Spring is here, and mowing season too

Lisa K. Hair
Contributing writer

Finally! The season we all yearn and live for is here! Our lawns are greening up. I even mowed the backyard Sunday afternoon. My backyard has a massive automatic fertilizer machine named Dollie. At 14 months she is a svelte 96 lbs, and comes up to mid-hip on me. I mowed patches of Henbit and the Eurasian annual bluegrass (Poa annua) that were nearly 12” high!

Right now is transition time for our lawns. The Bermuda is greening up well, so if you must spray your lawn, only use chemicals formulated to remove specific weeds types. Roundup kills darn near everything it comes in contact with including dandelions, which are the first flowers bees go to in springtime. Use an herbicide that specifically kills broadleaf weeds like Henbit and ragweed.

Caution: Do not spray broadleaf herbicides if the temperature is over 80 degrees. The main chemical will volatilize and spread on air currents until it touches something else with broad leaves, such as your prize Pecan tree, or your neighbor’s huge oak that keeps your car cool in summer instead of his! Goosegrass, Dallas grass, and Poa annua need a powerful turf herbicide like MSM, usually only sold in farm stores. These grasses can be tough little boogers to fully get rid of, so be patient.

Seeding bare areas in shady areas can begin now, but wait another week or so before sowing Bermuda seed. Sow Buffalo grass seed when the soil temperature is at least 65 degrees.

Buffalo grass is actually the native prairie grass living here when the settlers came. It is used far too infrequently and needs to be brought back. Bermuda was a grass imported for grazing, because it grew thicker, spread faster, and didn’t go dormant as fast as our native Buffalo. But this is not necessarily a bad trait. Since Buffalo goes dormant faster and greens up later, that translates into less mowing time! It is also highly drought-tolerant and requires less mowing since it seldom grows over 4” high. In summer when the females bloom, they have small soft pink seed heads that resemble oats! Buffalo grass is dioecious with both males and females.

I didn’t spray this year on purpose. I’m transitioning my front lawn to that gorgeous Buffalo grass, so I wanted no preemergent chemicals in my soil to prevent seed growth. I will rake any thatch and dead grass clippings to be sure my seed reaches soil, then lightly press the seeds in. Buffalo grass seed looks a bit like sand bur seed, but without the stickers. You can buy it already hulled, but at triple the price of the un-hulled type. It is already more expensive than Bermuda, probably because of less demand.

Buffalo is a beautiful, fine-leafed grass with a light, blue-green tint. To see a great example, go to the front lawn of Raley Chapel on the OBU campus. The grounds crew there has slowly been transitioning the lawn to almost 100% Buffalo. The thing about starting in an already established lawn is once Buffalo grass seed germinates and starts spreading, it will eventually overtake the Bermuda if you just leave it alone. If you treat your yard to fertilizer, weekly watering, and other pampering, the Bermuda will stay the dominant plant. So, to lower your chemical treatment and water bills, and lessen your mowing times, plant some Buffalo grass this spring!

But, some of you may have shady areas where Buffalo and Bermuda won’t grow, so what do you plant? Tall fescue is a cool season, shade loving grass with deep green broader leaves than the sun loving grasses. It requires more water however, and must be kept mowed at a higher setting. You can seed it now, but when the soil temperatures warm beyond 75 degrees, you’ll have to wait until fall. OBU has a striking example of how the warm season Bermuda and cool season Fescue look when planted in the same yard. Drive up the Oval that goes around the fountain and look at the difference between the two. Buffalo grass is extremely showy and really looks great in summer when Bermuda goes into summer dormancy.

Some grasses work well in your flower beds. Pink Muhly grass grows 18” to 24” tall, loves hot, dry weather and is blue-green in color. Pink? It has a pink seeds and seed stems. Mexican Feather grass is a very fine thin-bladed grass that grows in a thick clump about a foot tall. Each year it gets these funny looking “split ends” that give a feathery appearance. This is the one grass you don’t cut back in early spring like other ornamental grasses. Both ornamental grasses are good specimen plants in a xeriscape or growing against a south-facing wall with plenty of sun.

I hope these tips make your yard the envy of the neighborhood, and make you smile when you arrive home each night. So get out there and fire up your mowers!

As always…. happy gardening! (Finally)

Lisa K Hair is a certified Master Gardener, with a degree in horticulture from OSU OKC. She was the campus gardener for OBU for 18 years, and retired last year to spend more time with her Great Pyrenees/St Bernard dog, Dollie. She is now the newest member of the Shawnee Beautification Committee.