The thatch in Buffalo lawns has always been a concern for owners of this grass type. If not properly controlled and managed throughout the life of the Buffalo lawn, it will continue to thicken and grow higher as the years progress.
As the height of the Buffalo lawn increases, it will continue to grow new runners and leaf on top of the old dead runners, continually increasing it's thatch height. In fact, buffalo thatch can easily reach heights of up to 20 or 30 cm.
The Problems Of Extreme Buffalo Thatching
Eventually the Buffalo thatch will become so thick that the roots of the new runners will no longer reach the soil, and will grow inside the old thatch instead. This will deprive the new grass of both nutrients from the soil as well as a reliable water supply.
Making the problem worse is when much of the water which is applied to the lawn no longer reaches into the soil and instead stays trapped inside the thatch layer. This leads to lack of water for the grass which still has roots inside the soil, and also causes the water to evaporate much quicker. And on top of all of this, the water trapped inside the thatch will dramatically increase the risk of lawn diseases.
In short, once the lawn reaches this state, it will always look pale and in poor health, and there will be nothing which can be done to repair the problem.
New Soft Buffalo Lawns and Thatch
The newer soft leaf varieties of Buffalo grass such as Sir Walter, Matilda or Palmetto are able to manage their thatch better than the old style Buffalo grass types. However, if not properly managed and controlled, their thatch will also continue to thicken and increase it's depth to unmanageable levels. So thatch in all buffalo grasses must continue to be managed at all times.
Is It Time To Say Goodbye
If your old Buffalo lawn has reached unmanageable heights in it's thatch layer, there is simply nothing which can be done remove the thatch while still keeping the lawn alive.
De-thatching will not work because this process removes the entire top layer of thatch from the lawn, and requires the lawn to repair and regrow from it's underground runners.
Buffalo grass does not have underground runners, and if the top layer of living grass were to be removed - only the old dead thatch would be left in it's place, and the lawn would be finished.
Once a Buffalo lawn reaches this state in it's life - it must be accepted by the homeowner that these Buffalo lawns do have a limited lifespan, and once that lifespan has been reached, it will be time to remove the lawn completely and plant a new lawn in it's place.
Generally the easiest method to remove a heavily thatched Buffalo lawn will be to bring in a bobcat or other small digging machine to dig the grass out and remove the lawn waste material, which can be an enormous amount of waste from an average sized block.