Beat the Heat with Warm Season Grasses

A previous blog post described the retraction or “shrinkage” of the roots of cool season grasses in summer, along with the associated best watering practices. Warm season grasses, such as buffalograss, blue grama and side oats grama have the opposite management guidelines, because instead of growing shorter in the summer, Mother Nature created them to have deeper roots in summer and shallower ones in spring and fall.

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In terms of water usage, once established, these grasses can grow quite well with a thorough soaking of the root system once per month or so. In fact, watering them in a similar fashion to Kentucky bluegrass usually causes them to flop over and become lethargic. During the establishment year, their watering should be similar to encouraging rooting of cool season lawns, as their root systems are shallow at first.

Buffalograss is best used as a turfgrass, while side oats and blue grama are best used as perennials, often mixed with others such as coreopsis, yarrow and even roses. As a lawn grass, buffalograss can be mowed in a range from every 2 to 6 weeks, maintained at a 3 to 4 inch mowing height. The grama grasses can be allowed to retain their foliage in fall or added ornamentation to the landscape, then removing it in the late winter to allow for the new foliage of the next year.

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John Fech
Horticulture Extension Educator at Nebraska Extension
John Fech is a horticulturist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and certified arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture. The author of 2 books and over 200 popular and trade journal articles, he focuses his time on teaching effective landscape maintenance techniques, water conservation, diagnosing turf and ornamental problems and encouraging effective bilingual communication in the green industry. He works extensively with the media to extend the message of landscape sustainability, making over 100 television and radio appearances each year.
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