Unless you’re a hardcore lawn enthusiast, you probably haven’t given a ton of thought to what grass species you have for your lawn. But picking the right grass for your needs and climate can make the biggest impact in saving time, work, and even money.
Bermuda (Cynodon spp.) is a long-time favorite in the south, but Buffalo grass (Buchloe dactyloides) makes an attractive lawn without all the maintenance. Find out whether Buffalo or Bermuda is the better choice for your lawn.
Table of Contents
- 1 Which Is Better: Buffalo Or Bermuda?
- 2 Frequently Asked Questions
What Are Buffalo Grass And Bermuda?
|Scientific Name||Buchloe dactyloides||Cynoden spp.|
|USDA Zone||3 – 9
Transition Zone, Behaves Like Warm-Season
|7 – 10
Doesn’t Tolerate Shade
Doesn’t Tolerate Shade
|Soil||Ideal is silt-clay. Can grow in loam, chalk, and clay. Doesn’t tolerate sand.||All|
|pH||6.5 to 8.5||5.8 to 7.5|
|Water Requirement||Low. Drought tolerant. Suitable for non-irrigated lawn.||Medium. Some drought tolerance.|
|Yearly nitrogen (lb/1,000 sq ft)||1 to 2.
Too much fertilizer can damage Buffalo Grass and encourage weeds.
|4 to 5.
High amounts of synthetic fertilizer not only cost more to maintain, but increase pests, disease, and thatch.
|Growth Habit||Stolons||Rhizomes and Stolons|
|Mowing Height||3 to 4 inches||1 to 2 inches|
|Tolerances & Resistances||Good tolerance for heat and cold.||Excellent tolerance for heat.
Medium tolerance of cold and salt.
|Insects & Diseases||High resistance for both insects and disease.||Medium resistance to insects and disease.|
|Germination Time||14 to 30 days
Slow To Establish
|7 to 14 days
|Texture||Fine – soft underfoot||Medium – not soft underfoot but also not harsh|
|Color||Green and Blue-Green||Dark Green|
What Is Buffalo Grass?
Who says that native grasses can’t be turf grass? Buffalo grass is one of the few grasses native to North America that is cultivated for lawns, and because it’s from North America, it’s uniquely adapted to everything the Transition Zone can throw at it. It withstands both high heat in the summer and bitter cold in the winter. Once established, it will survive long dry spells that bring other grasses to its knees.
It’s also incredibly low maintenance. If you try to treat Buffalo Grass like any other lawn, you’ll end up killing it with kindness. It doesn’t need or want much in the way of water or fertilizer. It does best in regions with less than 25 inches of annual rainfall. Since it grows to only 6 inches (only 2 inches taller than ideal summer height), you won’t have to mow it as much.
While older cultivars have had low density growth, newer cultivars better replicate the typical lawn but with all the advantages of Buffalo Grass.
In Australia and South Africa, St Augustine grass is known as Buffalo Grass, so when looking up information, make sure it’s about Buchloe dactyloides and not Stenotaphrum secundatum (St Augustine). They are two extremely different grasses.
To learn more, check out our complete guide to Buffalo Grass.
What Is Bermuda Grass?
Bermuda Grass is known as the Kentucky Bluegrass of the south. It thrives in the high heat and humidity that’s common throughout the Southern US. Kept to 1 or 2 inches high, it has a more manicured look and is used for golf courses.
But its good looks come with high maintenance, especially when it comes to fertilizer. Its aggressive growth and spread through seeds, rhizomes, and stolons has made it one of the most aggravating and invasive weeds in the south. Once you plant Bermuda, you’ll have it forever, whether or not you want to.
To learn more, check out our complete guide to Bermuda Grass.
Which Is Better: Buffalo Or Bermuda?
Appearance And Texture
If you love walking barefoot or having picnics on the lawn, then you’ll love Buffalo Grass’ fine, soft texture underfoot. Bermuda feels rougher with a medium texture – it won’t feel terrible, but it won’t feel soft.
Both are pretty attractive. Buffalo Grass has a green or blue-green color while Bermuda has a dark green color.
Bermuda Grass can be mowed as short as 1 inch with either a rotary or reel mower.
Buffalo Grass does better when mowed between 3 to 4 inches during the growing season, which will encourage its roots to grow deep, shade the soil to keep moisture, and help it survive long dry spells. You can mow it as short as 2 to 3 inches for a more manicured look.
As Buffalo Grass grows taller, it’ll bend over to appear much shorter. Some newer cultivars only grow 4 inches tall and require no mowing. Occasional mowing will encourage Buffalo grass to spread.
Establishment & Growth Rate
Buffalo grass establishes itself much more slowly, needing 14 to 30 days to germinate, and then a few years to grow into a thick carpet through stolons. But patience pays off as once it gets established, it’ll survive a lot. It’s less likely to become a weed than Bermuda, and since it’s from North America, it’s very unlikely it’ll become invasive. Buffalo grass can also be started through plugs.
