The Heat is On – Selecting a Drought Resistant Grass

The heat and maybe even the humidity is bad enough during those dog days of summer, but maybe what really gets to you is the brown, dry lawn that just can’t seem to keep up, even with all the water you’re pouring onto it. It’s time to look at some warm-season drought resistant grass.

Making Ordinary Grasses More Drought Resistant

The Heat is On - Selecting a Drought Resistant Grass

Did you know that the cultural practices you use can help make regular grasses more drought resistant? Here are a few ideas you might try before working on reseeding your lawn with the latest and greatest drought-resistant grass varieties; these ideas will also work to get your drought resistant varieties well established and surviving strongly through the summer heat.

What kind of soil do you have? Sandy soil drains off water faster, shortening the amount of time that plant roots are able to draw up the water. A cup of sand particles had a much smaller amount of surface area to hold water versus smaller clay particles that can do a better job of holding water.

How deep is your soil? If you’ve got a slender layer of topsoil on top of bedrock or hardpan (heavily compacted soil), your plant roots may not be able to penetrate deeply enough to be able to take up water during a drought when the water table drops.

Have you been pampering your lawn? It may be time for a little tough love. A lawn watered on a daily basis has no reason to develop deep roots, because there is always surface water available. This will come back to bite you when it’s hot and the water is baking off before it can soak in.

So what can you do to fix these issues? The first answer is organic matter. Organic matter in the soil is exactly what it sounds like – bits of leaves, thatch, earthworm casings and bug remains that provide a world of good to the soil. Organic matter holds moisture and nutrients for the plants to use at a phenomenally higher rate than even the tiny clay particles we discussed above.

Finding the Right Drought Resistant Grass

Tall Fescue

Tall fescue is based off of a wild variety found in Kentucky in 1931. It tends to be somewhat coarse in leaf, but grows in poorly fertilized soils. In well prepared soil, it can develop a deep root system, making it more drought resistant. Though some fine fescue varieties have been developed that have a finer leaf blade, they’re not as drought resistant. Heavily compacted clay soils can prevent this cool-season grass from putting down deep roots.


Smooth Brome

Smooth brome grass was imported to the U.S. from Hungary during the 1800’s. It’s a low-maintenance cool season grass with wide blades and is often used for erosion control on roadways. It can be invasive in areas, so you’ll want to keep an eye on it to keep it from spreading more than you’d like.


Blue Grama Grass

Blue grama grass is a U.S. native warm season grass. A very low maintenance and drought resistant type, it typically grows no higher than 15″ and does not require much mowing to keep it short. It is not very shade tolerant and doesn’t do well with high amounts of traffic. It also does not do well at elevations above 6,500 feet.


Buffalo Grass

Another U.S. native grass, buffalo grass is very similar in temperament to blue grama grass. It is also very drought resistant, does not grow quickly, requires little fertilizer and is a warm-season grass. It also is not shade tolerant, can’t deal well with high traffic areas and does not grow well above 6,500 feet in elevation.


Bermuda Grass

Bermuda grass is wonderful for higher traffic areas but requires more frequent mowing than other warm-season grasses. It has consistent growth from June to August, making it have a more even appearance as the summer goes on. It does not tolerate poorly drained soil and spreads vegetatively.


Zoysia Grass

Often used in golf courses, zoysia grass is a warm weather grass that spreads vegetatively and creates a dense planting. It is drought resistant, requires little in the way of mowing or fertilizer and is a hardy, pest-resistant turf grass. It does go dormant faster than other warm season grasses.


These drought resistant grass varieties will create a beautiful lawn for you year-round.

About the author

Matt Hagens

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