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Prairie Ramblings Episode
Fri November 2, 2012
Buffalo Grass Miracle
Weather in Kansas often leaves a person feeling a little schizophrenic. If it confuses me, what does it do to vegetation and animals that live outside? At this moment, our climate is causing some abnormal buffalo grass behavior.
My husband believes in planting native grasses, buffalo to be specific. His theory is that it takes care of itself, and drought or stress won’t kill it. It took me a while to concede, but I agree now!
Since we first married, he has advocated growing grass and trees that require little water. The only plants he ever splurged on, in terms of water, were a few tomato plants. Logically, he insisted we water those directly.
In contrast, I grew up in a family that planted lush turf that required frequent, deep soaks. Leaving that lawn to fend for itself was a death sentence. Although it took time to accept to my current lawn’s late summer stressed straw look, I understand my husband’s rationale.
We’ve reached the point that we look forward to hot days when growth slows so we don’t have to mow so often. By mid-August, I crunched across our buffalo grass carpet. Our flowerbeds still bloomed due to regular drinks, but our grass had assumed inactive status. Even the weeds shriveled into themselves and gave up further development.
After weeks of searing days, our flowers also browned and crumbled, and I accepted defeat. I could not water fast enough or long enough to salvage the greenery around the house. Everything, including me, wilted and gave up.
Here is the schizophrenic part. Rain fell a few weeks ago while the thirsty earth soaked up moisture so quickly that no puddles formed. I can usually tell by the size of the pools how much rain has fallen, but the sponge-like pores between the dirt molecules absorbed every drop.
Following a second big rain that left standing water, I noticed something odd. Lazarus-like weeds unfurled tiny leaves that began an inspired skyward stretch. Then I observed the lawn taking on a hint of green. Impossible. Buffalo grass wouldn’t re-emerge just before winter, would it?
I hated to mention this to my husband for fear he would think I suffered from delayed heat stroke. When a rancher remarked his native pastures showed green tinges. I casually stated our yard was experiencing a resurrection. Sure enough, the soaking and the warm days had triggered this prairie staple into one last growth spurt.
Cold nights and shorter days will take care of this little breath of spring that interrupted a beautiful autumn. However, I’m reminded how resilient the Great Plains landscape is. Buffalo grass survives fire, overgrazing, drought, and heat. Its root system is far more extensive than any growth we see above ground.
An internet 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 I’m ahead of the game with my native grass and wildflower lawn. Surprise green in the fall is a nice bonus.