Buffalo Grass Vs St Augustine

Buffalo Grass vs St Augustine: What’s Better For My Lawn?

In Grass Guides, Lawn & Garden, Lawn Care, Tips by Jamie

While Buffalo Grass is often confused with St Augustine, they’re very different grasses. As one of the few native North American grasses, Buffalo Grass is becoming more popular as a turfgrass, as it’s uniquely suited to growing in areas with low rainfall and frequent droughts. St Augustine started out as highly popular in Florida and the Gulf coastline, but is falling out of favor because of its high maintenance and low resistance to insects and disease. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg for differences.

What Are Buffalo Grass And St Augustine?

  Buffalo Grass St Augustine
Scientific Name Buchloe dactyloides Stenotaphrum secundatum
Zone 3 – 9

Transition Zone, Behaves Like Warm-Season

9 – 10

Warm-Season

Sun Full Sun

Doesn’t Tolerate Shade

Full Sun to Part Shade
Soil Ideal is silt-clay. Can grow in loam, chalk, and clay. Doesn’t tolerate sand. Ideal is sand-silt.
pH 6.5 to 8.5 5.5 to 7.5
Water Requirement Low. Drought tolerant. Suitable for non-irrigated lawns and places with low rainfall. Medium. Not drought tolerant and not suitable for a non-irrigated lawn or for areas with low rainfall or extended dry periods.
Yearly nitrogen (lb/1,000 sq ft) 1 to 2; Low.

Too much fertilizer can damage Buffalo Grass and encourage weeds.

3 to 4; High.

High amounts of fertilizer cost more money and take more time, while exacerbating other conditions like thatch or worsening its insect and disease resistance.

Growth Habit Stolons Stolons
Mowing Height 3 to 4 inches 2 to 3 inches
Maintenance Low High
Wear Medium Medium
Tolerances & Resistances Good tolerance of heat and cold. Good tolerance of heat and salt.

Low tolerance of cold.

Insects & Diseases High resistance for both insects and disease. Low resistance to insects and disease.
Germination Time 14 to 30 days

Slow establishment rate.

Only available as plugs and sod.

Medium establishment rate.

Texture Fine; soft underfoot Rough/coarse texture that’s prickly underfoot
Color Green and Blue-Green Green

What Is Buffalo Grass?

What Is Buffalo Grass?

Native to North America, Buffalo Grass is uniquely adapted to handle everything that the tricky and unpredictable Transition Zone can throw at it. It withstands high heat, it withstands cold winters, and it even can withstand long dry spells.

Even better, it’s extremely low maintenance and does best with benign neglect. If you try to pamper this grass or treat it like St Augustine or Bermuda, it’ll struggle. But if you leave it be with only the occasional mowing, it’ll thrive.

Look for newer cultivars that better replicate a lawn. Older cultivars can have sparse growth habits that provide opportunity for weeds. Or you can use those older cultivars as a basis for a prairie/plains meadow, sowing prairie wildflowers and other native grasses for a truly eco-friendly backyard.

If you hear that Buffalo Grass needs more water than Bermuda, then they’re actually referring to St Augustine. Australia and South Africa refer to St Augustine as Buffalo Grass or Buffalo Turf. They are two extremely different grasses. Always check the scientific name when looking for information.

To learn more, check out our complete guide to Buffalo Grass.

What Is St Augustine?

What Is St Augustine?

Decades ago, if you lived in Florida, you had a choice of St Augustine, St Augustine, or St Augustine. It can handle the heat, humidity, and salt of the subtropical region, and unlike its closest and most popular competitor Bermuda, it can handle some shade.

But as other grasses have become more popular, people have realized that St Augustine comes with a long roster of problems. Its rough texture is terrible to walk upon. It cannot handle cold weather at all. It is not drought tolerant at all, needing twice as much water as Bermuda grass. It’s also highly susceptible to diseases and pests.

Outside of very specific conditions, it’s not worth planting. Whatever you need, there’s another grass that can handle your yard’s conditions better.

To learn more, check out our complete guide to St Augustine.

