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 dry, scorching 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 in periods of drought, landscaping is often the first target for water restrictions. Luckily, there are drought-tolerant grasses available for all Hardiness Zones – a handy metric the USDA uses to determine which plants thrive in which regions.

These drought-tolerant turfgrasses will keep your yard green no matter the weather.

1. Zoysiagrass

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

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

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. Full sun is best, but it can tolerate shade.

Cost: Zoysiagrass sod has an average cost of around 50 cents per square foot.

2. 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 perfect for lawns in the western prairie and plains, but cultivars have developed to extend its adaptation regions.

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 important 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’s at risk of weed competition. 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.

3. Bermudagrass

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

Bermudagrass can be considered a convenient turfgrass option 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. As a lawn grass, however, its resilience makes it appealing for homeowners in warmer climates.

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.

4. Kentucky Bluegrass

Kentucky bluegrass is less drought-tolerant than other fescues, but its ability to go dormant under stress helps it weather drought with reduced watering. This cool-season grass is adapted to a wide range of climates, and can handle both warm summers and cold winters.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-9

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

Care: Kentucky bluegrass is particularly drought-tolerant when it’s 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.

5. Red Fescue

Red 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 runs around $7 per pound, while Chewings fescue seed is approximately $6 per pound.

6. Bahiagrass

Bahiagrass is a warm-season grass that’s 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.

7. St. Augustinegrass

Photo Credit: Jeff Herman Photo

St. Augustinegrass is a shade-tolerant warm-season grass. Native to the Gulf Coast, it creates a lush blue-green lawn with dense turf. It has a high tolerance for salt, making it ideal for coastal regions. 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.

Drought-Tolerant Ornamental Grasses

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

With these hardy ornamental grasses, however, you’ll 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 a great 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 for smaller ones this may not be necessary.

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

2. Blue Fescue

Blue Fescue in the Garden
Photo Credit: cultivar413 / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Blue fescue is also known as sheep grass, and it’s prized for its drought tolerance and beautiful silver-blue to blue-green color. In mild climates, it stays green year-round. Blue fescue is a versatile plant that thrives in many conditions and can be grown in rock gardens, rain gardens, or as landscape edging.

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, though it’s also found in some parts of the Midwest and Northeast. This resilient warm-season grass overwinters by turning a beautiful bronze color, and 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 doesn’t have any serious pest problems. It’s difficult to start from seed and is often grown from plugs or divisions.

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

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 of time.

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 better survive stress periods like drought.

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’re choosing between options or need help setting up your drought-tolerant yard, our LawnStarter pros are just a call or click away.

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.