Top 10 Drought-Tolerant Grasses for Your Yard

Top 10 Drought-Tolerant Grasses for Your Yard

You spend a lot of time and money on your lawn and don’t want to see it wilt in scorching, dry conditions. With climate change making rainfall unpredictable, you may want to select drought-tolerant grass for your yard. In this article, we’ll introduce you to the top 10 drought-tolerant grasses.

Drought-Tolerant Turfgrasses

Turfgrass can use up a lot of water, and landscaping is often the first target for water restrictions in periods of drought. While there isn’t a grass that doesn’t need water, drought-tolerant grasses are available for all Hardiness Zones – a handy metric the USDA uses to determine which plants thrive in which regions.

What is the Best Grass for Drought?

The best grass for heat and drought for you will depend on your location (growing zone, average climate), soil type, activity, and sun exposure. The following drought-tolerant turfgrasses will keep your yard green no matter the weather.

A picture showing the distribution of various grasses

When it comes to choosing grass for your lawn, you have two main options: warm-season grasses and cool-season grasses. Warm-season grasses thrive in hot summer temperatures and go dormant during the winter, while cool-season grasses thrive in cooler temperatures and may struggle in extreme heat.

In the transition zone, where the climate can fluctuate between hot summers and cold winters, choosing the right grass can be a bit more challenging. It’s important to select grass varieties that can tolerate both hot and cold temperatures to ensure a healthy and green lawn year-round.

Drought-Tolerant Warm-Season Grasses

1. Bahiagrass

Photo Credit: Forest and Kim Starr / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

A warm-season grass, bahiagrass is native to South America and particularly common in the Southeast U.S. Its deep root systems and prolific seed production make it tolerant of drought, shade, and poor drainage, and it’s also resistant to many pests and diseases.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 7-10

Varieties: Common bahiagrass, Pensacola bahiagrass

Care: Bahiagrass should be planted in the spring to avoid the worst of weed competition, and be sure to keep control over weeds during establishment.

Cost: A five-pound bag of bahiagrass seed is available for around $35.

Grass Seed Options 

Pensacola Bahiagrass:
Scotts Turf Builder Pensacola Bahiagrass (5 lb. bag)
SeedRanch Pensacola Bahiagrass Seed (10 lb. bag)
Hancock Seed Co. Pensacola Bahiagrass Seed (50 lb. bag)
Argentine Bahiagrass:
Scotts Turf Builder Argentine Bahiagrass (10 lb. bag)
Hancock Seed Co. Argentine Bahiagrass Seed Mix (25 lb. bag)

2. Bermudagrass

Photo Credit: Forest and Kim Starr / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Bermudagrass can be a convenient turfgrass or a troublesome weed, depending on the needs of your yard. In agriculture, it’s considered a pest for corn fields and vineyards and is difficult to eradicate due to its deep rhizomes and seed production. However, as a lawn grass, Bermudagrass is often recommended for areas with heavy foot traffic.

Native to tropical and subtropical regions, Bermudagrass thrives with heavy rainfall but can survive in arid climates with some supplemental watering. Its ability to go dormant and produce seeds under stress conditions helps it survive extreme drought.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-9

Varieties: Sunturf, Tiflawn

Care: Bermudagrass needs plenty of nitrogen in its soil, so you may want to apply fertilizer. With frequent mowing and adequate fertilization and watering, Bermudagrass produces a dense, dark green turf. It does produce a lot of pollen, however.

Cost: Bermudagrass seed costs between $7 and $10 per pound.

Grass Seed Options:

Pennington Bermudagrass Bare Spot (5 lb. bag)
Pennington Smart Seed Bermudagrass Mix (8.75-lb. bag)
Scotts Turf Builder Bermudagrass (10-lb. bag)
Hancock Seed Co. Bermudagrass (50-lb. bag)

3. Buffalograss

Buffalograss yard
Photo Credit: Titus Tscharntke / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

Buffalograss is the only grass native to North America used as turfgrass, making it perfect for homeowners who prefer to grow native species. This warm-season grass gets its name from the American bison, who eat it as a forage diet.

Buffalograss is among the most heat- and drought-tolerant turfgrass species. Historically, it’s been one of the best grasses for dry climates in the western prairie and plains, but cultivars have been developed to extend its adaptation region.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-9

Varieties: Legacy (zones 3-6), Prestige (zones 5-9), Bison, Bowie, Plains

Care: The best time to plant is late spring or early summer. Proper irrigation is essential while planting, but once established, it can survive without watering, and it should only be watered to prevent dormancy or keep the grass growing.

Buffalograss is low-density, so it requires good weed control. Don’t overfertilize or use products that aren’t labeled for buffalograss.

