Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Buffalo Grass Miracle

Weather in Kansas can leave a person a little schizophrenic.  If it confuses me, what does it do to the plants and animals that live under the elements all the time?  I know it is making the buffalo grass behave abnormally right now.

My husband has always been a believer in planting natural prairie grasses, buffalo to be specific.  His theory is that it takes care of itself and a little drought or stress will not kill it.  Of course, he is right.  It took me a number of years to concede, but now I will say loud and clear, he is right! 

Since we first got married, he has advocated low water use grass and trees.  The only plants he ever willingly splurged on, in terms of water, were a few tomato plants, and he insisted that we water them directly so not a drop was wasted. 

In contrast, I grew up in a family that planted lush, green grasses that required regular watering.  Leaving those lawns to fend for themselves was a death sentence.  Although it took a while to get used to the fact that by late summer, my lawn will take on a stressed straw look, I now understand my husband’s reasoning.

In fact, we now begin to look forward to those hot days when the grass growth slows down, and we do not have to mow so often.  By the time I returned from Fargo (where they grow beautiful cool grass lawns) in mid August, I crunched across our buffalo grass carpet.  The flowerbeds still bloomed due to regular waterings, but the grass had gone dormant.  Even the weeds had shriveled into themselves and given up trying to grow.

After weeks of searing hot days, the flowers joined the grass and weeds, and I gave up on our growing season.  I could not water fast enough or long enough to salvage the greenery around the house. Everything, including me, suffered a wilted, stressed look.

Now here is the schizophrenic part.  The rain began a few weeks ago, and the thirsty earth soaked up the water so quickly, no puddles formed in the drive.  I can usually tell by the size of the puddles how much rain fell, but in this case the pores between the dirt molecules absorbed every drop like a sponge. 

Within a few days of the second big rain, which did leave a few puddles standing, I noticed something odd.  A few weed seeds unfurled tiny green leaves and began an inspired skyward reach.  Then I noticed the lawn looking a little green too.  Impossible.  Buffalo grass would not reemerge just before winter, would it?

I did not want to mention this to my husband for fear he would think I had suffered some kind of  delayed heat stroke. Then when a ranching friend mentioned his buffalo grass pastures showed hints of green, I casually mentioned our yard looked a bit greener also.  Sure enough, the soaking and the warm days had confused this prairie staple into trying one last growthspurt. 

Cold nights and shorter days will take care of this little breath of spring that interrupted a beautiful autumn.  However, I am reminded at how resilient this prairie is.  Buffalo grass survives fire, overgrazing, drought, heat, and other stressors.  The root system underground is more extensive than what we see growing above ground. 

It will not hurt more of us to make the switch to native grasses and plants in our yards.  After all, a number of grasses and plants grow easily and attractively on the prairie.  In fact, a Web site I recently visited advocated planting a wildflower/buffalo grass meadow in place of a cultivated lawn and garden.  Like anything natural or organic, they wanted a premium price to plant one for me.  It is nice to know we are ahead of the game with our native grass and wildflower lawn.  A little surprise green in the fall is a nice bonus. 

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