Buffalo grass is a popular warm-season turf in the southern and transition lawns in the USA. It’s a crowd favorite among gardeners, homeowners, and landscapers in hot areas for its exemplary performance in dry conditions. It’s precisely the type of grass you want if you’re looking for low-maintenance grass.
Brown spot is a common occurrence in buffalo grass due to pests, improper lawn care, or brown patch disease. Brown patch disease leaves unsightly dead-looking patches resembling crop circles on a buffalo grass lawn. It’s typically a humidity and poor maintenance problem that can be fixed through watering, mowing, and fungicide application among others.
I’ll dive deep to understand the prevalence of brown spots in buffalo lawns, causes, treatment options, and preventative measures.
Why is my buffalo grass going brown?
There is no single primary reason responsible for all cases of brown patch disease. However, your buffalo grass might be going brown for the following reasons.
- Brown patch disease
- Poor lawn care
- Extreme cold temperatures
Brown patch disease
Brown patch is a disease caused by fungi called Rhizoctonia. Rhizoctonia fungi thrive in dark and dumpy conditions. Brown patch mainly occurs in mid and late summer when humidity is high and temperature exceeds 80oF.
Watering the grass at night provides excess moisture that activates the fungi. As a result, leaf blades develop brown spots, spreading and turning to brown patch disease.
Brown patch disease starts as a small circular ring and turns into a large patch with a smoke ring border. The grass on the edge is thin, while the grass inside the ring appears brown and may die as the disease worsens.
If you inspect the brown dying grass blades, you will notice they are rotten at the base.
Bettle is a prevalent pest in buffalo lawns. It produces larvae called grubs which feed on grass, leaving brown spots on the lawn.
Poor lawn care
Improper mowing, overfertilizing, overwatering, compacted soils, thatch build-up, and poor soil drainage contribute to or accelerate brown spots on lawns. All these practices affect a vital part of the grass.
- Improper mowing
Blunt lawn mower blades tear the grass, making them more susceptible to pests and diseases like brown patches.
Mowing too short scalps the grass, making it vulnerable to weeds and diseases.
Buffalo grass can grow without fertilizers. The fertilizer should be less than 2 pounds per 1000 square feet yearly if applied. Homeowners sometimes use more than the maximum amount to increase the grass’ growth.
However, overfertilizing buffalo grass passes excess nitrogen to the soil, burning the grass and turning it brown.
Watering buffalo grass lightly and frequently provides excess moisture around the plant. Bacteria and fungi love dark dumpy places. Therefore, moist conditions around the grass activate the Rhizoctonia fungi that cause brown spots on the grass.
- Compacted soils
Grass needs water, air, and minerals to grow. However, compacted have clogged air spaces, thus preventing these essential elements from passing and reaching the grass’s roots.
Grass thins when air, water, and nutrients are absent, turning brown and forming patches on the lawn.
- Thatch build-up
Thatch is the organic layer of the matter lying between the grass and the soil. Microorganisms in the soil break thatch to provide nutrients to the ground. However, a thatch thicker than ½ inch prevents water, air, and nutrients from passing to the grassroots.
Grass thins and turns brown when it lacks essential elements, forming patches or spots on the lawn.
- Poor soil drainage
Poorly drained soils prevent water from reaching the grass’s roots. Instead, the water collects on the surface, creating a moist condition that promotes fungal and bacterial activities. Fungi cause a brown patch, turning the grass brown on the lawn.
- Low winter temperatures
Buffalo grass is a warm-season grass with excellent cold tolerance. Buffalo grass remains green at the onset of winter but becomes dormant and brown at lower winter temperatures.
Can buffalo grass recover from brown patches?
While recovery time may be sluggish, buffalo grass can recover from brown patches. You might need a total review of your maintenance habits, but the correct recovery measures will reinvigorate your buffalo grass.
How do I treat brown spots in my buffalo grass lawn?
But, what does buffalo grass look like? To avoid damaging your lawn, its good to identify if you have buffalo grass or a mix with other varieties. Proper turf management and applying fungicides are the best ways to treat brown spots.
Here’s how to manage your buffalo grass lawn to treat the brown spots problem.
Mowing buffalo grass lawn with blunt mower blades tears the grass, making them more susceptible to pests and diseases. Sharpen your mower blades to avoid tearing the grass.
Cut the grass at the recommended height to avoid scalping it. Use the one-third mowing rule to ensure you cut a third of the size of the grass. Remember, overcutting the grass makes it vulnerable to brown patches and weeds.
Apply enough fertilizer to buffalo grass
Spread less than 2 pounds of nitrogen fertilizer per 1000 square feet in summer when the grass is actively growing. But, can I fertilize my lawn every 2 weeks? Apply the first fertilizer load in early summer with less than 1 pound of nitrogen per 1000 square feet. The second application comes after eight weeks. Fertilizing buffalo grass is unnecessary in nitrogen-rich soils.
Water buffalo grass infrequently
Once established, buffalo grass thrives without irrigation in an area receiving 30 inches of rainfall yearly. Irrigate the lawn once every four weeks with 2 to 3 inches of water on areas with less rain. Water deeply, but less often.
Aerate compacted soils
To check compacted soil, push a screwdriver through the lawn soil. The screwdriver feels challenging to pass through compact soils and has no soil particles on its sides. Meanwhile, the screwdriver penetrates through loose soil quickly and has soil particles on its sides.
Use a core aerator to remove small plugs from compact soil to allow water, air, and minerals to pass and reach the roots. Use a spike aerator to poke tiny holes where the soil is less compact.
Aerate poorly drained soils to create spaces to allow water passage and prevent flooding on the lawn.
Dethatch the lawn
Dig a section of lawn soil using a spade and measure the thickness of the thatch layer. Break thatch layers thicker than ½ inch using a power rake or a dethatcher to allow water and other elements to pass to the grassroots.
Read More: Dethatching vs aeration.
Proper lawn maintenance is an excellent factor in healing buffalo grass from brown spots. However, you might need reinforcement. Apply fungicides labeled for buffalo grass to treat brown patch disease and kill grubs (beetle larvae) from the lawn.
Fungicides are available in online stores and agricultural shops.
Tips to prevent brown patch disease on the lawn
After treating brown patches/spots disease from your lawn, it’s best practice to prevent the condition from reoccurring. Here are the best ways to prevent brown patch disease on the lawn.
Water the grass in the morning
Rhizoctonia fungi that cause brown patch disease love dark and dumpy conditions. Watering the grass at night provides optimum conditions for the fungi to thrive.
Irrigate the lawn in the morning before 10 am to give the turf enough time to absorb the water into its system before night reaches. The grass dries by night, thus discouraging fungal activities that cause brown patch disease.
Water deeply and infrequently
Watering buffalo grass frequently with less water creates a moist environment, allowing fungi to act on the grass and cause brown patch disease. However, Buffalo grass needs deep, infrequent watering to grow.
In extreme temperatures and prolonged drought, irrigate the lawn with 2 to 3 inches of water once every four weeks. Don’t water buffalo grass in areas with heavy rainfall.
- Colorado State University: Buffalo grass.
- NC State Extension: Brown Patch Turf.