Which Is Better: Buffalo Grass Or St Augustine?

Appearance And Texture

With a name like Buffalo Grass, you might expect this grass to be especially rough underfoot. But there are few grasses that are as finely textured as Buffalo Grass. St Augustine is very coarse and unpleasant in texture. If you love to walk barefoot on the lawn or have children playing on it, then go with Buffalo Grass.

You can mow St Augustine low at 2 to 3 inches tall for a more manicured look or left longer to reduce mowing. Buffalo Grass should be kept taller at 3 to 4 inches or even left at its maximum height of 6 inches. Left long, the grass blades will bow in a beautifully wavy look. Buffalo Grass is a great no-mow grass.

Both grasses benefit from mowing as it encourages them to spread.

Establishment & Growth Rate

Buffalo Grass establishes it slowly, taking 14 to 30 days to germinate from seed and then up to 3 years to establish itself fully as a lawn. For a faster start, you can also use plugs which will spread within 8 to 12 weeks of planting. It’ll need more water and weeding during this period, but your patience will pay off as it becomes virtually indestructible and extremely low maintenance.

You only have a choice of plugs or sod for St Augustine, as seed germinates poorly, making it more expensive to get started than seed. Once in place, it establishes itself quickly. When using plugs, you’ll need 18 to cover 32 square feet.

The best time to start both is during the late spring and summer when temperatures are warmer.

Soil

When it comes to soil, these grasses are complete opposites.

Buffalo Grass does really well in clay-based soils, like silt-clay and loam-clay, and can grow well in loam-based soils as well. It prefers alkaline soils, although it can grow in slightly acidic soils as well. It cannot grow in sandy soils.

St Augustine thrives in the sandy soils that Buffalo Grass struggles in and prefers acidic soils to match. Likewise, it won’t do well in the heavier clay-based soils or alkaline soils.

Climate & Sun

Buffalo Grass is a true transition zone grass that acts like a warm-season grass. This means it can thrive through long, hot summers and survive cold winters that would kill off many warm-season grasses. Because it acts like a warm-season grass, its peak growth is during the heat of summer and goes dormant in the spring and fall.

St Augustine is a full-fledged warm-season grass that can only thrive in subtropical areas (USDA Zone 9 and 10). It has very little cold tolerance, so if you have mild winters or occasional cold snaps, then it’s best to pass this grass by for something with higher cold tolerance.

Buffalo Grass needs full sun and has very little shade tolerance as it evolved to grow among other grasses.

St Augustine prefers full sun but can tolerate part shade, so long as it gets about 4 hours of sun per day. This makes it a versatile grass, but there’s other warm-season grasses that like shade without so many drawbacks.

Pests & Disease

You need not worry about pests and disease if you grow a Buffalo Grass lawn. It has excellent resistance to both.

St Augustine is plagued by pests and disease, many of which don’t have effective controls. It even has a disease named after it, St Augustine Decline. Just a few of these problems include Take-All Root Rot, chinch bugs, Brown Patch, Gray Leaf Spot, and Lethal Viral Necrosis. This means that you may spend more time (and money) doctoring your lawn than actually enjoying it – and disease could still kill it off.

Watering

Watering grass

Buffalo Grass is drought-hardy, meaning it can survive extended dry periods. In fact, it thrives best in areas that get less than 25 inches of rainfall per year. That’s not surprising considering the region it’s native to. To keep your lawn green, you’ll only need to provide 1 inch of water per month. If you’re in an area with water restrictions, then Buffalo Grass could be your answer.

If you get higher amounts of rain, though, you’re better off looking at other grasses as Buffalo Grass will struggle.

St Augustine is not drought hardy at all and needs more than an inch of water per week. It typically needs double the amount of water that you’d give a Bermuda lawn. Some of this is because St Augustine does best in sandy soils, which need to be water more shallowly and more frequently than other soils as water quickly drains away, and in part because of its shallow root structure.

This is not a grass for a non-irrigated lawn or a place with frequent droughts or water shortages.