Cost: Buffalograss is more expensive than other turfgrass varieties due to the difficulty of harvesting seeds. Seed packets run around $8 per ounce.

Grass Seed Options:

Everwilde Farms Buffalograss Seeds (1 lb. of seeds)
Buffalograss seed (primed) (5-lb. bag)

4. St. Augustinegrass

St Augustine Grass
Photo Credit: Stickpen / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

A shade-tolerant warm-season grass, St. Augustinegrass is native to the Gulf Coast. It creates a lush blue-green lawn with dense turf and has a high salt tolerance, making it ideal for coastal regions. It’s a popular choice in Texas, as it’s also drought-tolerant and won’t need watering until it shows signs of stress.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 8-11

Varieties: Palmetto, Floratam, Raleigh, Mercedes, Bitterblue, Jade

Care: St. Augustinegrass can be high maintenance and should be mown at the recommended height and fertilized regularly. It is susceptible to winter injury and damage from chinch bugs.

Cost: St. Augustinegrass installation is typically around 80 cents per square foot.

Grass Plug Options:
Seed Ranch St Augustine Seville Grass Plugs (2 Trays)
Seed Ranch St Augustine Floratam Grass Plugs (2 Trays)

5. Zoysiagrass

Photo Credit: Forest & Kim Starr / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

Zoysia is a drought-tolerant warm-season turfgrass that does particularly well in the transition zone where lawns experience both brutal heat and chilling cold. Zoysiagrass thrives with little maintenance and occasional watering and tolerates cold, heat, and partial shade.

Zoysiagrass is often grown in hot, humid climates such as those in the southern United States and California. 

USDA Hardiness Zones: 6-11

Varieties: Meyer, Zenith (zones 6-7); Cavalier, Zorro, Emerald, El Toro, Zenith, Zeon (zones 8-10)

Care: Zoysiagrass will take longer to establish than other turfgrasses, but once settled, it requires less mowing and repairs itself, though it is slow to do so. Full sun is best, but it can tolerate some shade.

Cost: Zoysiagrass sod has an average cost of around 60 cents per square foot

Grass Plug and Seed Options:

Zoysia Plugs (50 Large Grass Plugs)
Zoysia Plugs (50 Full & Lush Grass Plugs)
Zoysia Plugs (100 Plugs)
Zoysia Emerald Grass Seeds (1/8 lb. of seeds)
Zenith Zenith Grass Seeds (1/8 lb. of seeds)

Drought-Tolerant Cool-Season Grasses

6. Kentucky Bluegrass

Kentucky Bluegrass
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

This cool-season grass has been bred to handle both warm summers and cold winters. Kentucky bluegrass is less drought-tolerant than red fescue, but its ability to go dormant under stress helps it weather drought with reduced watering.

To minimize disease, consider planting a combination of Kentucky bluegrass (KBG) and other cool-season grasses like tall fescue or perennial ryegrass in your yard. These grasses offer improved disease resistance.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-9

Varieties: Kentucky bluegrass has hundreds of cultivars due to its long development history, including Galaxy, Merion, and Windsor.

Care: Kentucky bluegrass is remarkably drought-tolerant when young, but thatch buildup will reduce its resilience. It can be paired with other drought-tolerant grasses to increase lawn health and shade tolerance.

Cost: Kentucky bluegrass seed costs around $7.50 per pound.

Grass Seed Options:

Jonathan Green (11970) Blue Panther Kentucky Bluegrass Grass Seed (3 lbs.)
SeedRanch Midnight Kentucky Bluegrass Seed (5 lbs.)
Jacklin Seed – Biltmore Blue Blend – 100% Kentucky Bluegrass (5 lbs.)

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7. Red Fescue

Fine Fescue
Red Fescue
Photo Credit: Forest and Kim Starr / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Red fescue, a type of fine fescue, is a low-maintenance, cool-season grass that thrives in shade and cold conditions. It’s a perfect companion for Kentucky bluegrass and can go dormant in the summer to weather drought.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 1-7 (perennial); 8-10 (annual)

Varieties: Creeping red fescue, Chewings fescue

Care: Red fescue doesn’t need much fertilizer or water. It should be mown relatively high. While it does well in shade, cold, and drought, it has low heat tolerance.

Cost: Creeping red fescue seed costs around $7 per pound, while Chewings fescue seed costs approximately $6 per pound.

Grass Seed Options:

Outsidepride Legacy Fine Fescue Grass Seed (5 lbs.)
Eretz Creeping Red Fine Fescue Seed (choose your size)
Outsidepride Creeping Red Fine Fescue Grass Seed (25 lbs.)
Outsidepride Hard Fine Fescue Grass Seed (10 lbs.)

