Picking a Drought-Tolerant Grass Type

You love having a thick, green lawn, but you dread your summer water bills. And the minute water restrictions begin during a drought, it can all feel like money down the drain. What if you could turn off the tap and rest easy knowing that your grass won’t wither and brown under a little dry spell? With drought-tolerant grasses, you can!

Certain species of lawn grass have the hardiness to hold up to the rigors of high traffic and low water usage. If you’d like to use less water year-round, consider replacing your lawn with one of the low-maintenance, drought-resistant grass species. Note that all grasses are more drought-tolerant if you care for them with regular mowing and fertilization. Read on to learn more about the variety that is right for you.

Choosing a Drought-Tolerant Grass

  • Determine the level of traffic on your lawn.
  • Identify areas of partial shade to deep shade.
  • Decide whether you prefer a fine-textured or a coarse-textured grass.
  • Identify your suitability for warm or cold-season grasses.
  • Consider the frequency of mowing that’s ideal for you.

Drought-Tolerant Warm-Season Grasses

Warm-season grasses are exactly what they sound like: species well suited to the scorching-hot summers of the south. These grasses hit their growth peak in mid-summer and can retain their green color with less water than their non-drought-tolerant counterparts.  

Bermudagrass

Fine-textured and sun-loving, Bermudagrass doesn’t mind heavy traffic and is quick to recover from damage. It grows at an aggressive pace and needs more mowing than some varieties, but doesn’t do well in deep or partial shade.  

Centipedegrass

A bright, apple-green grass, centipedegrass is slow-growing, requiring less mowing than fast-growing varieties. It loves full sun but will perform well in shady areas. Centipede grass doesn’t mind sandy, acidic soil, which means it’s ideal for the coastal Southeastern states. One drawback to this low-maintenance grass: It doesn’t hold up well to high traffic.

St. Augustine

Deeply-rooted and very shade-tolerant, St. Augustine grass forms a dense, carpet-like mat that crowds out weeds. Floratam is the most drought-tolerant variety of this hardy warm-season grass. But, cold winters will turn a St. Augustine lawn brown during dormancy, in which case you may want to overseed with a winter variety.  

Zoysiagrass

Though it is slow-growing, once established, Zoysiagrass offers a dense, carpetlike grass cover. It handles high traffic well and will grow in full sun or shade. The most drought-tolerant cultivars include El Toro, Jamur, and Palisades.

Drought-Tolerant Cool Season Grasses 

Cool-season drought-tolerant grasses have different water requirements and are not all suited for foot traffic. Take care when choosing the right variety for your yard, especially if you have kids or pets. 

Buffalograss 

Native to plains states from Texas to North Dakota, buffalograss can handle winter lows and summer highs. It does particularly well with heavy clay soils and low rainfall but isn’t well-equipped to handle high traffic. This slow-grower requires less mowing than other varieties but also takes longer to establish than other grass types. It does best mowed high (to 5 inches), making it a poor choice for heavy foot traffic.

Kentucky Bluegrass

Northern states are the ideal location for this aggressive, emerald-green lawn grass. While severe droughts may bring on dormancy, Kentucky bluegrass recovers quickly once watering resumes. This grass type can be a bit slow to green up come spring, but overseeding with a little ryegrass can help speed up the process. 

Tall Fescue

This coarse-textured turfgrass can handle heavy foot traffic and with consistent mowing, provides a dense carpet of grass. Tall fescue needs less than an inch of water per week, and the dwarf varieties are the most drought-tolerant of them all.  

Caring for Drought-Tolerant Grasses

While drought-resistant turf grasses are cultivated for their ability to survive periods of low rainfall, how you manage your turf will contribute to its drought tolerance. Deep and infrequent watering will help to encourage deep root growth, which increases resistance to drought. Likewise, mowing at the recommended height will also increase the chances of survival. 

Jim Baird, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources turf expert, recommends checking your irrigation system to ensure it’s watering evenly. ” We suggest homeowners test their sprinklers by placing cans around the lawn and running sprinklers to see if the water is being applied uniformly.” He suggests mowing at the tallest recommended height to encourage healthy, deep root development.

It’s important to continue caring for your grass during a water-scarce period. Don’t assume drought-tolerant means your lawn doesn’t need any irrigation. During a drought, Baird reminds us, “The grass may not be as lush and green as usual,” noting, “but you can still have a lawn where kids and pets can play.” He cautions against letting a lawn die back too much during a drought because only weeds may come back in its place.

If your drought-tolerant grass suffers in shady areas, you may want to consider some lawn alternatives beneath trees such as ground cover plants. You can also take measures to encourage grass growth in the shade.

You can have a drought-tolerant lawn, no matter where you live. With a little effort and care, your water-wise lawn can save you time and money and look great (almost) year-round.

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Written by Danielle Bradley

Danielle Bradley is a botanist who experiments with native plants from every region in the U.S. She’s dedicated to companion planting without the use of pesticides. Her own garden is filled with a variety of colors and textures.

About Wikilawn

Wikilawn’s mission is to provide the best resources and information to help you enjoy your outdoor spaces the way you want. Whether you are a DIY, lawn-loving, gardening guru, or someone who wants help in picking a local lawn care professional, we can smooth your path to a beautiful backyard!

About Wikilawn

Wikilawn’s mission is to provide the best resources and information to help you enjoy your outdoor spaces the way you want. Whether you are a DIY, lawn-loving, gardening guru, or someone who wants help in picking a local lawn care professional, we can smooth your path to a beautiful backyard!

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