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Buffalo Research Reviewed
By Todd Layt
Research is an important thing, it helps us discover and decide. This is also true when it comes to Buffalo turf. It allows us to define the characteristics - both positive and negative - of each variety. There has been research on Buffalo turf by different people finding out different things, such as which varieties have more wear tolerance, shade tolerance and drought tolerance. Below is a summary and review of some Buffalo research and its importance in finding out more about it.
In recent research by the DPI Queensland - released by Hal - most Buffalo varieties were tested. This report also included trials in Perth, Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Brisbane. The research showed that in 50% shade, Buffalo was much harder wearing than Kikuyu, Couch, and Sweet Smother grass. It also showed that Buffalo had far superior quality. Only Sydney Common Buffalo had significantly more wear stress than any other Buffalo in the study based on the percentage of bare ground over a 12 week period. The study was too short in duration to really determine differences between the Buffalo cultivars for wear tolerance. It really needed to be over a 6 month period at least, and have Zoysia included, which also does well in shady worn areas. However, this research achieved a lot of goals basically finding all the modern cultivars wear very similarly in 50% shade, and far better than other grasses tested. So if you are buying a buffalo for a wear area in shade most will do pretty well. Thus, for the home owner, golf courses, amenity areas, and parks that have shade from trees or buildings, Buffalo is the best choice. In the past in places like Melbourne and the ACT, Fescue was traditionally used for these areas, but with the tightening of water supply Fescue has simply died out in many areas. Cool season grasses for most of Australia are now not viable options, except for over sowing. The only other real alternative for shade is Zoysia. Empire Zoysia, for example, works well in 40% to 50% shade, where Buffalo works in up to 60% to 70 % shade, although at the higher level the quality will decline.
In another study in the USA Couch, Zoysia and Buffalo varieties were tested for drought in a hot Texas environment with the water being turned off for 60 days in summer. Buffalo showed that it would recover after the turf was watered again. Sixty days without water appears not to kill Buffalo, although I would not suggest allowing Buffalo to go that long without water if at all possible. The real world has proven how drought tolerant some types of Buffalo are. One project I was involved in back in 2000, was the turfing of Windsor Road near Kellyville, NSW with Palmetto Buffalo. This is a reasonably dry area of Sydney. Although 4/5 of this turf was ripped up to make a bus lane, about a fifth is still there, still alive and doing well almost 10 years later. This Palmetto has lived just on natural rainfall for 10 years.
In Ozbreed research, Kikuyu and Couch needed a lot more mowing than Buffalo, and if left unmown for an extended period, both Couch and Kikuyu were a lot taller than Buffalo. The Hal research showed that most of the Buffalo types could be sprayed with some chemicals to remove broad leaf weeds, however the ST varieties showed far less chemical resistance in general. This chemical research was done very well, and will help growers and users better understand which chemicals can be used on which Buffalo. The WA component of the Hal research crunched a lot of numbers in the subject of water use and drought tolerance, unfortunately all that work really said nothing. Sure it worked out clipping rates and ET rates of different grasses under less water, but as any turf professional knows, grasses respond differently to drought with some going more dormant to conserve water. Calculating clipping rates and even ET rates under lower watering regimes says absolutely nothing about whether a grass can cope better with prolonged drought. Logic says lower growth is good in drought so the grass conserves water, alternatively under less water some people may want more growth for wear tolerance. It also ignores carbohydrate storage in Rhizomes etc. It is a pity a real drought tolerant study has not been conducted in Australia, but to be fair, the Hal project did very well with the limited money available. In Perth where people tend to water turf more than the rest of the country due to their sandy soils, this WA research is perhaps more useful. For the rest of Australia the best indicator of drought tolerance is the very expensive overseas study for drought called the SAWS study in Texas, but unfortunately the only Australian available Buffalo grasses in this were the Palmetto and Sapphire types. However, it did show Buffalo was still good in drought, and went on to say Buffalo is a grass that is needed for shaded areas in drought prone regions. This study did not correlate with previous ET rate studies, showing ET rates to be of little use in grass survivability.
In research over 2 years in winter (Ozbreed, Western Sydney), Palmetto had 38% better winter colour compared to Sir Walter and 140% better winter colour compared to Shademaster. Sir Walter had 74% better winter colour than Shademaster. The best winter colour for a low maintenance turf from the combined 1st and 2nd year results was Palmetto.
NOTE: There is no association or affiliation between Ozbreed and the following research projects: HAL Project; Adaptation and management of Australian buffalo grass cultivars for shade and water conservation; SAWS study.
HAL Project TU04013 (Completion date 14 October 2009)
Adaptation and management of Australian buffalo grass cultivars for shade and water conservation. Alan Duff, Dr Don Loch and Dr Tim Colmer Queensland Primary Industries and Fisheries Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation
SAWS study, Texas. Evaluation of Sixty-Day Drought Survival In San Antonia of Established Turfgrass Species and Cultivars.
Ozbreed Research into Buffalo Turf and Empire Zoysia. Various Papers. See research section. Declaration: Todd Layt is the owner of Ozbreed which markets Palmetto and Sapphire Buffalo.