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Buffalo Lawn Care
Dethatching a Buffalo Lawn
Thatch management of Buffalo turf grass is a very important maintenance element.
By Todd Layt
Over the years a buffalo lawn will greatly increase its thatch unless you manage it. But don’t worry too much, dethatching is a relatively simple task, often just mowing short will do the job. If you have Palmetto®, Sapphire® or Sir Walter Buffalo turf, dethatching needs to be done at least every 2 years, but if you have any other Buffalo type you usually need to dethatch yearly.
Over time, Buffalo grass runners (stolons) will grow over the top of each other, eventually smothering the runners and leaf underneath. The smothered runners and leaf eventually die off and the dead thatch underneath becomes problematic. Left for many years a thick layer develops which causes a number of problems.
If you use the top dressing method make sure some leaves are showing through the top dressing mix. (Above)
The runners on top of this thatch layer in severe cases can have problems rooting into the ground below which makes the lawn weak and susceptible to drought, pests, and lawn disease. It also makes the lawn tired looking, and reduces new growth which is the sign of a healthy lawn.
To fix this you need new growth growing close to the soil level. There are three main methods of achieving a nice low thatch Buffalo lawn.
The simplest and easiest method is to mow the lawn short once every spring. You can leave this to once every two years if you have Palmetto®, Sapphire® or Sir Walter Buffalo turf, but even they benefit from a yearly short mow. If you do it every spring, the scalping heights do not need to be quite as low. Simply drop the mower to a very low height and scalp the lawn. The notch setting depends on the mower brand. Make sure there are runners still left covering the ground.
What you are doing is basically a controlled heavy scalping of the lawn. Make sure you collect all the clippings. The easiest way to do this is mow once at a level just a little shorter than normal, using the catcher to collect the clippings. Then turn around and mow again straight away, this time dropping the mower down to a level where you actually see a small amount of dirt showing through the runners crossing the ground.
Make sure there are still lots of runners crisscrossing the ground though. After scalping fertilise the lawn with slow release fertiliser and water well for the next 2 to 3 weeks. An even better method is to fertilise your lawn with slow release 4 weeks prior to scalping, this will get the lawn actively growing and make it reshoot quicker after scalping. (This is optional).
If you do this every year you will find that you will not need to scalp it as heavily or mow as low as compared to doing it every second year, and the scalped look will only be there for 10 days or so. The best time to do this is Mid-September in Queensland and Northern NSW, and early October for Sydney and Perth, and Mid-October for Melbourne and Adelaide.
If you have a weedy lawn, it is recommended to use a pre-emergent on the lawn. The only one available to the general public is Oxa Pro. This has a combination of slow release and Oxadiazon. Apply this after scalping the lawn and water it in well.
What do I do if it is an older lawn and the thatch is really bad?
If you have not mown the lawn short for many years, and the thatch level is really high, you may need to lower the height of the lawn gradually over a month or so. In a very high thatch Buffalo lawn, the runners on top may not be reaching the soil below, and may actually be rooted into the thatch. The runners below that top level can actually be very weak, and the runners at the bottom of the lawn can even be dead.
In this case you need to remove the top layer, leaving the layer below (Middle Layer) to reshoot and root out into the soil. After about a month or two this should have happened. Some of the bottom dead looking runners by then should have reshoot, and some of the mid layer ones you have rejuvenated will have grown down a little and will have rooted into the ground. So when the lawn looks healthy again, you can take it down another notch or two on the mower removing some of the middle layer of thatch, exposing the bottom layer.
Remember to always collect the clippings. If the fertiliser is running out re-apply another application of slow release after the second short mowing. Water well for a few weeks, and you will have a rejuvenated lawn.
Using a dethatching machine.
As Buffalo does not have underground runners (rhizomes) this method is not as critical for Buffalo as it would be for Couch or Kikuyu. A mower works almost as well, but dethatching machines are still suitable for Buffalo turf provided you do not dethatch to soil level. If you go too low and remove all the above ground runners you may lose your lawn.
So when using one of these machines, make sure you can still see some runners crisscrossing the ground. The same rules apply for the first method. Remove the dethatched grass and take it away. Fertilise as per the first method, and use a pre-emergent if you have a weedy lawn. If it is a very old Buffalo lawn that has very high thatch you may still need to dethatch twice, removing half the first time, and the rest the next time, so it may be easier to use your mower rather than hiring a specialised machine twice.
This is particularly good for very old Buffalo lawns with very high thatch. Provided the level of the lawn is not already too high, this is a great way to rejuvenate your Buffalo lawn no matter how heavily thatched. Buy Organic sandy loam top dressing mix from your local supplier. Simply spread the mix over the top of the lawn. The height depends on the thatch level, but a good rule of thumb is to spread the mix over the lawn with a shovel, then rake it out so some of the leaves are still showing.
This is very important. If no leaves are showing you may have gone too deep and can smother the lawn. If leaves are showing you will be fine. Prior to topdressing, an application of slow release fertiliser will really help the lawn. Having it below the top dressing mix really helps. It is recommended to top dress at least every 3 years provided the level of the lawn is not too high above paths or drainage points. Top Dressing is also great at fixing undulations and uneven parts of the lawn.
Combination of methods.
Using the mower method for two years in a row, then every third year topdressing the lawn is a great combo method. It gets organics into your lawn every third year which really helps the lawn quality. It also reduces the work required, as it is easier to scalp the lawn two years in a row, then top dress every third year. Most people with a lawn after all have a mower with a catcher.
When buying a mower for future dethatching.
Make sure it has a catcher, and it has some lower settings on the mower. Honda Mowers for example have really good lower mowing heights. Also sharpening the blades, or putting on new blades before scalping or dethatching will give you a cleaner cut.