Bermuda grass quickly establishes itself, and because it grows by rhizomes and stolons, it can grow quickly indeed. It’ll regrow over gaps. In fact, it grows so quickly that it’ll probably become your #1 weed. Once you establish Bermuda grass (or your neighbor does), it’s nearly impossible to eradicate.
The ideal soil for Buffalo Grass is silt-clay, although it’ll grow in well-drained loam, chalk, and clay soils. It does really well in alkaline soils, which covers most of its natural habitat. The only thing it doesn’t like is sand or very acidic soil.
Bermuda Grass can grow well in all soil types, although it prefers acidic soils and tolerates only slightly alkaline soil.
Climate & Sun
Buffalo Grass is a transition zone grass that behaves like a warm-season grass. That means it can thrive through the wide swings of long hot summers and cold winters that often challenge cool-season and warm-season grasses. Like warm-season grasses, it’ll remain green during the heat of summer and go dormant during cooler temperatures.
Bermuda is a warm-season grass with medium cold tolerance, so it can handle some cooler temperatures over the winter. With its salt tolerance, you can grow Bermuda in coastal regions too.
Both Buffalo Grass and Bermuda prefer full sun and have little shade tolerance.
Pests & Disease
Buffalo Grass has excellent pest and disease resistance while Bermuda has medium resistance. Synthetic nitrogen spikes can make Bermuda more prone to pests and disease, so it’s best to use organic fertilizers to counteract that.
There’s a vast difference between Buffalo and Bermuda when it comes to water. Bermuda grass needs 1 inch or more of water each week, while Buffalo grass only needs 1 inch per month to stay green. In fact, Buffalo grass does best in areas that have less than 25 inches of rainfall per year. If you live in an area with lots of rain, then another grass is a better option.
Bermuda does have some drought tolerance, although it doesn’t tolerate it for nearly as long as Buffalo.
If you’re looking at a resource that claims that Bermuda is more drought-tolerant than Buffalo Grass, then they probably mean Stenotaphrum secundatum, or St Augustine.
Buffalo Grass is more prone to weeds because of its low density and long germination and establishment time. It’ll take up to 3 years for Buffalo Grass to firmly establish itself. Newer cultivars like Legacy grow much more thickly and can thus better crowd out weeds while still keeping its other advantages.
Bermuda Grass is not prone to weeds when it grows thickly, as it’ll shade out the competition. Its quick establishment means that weeds have less time to get a jump on the grass before Bermuda crowds and shades them out. In fact,
Bermuda is much more likely to become your most aggravating weed as its rhizomatic spread makes it nearly impossible to keep out of garden beds and neighbor yards, or even to eradicate once it’s planted. It’s often considered invasive throughout the south.
Bermuda requires a lot of fertilizer (4 to 5 lbs of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet) while Buffalo requires very little (1 to 2 pounds). Only fertilize Buffalo Grass when necessary – don’t rely on “fertilizer schedules” as you can end up killing the grass.
Both grasses benefit from using organic fertilizer methods, as a thin layer of compost once a year suits Buffalo Grass’ low needs for the year, and organic methods prevent the synthetic nitrogen spikes that attract pests and disease and cause costly thatch problems that plague Bermuda.
Because both Buffalo Grass and Bermuda grow by stolons, they’re both prone to thatch. Buffalo Grass is less prone because of its slow growth rate. Bermuda’s thatch problems get worse when using synthetic nitrogen, as the spikes of nitrogen encourage a lot of fast growth – and all that growth takes much longer to break down.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Can I Tell Whether I Have Buffalo Grass Or Bermuda?
Buffalo grass has a green or blue-green color with a fine texture that droops when left long, while Bermuda is dark green with a rougher texture. While they both have stolons (overground roots), if you dig up the grass, Bermuda will have rhizomes (like tubers) while Buffalo grass only has roots.
The most obvious way to tell them apart without digging up a plant is by their flowers: Bermuda grass will have a windmill-like inflorescence with 2 to 7 branches, while Buffalo Grass has separate male and female plants.
Will Buffalo Grass Take Over Bermuda?
Buffalo Grass is unlikely to crowd out Bermuda, as Bermuda is a very aggressive grass. Because of their vastly different needs, they’re not grown together. If Bermuda is invading your lawn, watering to only 1 or 2 inches a month and rarely fertilizing will allow Buffalo Grass to flourish while starving Bermuda. It’s best to remove Bermuda as much as possible, as the more foothold it gets, the harder it will be to keep it in check.
How Invasive Is Buffalo Grass?
Since Buffalo Grass (Buchloe dactyloides) is native to North America, it’s not considered invasive. It’s also less likely to escape your yard as it grows more slowly than an aggressive grass like Bermuda.