Weeds 

As with all lawns, your best defense against weeds is to use good management techniques to encourage a healthy lawn. Healthy lawns grow thicker and are better able to outcompete weeds. Hand pulling weeds is always the best option, while spot-treatments with chemical interventions are better as a last resort treatment.

Newer cultivars of Buffalo Grass like Legacy grow much more thickly and can better crowd out weeds than older cultivars. Buffalo Grass is more vulnerable to weeds during its long seed germination and establishment time. Plugs can help speed up the process. Keeping irrigation and fertilizer to a minimum will starve out many weed species. Avoid using herbicides as Buffalo Grass is sensitive to chemicals.

St Augustine will be less prone to weeds in these early stages as you’re starting either from plugs or sod. Avoid using herbicides containing 2,4-D as St Augustine is sensitive to this chemical You may kill your grass along with the weed.

Fertilizing

Another advantage of Buffalo Grass is that it needs very little fertilizer, as little as 1 – 2 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 sq foot per year. You may not need to fertilize at all, and when you do, it’s easy enough to apply a layer of compost in the early fall.

St Augustine needs a lot of fertilizer to stay happy. This means you’ll need a pretty frequent fertilizer schedule, with either applications of synthetic fertilizers every 8 to 10 weeks, or compost topdressing twice a year with compost tea boosts each month (but if you’re going the organic route, it’d be a lot easier to start with a lower maintenance and more resilient grass).

Spikes in nitrogen levels from synthetic fertilizers will exacerbate thatch problems and decrease its resistance to pests and disease as it destroys the beneficial microbes in the soil that would otherwise help keep your grass healthy.

Additional Care

Both Buffalo Grass and St Augustine spread through stolons, although St Augustine is much more prone to thatch problems than Buffalo Grass. Buffalo Grass just doesn’t grow as thick and if you don’t need to fertilize it, there’s no nitrogen spikes exacerbating thatch.

Healthier soil with lots of microorganisms will also break down thatch before it becomes a problem, and St Augustine’s high fertilizer needs pretty much destroy any beneficial microbes that would help you.

Since St Augustine prefers sandy soils which are loose and difficult to compact, you may need to aerate if you’re growing it in any other kind of soil. Buffalo Grass prefers clay soils and can withstand compaction better.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is St Augustine The Same As Buffalo?

St Augustine (Stenotaphrum secundatum) and Buffalo Grass (Buchloe dactyloides) are not the same; in fact, they’re very different grasses. The confusion comes from St Augustine being called Buffalo Grass (or Buffalo Turf) in Australia and South Africa. Whenever looking up information, make sure that it references the right scientific name and which country the info comes from.

Will Buffalo Grass Overtake A St Augustine Lawn?

Whether Buffalo Grass will overtake St Augustine depends on who the conditions are favorable for. If the lawn gets plenty of water, has some shade, and is richly fertilized, then the faster growing St Augustine will outcompete Buffalo Grass. If the lawn gets little water, has full sun, and is rarely fertilized, then Buffalo Grass will outcompete St Augustine.

That being said, Buffalo Grass leaves more room for weeds so if you’re trying to replace a St Augustine lawn with Buffalo Grass, it’s best to remove St Augustine beforehand.

How Can I Tell Whether I Have Buffalo Grass or St Augustine?

Buffalo Grass has finely textured, rolled, green or blue-green color leaves with pointed blades that bow over when left to grow long (growing a max of 6 inches). St Augustine has a rough texture with flat leaves and rounded tips and grows low.

They both grow by stolons and turn dormant during the winter, so that’s not a key difference, but if you’re in an area with a mild or colder winter, then it’s more likely Buffalo Grass. If it stays green on very little water and thrives on very little fertilizer, then it’s likely Buffalo Grass.

Read our related grass comparison articles here: 

About the Author

Jamie

Jamie is the founder of The Backyard Pros. When he was 15 years old he started working at a garden centre helping people buy plants, gardening products, and lawn care products. He has real estate experience and he is a home owner. Jamie loves backyard projects, refinishing furniture, and enjoys sharing his knowledge online.