Solved! The Best Drought-Resistant Grass for Dry Summers
Keep your lawn lush even in low-rainfall periods with these hardy grasses.
Q: I want to reseed my lawn with a grass that can tolerate the scarce rainfall my region has been getting in recent summers. What’s the best drought-resistant grass?
A: You’re wise to factor drought resistance into your choice of turf. When a dry season strikes, either due to a period of little rainfall or prolonged local watering restrictions, water-loving grasses like Carpet grass will quickly brown and die due to their high watering requirements, shallow roots, or poor ability to go dormant temporarily. Not so with drought-tolerant grasses that can survive and even retain their green good looks during a dry spell—thanks to low watering requirements, efficient root systems, above-or below-ground stems that repair bare or damaged grass patches, and/or the ability to go dormant and recover when water is restored. Read on to learn the best drought-resistant grass to plant for a verdant dry-season turf.
Choose a grass that thrives in your climate.
Like all turf grasses, drought-resistant grasses fall into two categories: warm-season or cool-season. Choose the right grass for your climate zone to ensure that it grows well in the temperatures in your area.
- Warm-season grasses grow best in areas that see hot summers and milder winters, such as the Deep South and the southeast.
- Cool-season grasses thrive in places with temperate summers and many below- freezing winter days, including Northern California, the Pacific Northwest, the upper Great Plains, the upper Midwest, and New England.
- Take your pick of cool-season or warm-season grasses if you live in the “Transition Zone” between the north and south (e.g., from Southern California going east to the Virginias), where both types of grasses grow well.
The best drought-resistant grasses for warm-season climates include Bermuda, Zoysia, and St. Augustine.
- Bermuda grass, known for dense, dark green blades, is touted as the most drought-resistant warm-season grass. As a low water user, it only needs one to 1.25 inches of water weekly from rainfall or irrigation to stay green. Whatever water it does receive, it uses efficiently, as its deep roots, extending up to six feet, can take up water from deep within the ground. After an extended drought of around 50 days, Bermuda grass can also go dormant for up to three to four weeks without dying, which allows it to recover its plus pile and true color when watering is restored. The most drought-tolerant varieties of Bermuda grass include Texturf and Celebration.
- Zoysia grass only needs 0.5 to one inch of water weekly to retain its thick, soft, light to medium green color. It also has the ability to go dormant for three to four weeks without dying after an extended drought of around 30 days, and thanks to far-reaching underground stems called rhizomes, it can self-repair bare or drought-damaged turf. The most drought-resistant Zoysia varieties are El Toro, Jamur, and Palisade.
- St. Augustine grass can endure drought conditions through its above-ground stems called stolons that help repair drought-damaged patches on your lawn. The coarse, light to dark green grass also has minimal irrigation needs of one inch weekly. After around 45 days of drought, Floratam, the most drought-hardy variety, can also go dormant for three to four weeks without dying.
The best drought-tolerant grasses in cool-season climates include Tall Fescue, Fine Fescue, and Kentucky Bluegrass.
- Tall Fescue, a narrow-leaved, dark green grass, is among the best drought-resistant cool-season grasses due to its minimal irrigation needs of one to 1.25 inches of water weekly. It uses water efficiently, as its roots can grow between two to three feet long to access water deep in the soil. The dwarf-type varieties of Tall Fescue are among the most drought-tolerant.
- Fine fescue attributes its drought resistance to low watering requirements, as little as 0.75 to 1 inch of water weekly, and underground rhizomes that help repair drought-damaged grass to restore its thin, deep green blades. Creeping red and Chewings are the most drought-resistant varieties.
- Kentucky Bluegrass needs one to 1.5 inches of water weekly to retain the characteristic bright green to blue-green color of its flat, narrow, or folded leaves. But its underground rhizomes effectively repair drought-damaged turf to recover its color. Huntsville is among the most drought-tolerant of Kentucky Bluegrass varieties.
Maintain the drought-hardiness of your lawn by planting in the appropriate growing season and minimizing other sources of stress to your lawn.
Plant cool-season grasses in the early fall or spring, and warm-season grasses in early summer or spring, to ensure faster seed germination. During dry spells, use the tips below to maintain the health of your drought-resistant grass. If it’s too late in the season to plant grass seeds, or you don’t have the time or desire to reseed your existing lawn, you can also enlist these techniques to make a traditional turf more tolerant of dry conditions:
- Mow minimally. Because mower blades can put additional stress on already drought-damaged turf, mow no more than every 10 to 14 days during a drought, cutting no more than one-third of the height of the grass each time. Be sure to use sharp blades, as dull ones can lead to jagged grass that can easily dry out. And only mow when the soil is dry to avoid soil compaction, which reduces water uptake in the grass.
- Leave grass clippings on the turf (no more than one-half-inch thick) after mowing; as they decompose, they can add moisture to the soil and keep grass from drying out.
- Keep pets and kids off of a drought-stressed lawn, as the weight of foot traffic can increase soil compaction.
- Aerate your lawn biannually to improve water penetration into the roots and encourage healthy grass growth.
- Water grass regularly and deeply during a drought, usually at least every seven to 10 days, each time watering until the top six to eight inches of soil is wet.
- Driving a screwdriver into the soil can help you assess approximately how deeply you watered.
- If you’re under tight watering restrictions, and planted a turf grass such as Bermuda with a strong ability to go dormant, water only high-priority areas of the lawn, such as grass near flower beds in the front yard, and let other areas go dormant, to keep the lawn looking beautiful while conserving water.