Water consumption is a serious issue in many parts of North America, with many urban areas experiencing usage restrictions of some form during the dry months of summer. Watering lawns and gardens is a large part of the overall water usage in any city. To conserve water, it makes sense to plant lawn grasses that are naturally drought-resistant.
Grasses that do well in dry conditions share some common characteristics. Deep, well-developed root systems that can access water at depth are typical of drought resistant varieties. But there must be a thick layer of soil that retains water for deeper root systems to be effective. Cultivars such as zoysia grass have low water requirements and retain their moisture well. This helps to keep the foliage green through minor dry spells.
Regardless of their hardiness and drought tolerance, all types of grass turf require maintenance. In extended periods of drought, grass will naturally go into dormancy and turn brown or straw color. Once dormant, most cultivars will remain that way until temperatures cool, and they will not respond to irrigation. When considering grass seed for dry conditions, the variety chosen should reduce the need for mowing, watering and fertilizing, but it will not eliminate them.
Zoysia grass, Bermuda grass and St. Augustine grass are all drought-resistant varieties that grow well in warmer regions. However, they are not cold-hardy, so their usage is limited in the United States to the southern and coastal regions. For cooler climates, both buffalo grass and tall fescue are good at withstanding droughts and are fairly adaptable to various soil conditions. Certain varieties of Kentucky bluegrass are also resilient and can be planted in most climates.
Water conservation is the most obvious benefit of planting drought-tolerant grasses. Heavy water consumers, such as golf courses, sports fields, parks and cemeteries, can reduce their usage by thousands of gallons per year. Low maintenance grasses also provide cost savings by reducing fertilizer requirements and lowering fuel expenses for mowers and other equipment.
Research and Development
As water becomes a scarce resource in many parts of the United States, research into drought-resistant turf grass has increased. Private seed companies and university horticulture departments continually test new grass cultivars in the hope of developing less water-intensive varieties. As an example, there are now more than 100 types of Kentucky bluegrass that are available as seed. When planted in good soil, some of these cultivars can be quite drought-resistant.