Drought-Tolerant Ornamental Grasses

If you want to add drought-tolerant accents to your yard, check your local ordinances first. In Nevada, a recent water conservation law now bans decorative grasses at office parks, housing developments, and street medians. 

If you live in an area without such restrictions, these hardy ornamental grasses will help you save water and keep your front yard fresh.

1. Fountain Grass

Purple Fountain Grass in the yard
Photo Credit: Matt Lavin / Flickr / CC BY SA 2.0

Fountain grass provides an elegant appearance, with clumps of draping leaves and flower spikes that sway in the breeze. It prefers dry soils with full sun, making it an excellent choice for a drought-tolerant yard, but it can thrive in partial shade and most soil conditions.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 4-10

Varieties: Fox Trot (zone 4), Cassian (zones 5-6), Redhead (zones 5-6)

Care: Fountain grass can become invasive in warmer climates, and it may struggle to survive in wet years. It’s recommended to divide and replant clumps every three years to rejuvenate the plant, though this may not be necessary for smaller ones.

Cost: A gallon pot of fountain grass costs about $25.

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2. Blue Fescue

blue fescue grass in a lawn
Photo Credit: vblinov / Canva Pro / License

Blue fescue is also known as sheep grass, and it’s prized for its drought tolerance and beautiful silver-blue to blue-green color that enhances rock gardens. In mild climates, it stays green year-round. In addition to landscape edging, blue fescue can also be used in rain gardens.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 4-9

Varieties: Elijah Blue, Sea Urchin, Boulder Blue

Care: Blue fescue can be short-lived in wet soil and areas with high temperatures. It should be trimmed back to 3 or 4 inches in early spring to remove dead foliage and allow new growth.

Cost: “Boulder Blue” blue fescue plants are available for about $15.

3. Prairie Dropseed

Prairie Dropseed in the yard
Photo Credit: Photo by David J. Stang / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Prairie dropseed is a unique ornamental grass native to the Great Plains and some parts of the Midwest and Northeast. This resilient warm-season grass overwinters as a ground cover by turning a beautiful bronze color. In the summer, it grows tiny pink-and-brown flowers with a smell that resembles licorice or popcorn.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-9

Varieties: Tara, Morning Mist

Care: Prairie dropseed tolerates both drought and periodic wet conditions. Once established, it requires very little care aside from removing old foliage in early spring and has no serious pest problems. It’s challenging to start from seed and is often grown from plugs or divisions.

Cost: A 12-pack of plugs costs about $30.

Honorable Mentions

Not all drought-tolerant grasses fit in our list above, so here are a few alternatives that also work well in low-water landscaping designs.

  • Blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis):  A warm-season, low-growing native grass that performs well in light traffic areas. Blue grama is known for its horizontal seed heads and is popular for its ability to add texture and visual interest to landscapes.
  • Pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana): A tall, perennial grass native to South America, known for its large plume-like flower heads. Widely cultivated for its ornamental value, it can grow up to 10 feet tall and is a good option when landscaping for privacy.
  • Pink Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris): This perennial ornamental grass is native to the southeastern United States. This grass forms dense clumps of narrow, arching leaves and produces feathery pink flowers in the fall, which adds color to autumn landscapes
  • Sedges (Carex spp.): Sedges are evergreen plants that can be used as groundcover or as ornamental grass. There are more than 100 different varieties of sedges, which are a popular eco-friendly grass alternative for low maintenance lawns.

FAQ About Drought-Tolerant Grasses

What Makes Grass Drought-Tolerant?

Drought-tolerant grass can weather periods of drought on minimal water through dormancy and other adaptations. “Drought-tolerant” shouldn’t be confused with “drought-resistant” – the latter means that a plant can survive on NO water for long periods.

How Do You Keep Grass Healthy in Drought?

To keep your grass healthy in drought, reduce fertilization, water deeply and less frequently to encourage longer root growth, and mow your grass at the highest recommended height.

Does Taller Grass Survive Drought Better?

Yes, mowing your grass at the highest recommended height will increase leaf area to encourage more photosynthesis, allowing grass to survive stress periods like drought better.

When to Call a Lawn Care Pro for Help

If you’re brainstorming the perfect drought-tolerant grasses for your yard, a professional can provide insight on the best options for your area and your lawn’s needs. Whether you need help to choose between options or set up your drought-tolerant yard, our LawnStarter pros are just a call or click away.

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Main Photo Credit: Forest & Kim Starr / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

Annie Parnell

Annie Parnell

Originally from the Washington, D.C., area, Annie Parnell is a freelance writer and audio producer based in Richmond, Virginia. She is passionate about gardening, outdoor recreation, sustainability, and all things music and pop culture.