Buffelgrass & Invasives

This year, Southern Arizona celebrated 10 years of progress in controlling buffelgrass! You can help prevent overtaking of natural habitats and reduce fire risk both in our region’s abundant open spaces and right within our own neighborhoods, by removing buffelgrass, fountaingrass, and other invasive species!

Volunteers:

Opportunities to assist are available at a variety of sites throughout the region. Look for upcoming projects near you – email or call (520) 837-6832 for assistance in connecting with a nearby site.

Group leaders:

  • If you need additional supplies for buffelgrass removal projects, email buffelgrass@tucsoncleanandbeautiful.org or call (520) 837-6832 assistance. If you’re looking to start a project near you (with a group of at least 5 people preferred) let us know as well through our project interest form!

Buffelgrass Threatens the Sonoran Desert and Tucson

Invasive buffelgrass is a significant threat facing our beautiful Sonoran Desert community – both natural and urban areas alike. Buffelgrass is a fire-adapted grass from Africa that was introduced in the early 1920s and 30s.

Buffelgrass is an aggressive grower that outcompetes native plants; monopolizing water, nutrients, and even sunlight as it grows into a tall, thick clump. Each clump can produce thousands and thousands of seeds.

The fact that buffelgrass displaces our beautiful native plants is bad – but even worse is the fire threat that it poses. During the dry months buffelgrass goes dormant turning into a golden brown, tinder-dry clump. These large clumps ignite easily and they burn incredibly hot, over 1600 degrees – enough to melt most metal!

The Sonoran Desert did not evolve with fire – our native plants are not fire adapted, and often grow in a dispersed pattern where even naturally caused fires from lightning rarely spread very far. Buffelgrass grows in dense clumps and often fills in all available space, creating conditions for fires to leave behind a charred and blackened environment devoid of native species. Buffelgrass however, is quick to regrow from blackened clumps.

Buffelgrass is not just a problem out in the natural desert. It is growing in our alleys, washes, and along our roadways – threatening our homes, schools, and businesses.

What Can We Do About Buffelgrass?

There are two ways to effectively kill buffelgrass: manually remove it or treat it with an herbicide – and monitor the area for at least 2-3 years to remove any regrowth.

Manual Removal: Digging up buffelgrass clumps is a highly effective (though time consuming) way of killing buffelgrass. On larger clumps this is best done as a team, with one person digging around the roots and the other pulling the top of the grass (and perhaps a third person to bag or dispose of the grass!).

After removal, buffelgrass should be placed in a plastic garbage bag and disposed of in the landfill. The bagging process is necessary to limit seed dispersal and to reduce potential fire hazard in urban areas.

In more remote areas where bagging and removal is not possible, it may be effective to thatch removed buffelgrass and return to the site periodically to remove any regrowth. (Volunteers: please check with your area’s public land manager for approval of thatching as a disposal method).

Herbicide control: When done correctly, using an herbicide with glyphosate as the active ingredient in accordance with label directions is an effective way to kill buffelgrass plants. However, the buffelgrass must be at least 50% green and actively growing for the herbicide to work effectively (spraying herbicide on dry grass or on barren ground is ineffective). Care must be taken to avoid spraying native or other desirable plants. There are drawbacks to this method: the chemicals are expensive and the dead clump of buffelgrass will still present a fire hazard. Other chemicals may be available, but are typically more toxic and require further special handling. While homeowners can apply herbicide at their own home, applying herbicide on public lands requires trained/certified herbicide applicators and permission from the public land manager.

Mowing: NOT RECOMMENDED – Use of weedeaters and mowers is discouraged where buffelgrass is present, due to the risk of spreading seeds and ineffectiveness at actually addressing the roots of the plant. Mowing will only be effective at reducing the volume of material, and is only recommended if it will be followed by future manual removal or herbicide application as regrowth occurs.

Other considered methods of removal (including by burning, animal grazing, salting, or with vinegar solutions) have not proven to be effective for controlling buffelgrass regrowth. Only methods that will remove the entire plant, or kill the green plant to its roots, combined with follow-up monitoring and light removal, have proven to be effective.

All mitigation methods: Ongoing monitoring required! Regardless of the removal methodology used, buffelgrass plants will typically resprout from seed in the area where they were previously removed. For treatment to be effective, ongoing monitoring and additional small-scale removal will continue to be needed over a 2-5 year period, or longer, depending on site conditions and nearby seed sources.

How Can I Help?

There are a number of opportunities for getting involved and learning about buffelgrass and other invasives:

– Spread the word! Educate your friends and neighbors about buffelgrass, a brochure is available in both English and Spanish.

– NEW: Bilingual English and Spanish Buffel Busters Activity Book and Identification Guidefor 3rd-4th Graders, now available for download or request printed copies for your youth group.

– Volunteer at a buffelgrass pull (removal event) or attend a public meeting to learn more about buffelgrass and how to control it.

– Schedule a buffelgrass presentation for your group. Or set up a buffelgrass removal event in your neighborhood.

Is there a law that requires removal of buffelgrass?

Pima County ordinance does require removal of buffelgrass, and the Department of Environmental Quality allows you to report sites with buffelgrass in unincorporated county areas. In addition, local ordinances such as the City of Tucson Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance require properties to be maintained free of all weeds and tall grasses to a height of less than six inches, which includes buffelgrass. City of Tucson code violation reports may be made online. Local fire code also applies to dried grasses and vegetation of all types, in all fire districts.