10 Drought-Resistant Grasses for Low-Maintenance Lawns

tips for establishing a drought-resistant turf lawn illustration

Treehugger / Ellen Lindner

It's hard to imagine a suburban neighborhood without its trademark green lawns. Grass lawns are, however, proven water hogs that cover more than 50,000 square miles of land in the United States , and account for 30 to 60% of Americans' domestic water usage. Luckily, not all grasses are created equal. There are hardy grass varieties adapted to both cool and warm climates that can thrive in dry conditions. Before you make a decision, consider consulting a local nursery or expert gardener to learn more about native options.

Here are 10 drought-tolerant grass varieties that can help create a low-maintenance lawn. 

Warning

Some of the plants on this list are toxic to pets. For more information about the safety of specific plants, consult the ASPCA's searchable database.

1
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Zoysia Grass (Zoysia japonica)

A field of bright green grass

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Zoysia grass is a slow-growing, warm-weather perennial grass that thrives in marine and temperate climates. It is highly drought tolerant, but still prefers high humidity. It tends to grow into a tight, matlike structure, and can form small mounds on the ground when it's left unmowed. Due to its dense, lush nature, it naturally resists weeds, and can make a great grass for foot traffic and active use. It goes dormant over winter, but returns to life early in spring, since it's one of the most cold-tolerant warm-season grasses.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 5-10.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun; becomes patchy in shady areas.
  • Soil Needs: Prefers slightly acidic soil (6 to 6.5 pH); tolerates a wide variety of soil types.
2
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Buffalo Grass (Bouteloua dactyloides)

A patch of wide-bladed green grass that has been mowed short

Titus Tscharntke / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Buffalo grass is a warm-season perennial grass that makes a great choice in hot, dry landscapes. It can be grown from seed or sod, and can survive on as little as an inch of water per month. A prairie grass native to the United States and Canada, it is one of the dominant species found across natural landscapes in the Great Plains. Left unmowed, it can grow to about a foot tall, and produce floral spikes.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3-9.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Prefers clay loam, tolerates most soils.
3
of 10

St. Augustine Grass (Stenotaphrum secundatum)

A close up shot of short, green grass

Ruth Peterkin / Getty Images

St. Augustine grass is a perennial warm-season grass that is tolerant of both drought and partial sunlight, which makes it a great choice for shady yards in warm climates. It is also tolerant of the salt spray common in coastal areas. St. Augustine grass has only been cultivated widely in recent years, and it can be difficult to find seeds — most homeowners resort to planting sod or plugs.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 8-10.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun or partial shade.
  • Soil Needs: Tolerates most soils, including acidic and alkaline; does not do well in waterlogged or compacted soil.
4
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Blue Grama (Bouteloua gracilis)

A patch of unmowed grass against a blue sky

SharonFoelz / Getty Images

Blue grama is a warm-season perennial grass native to the prairies of North America. It's a hardy species that is highly drought resistant and an excellent choice for homeowners in the western United States looking to use native species in their lawns. It's often sold as a seed mix along with buffalo grass, another common prairie grass in the United States. It doesn't handle foot traffic as well as some species, but has many other positive traits: it's a slow grower, cold tolerant, and a great choice for unmowed areas, since it only grows 12-14 inches high at maturity.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4-9.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Prefers dry, loamy soils; tolerates most soils, but grows slowly in true sand and clay.
5
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Tall Fescue (Festuca arundinacea)

A patch of short, unmown green grass with seed pods
Sheryl Watson / Getty Images

Tall fescue is a cool-season perennial grass best suited to northern climates. It has a deep root system that makes it very drought tolerant, and once it is established, it doesn't require much water. It is among the most heat tolerant of the cool-season grasses, making it a good choice for cooler climates that are prone to heat waves. Compared to fine fescues like red fescue, this grass has wider, coarser blades.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3-8.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade.
  • Soil Needs: Prefers slightly acidic to neutral soil; tolerates most soil types.
6
of 10

Bahiagrass (Paspalum notatum)

A field of unmowed, bright green grass

John Robert McPherson / Wikimedia Commons /  CC BY-SA 4.0

Bahiagrass is a warm-season perennial grass known for its hardy nature and extreme heat and drought resistance. It's also known as highwaygrass, because it grows readily in the poor soil of road medians. This also makes it a great choice for erosion control on steep slopes with subpar soil. It's best adapted to the sandy, acidic soil of the Gulf Coast and southeast United States, and is native to South America.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 7-10.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Prefers sandy, acidic soil; tolerates neutral (pH of 7) and fertile soils.
7
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Red Fescue (Festuca rubra)

A bright green patch of tall grass
Helmut Meyer zur Capellen / Getty Images

Red fescue is a cool-season perennial grass that thrives in temperate climates and shady areas. In the United States, it grows best in the northeast. It's distinguished by its fine, needlelike leaves and springy nature. It's a good choice for unmowed yards, thanks to its lush, dense growing habits. It can also be used as an ornamental grass in gardens and as ground cover under shade trees or in orchards.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 1-7.
  • Sun Exposure: Partial shade or mostly shade.
  • Soil Needs: Prefers rich, slightly acidic soils; can tolerate poor soils and alkaline soil.
8
of 10

Western Wheatgrass (Pascopyrum smithii)

An overhead view of a patch of bright green wheatgrass

Jason Jones Travel Photography / Getty Images

Western wheatgrass is a cool-season perennial grass native to the midwestern and western United States. It can tolerate most conditions found in arid climates, including cold snaps, spring flooding, hot summers, and partial shade. It does not grow well in temperate climates like that of the eastern United States. As a lawn grass, it is low maintenance, needing little water and only occasional mowing. It's a good choice if you're considering a no-mow lawn, since it's an attractive, long-lived species that grows only one to two feet tall.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3-8.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun or partial shady.
  • Soil Needs: Prefers heavy but well-drained soils; can tolerate most others including saline-sodic soils.
9
of 10

Sheep Fescue (Festuca ovina)

Bunches of fescue grass on a gravel slope

beekeepx / Getty Images

Sheep fescue is a perennial cold-season grass and a type of fine fescue similar to red fescue. It's considered the most heat tolerant of the fescue grasses, and therefore an excellent choice in variable climates with a wide range of temperatures and seasons. Like other fescues, it's a bunchgrass (a grass that grows in clumps rather than a uniform sod), and can form a bumpy landscape that isn't ideal as a walking surface. For lawns that don't get much foot traffic, though, it's a great choice that requires little in the way of water, mowing, or fertilizer.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3-8.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun or partial shade.
  • Soil Needs: Prefers poor, well-drained mineral soil; can tolerate loamy, shallow and gravelly soil.
10
of 10

Berkeley Sedge (Carex tumulicola)

A close-up shot of long, orange sedge leaves

GeoStock / Getty Images

Though it's not technically a grass, Berkeley sedge is a great choice if you only need to cover a small amount of ground. This perennial ornamental rush grows in clumps measuring about one to two feet in height, and makes a great ground cover near walkways, around garden beds, or in shady areas. It's one of the most drought-tolerant ornamentals, and though it prefers moist soil, can grow just fine without much water. It's a California native and thrives in the humid climates along the Pacific Coast.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 8-10 (can grow as an annual is colder climates).
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun or partial shade.
  • Soil Needs: Prefers deep, moist to medium-dry, well-drained soil; tolerates heavy clays as well.