Growing Drought-Tolerant Grasses

If you’re looking to conserve water, why not start with your lawn? Choosing drought-tolerant grass will save you money on your water bill. Not only do they need less water, these grass types also don’t need to be mowed or fertilized as often, which will save you time and even more money. 

Drought-Tolerant Grasses

  • Tall Fescue – cool season
  • Sheep Fescue – cool season
  • Ryegrass – cool season
  • Bermudagrass – warm season
  • Buffalograss – warm season
  • Zoysiagrass – warm season
  • St. Augustinegrass – warm season
  • Bahiagrass – warm season

As the name implies, drought-tolerant grasses can survive and even stay green during dry spells. This is helpful if you live in a drier climate or in a community with water restrictions. There are two types of turfgrass to consider when you’re switching to a drought-resistant variety: cool-season and warm-season grass. Choose the type that’s best suited for your climate to increase their hardiness and decrease the time you spend on lawn care. 

Cool-Season Grasses

This type of grass thrives in areas with cold winters and hot summers. Its preferred temperature range is 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit, which is why you’ll see more active growth in the spring and fall. These varieties are most common in the upper third of the United States. You’ll also find them in the Midwest, or the “transition zone,” where cool-season and warm-season grasses overlap. They will go dormant in winter when the temperatures get cold. 

Tall Fescue

Tall fescue is becoming more popular as a low-maintenance grass. Credit: North Carolina State Extension Service

Tall fescue grass is a course-textured, bunching grass with a wide blade that grows well in full sun and shade. It’s becoming more popular as a turfgrass because it looks like other varieties, but doesn’t need as much maintenance. It is well suited to the transition zone because it tolerates both high heat and drought. Its root system reaches deep (2-3 feet), allowing it to find moisture deep in the soil. It only needs 1-1 ¾ inches of water a week.

Sheep fescue is another excellent choice for a drought-tolerant lawn. It needs little water and only infrequent mowing (two to three times a year, and not at all during the summer). Because of its bumpy surface, it’s not ideal for backyard play.

Ryegrass

Ryegrass is a tough, low maintenance grass that grows quickly and holds up well to foot traffic. It’s most commonly used in grass seed mixtures rather than as a stand-alone lawn grass. There are perennial and annual types, and the perennial variety is what you’ll find in permanent lawns. 

Warm-Season Grasses

You’ll find warm-season grasses in the southern United States. They prefer temperatures of 80-95 degrees Fahrenheit. Their most active growth happens in late spring through the summer.

Bermudagrass

Bermudagrass has the most drought-tolerance of the warm-season grasses. It tolerates heat, drought, high traffic, and even salt, making it popular for lawns, golf courses and football fields in the South. It has deep roots that can extend up to 6 feet, meaning it can find water far underground. It stays green all year in areas where it doesn’t freeze and can recover quickly after going dormant during a drought. It does require more maintenance than some. It needs 1 ¼ inches of water a week during the hottest months. It also grows rapidly, so you’ll need to mow it every five to seven days.

Buffalograss

Buffalograss isn’t thirsty but loves sun. Credit: Colorado State University Extension.

Buffalograss is native to the Midwest and is growing in popularity as a turfgrass. It’s thick and can survive on less than 1/4 inch of water a week. Newer cultivars are easier to establish in your yard, but it’s still slow to start. The Colorado State University Extension says, “The development of attractive turf-type cultivars and greater availability of seed, sod, and plugs has generated new interest in this grass for home lawns.”

Zoysiagrass

Zoyia gives a dense, low-maintenance mat. Credit: Wikimedia

Zoysiagrass will give you a dense, green lawn with little maintenance. It grows well in southern states and in the transition zone. It turns brown during winter dormancy, but this happens later in the fall than with other warm-season grass. It also greens up earlier in the spring than other varieties and can grow in partial shade. Like Bermudagrass, it will recover after going dormant in a drought. Zoysia lawns need about an inch of water a week.

St. Augustinegrass

St. Augustinegrass is a coarser grass that holds up under some foot traffic. It stays green, even when going dormant in the winter, but it is susceptible to disease if overwatered.

Bahiagrass

Bahiagrass tolerates drought and poor soil conditions. It’s also disease- and pest-resistant, but it won’t do well in shady areas. 

Switching a thirsty, high maintenance lawn to one that is water-wise and drought-tolerant is a good ecological and economical choice. You’ll spend less time and money on watering, mowing and fertilizing your lawn, while still having a green outdoor space to enjoy.

Main image credit: Anton Croos, Art of Photography

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Written by Jay Keaton

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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