dallas the climate becomes too dry without a massive amount of irrigation for St. Augustine.