6 grasses for low-maintenance drought-resistant lawns
Zoysia grass, if you must. Photo via Flickr by Ryan Q
For all those of you who insist on green lawns, for your kids to play on or your dogs to roll in, you still don't have to lay down a carpet of thirsty bluegrass, which 95 percent of American lawns consist of, unless you live in climate that gets sufficient rainfall. According to a NASA study on lawns, 50,000 square miles of grass covers the United States, which the EPA estimates accounts for one third of Americans' water usage. Though you want to wait until fall or spring to make big changes to your yard, let me plant the seeds, so to speak. Plus there are other things to do in the meantime. If you read the comments in "Is Brown the New Green?," readers offered some great suggestions short of lawn-free landscapes. Though I'm a fan of xeriscaping and edible landscaping as a greener choice – and think that lawns were meant for the gentry with grazing sheep – if ornamental green blades are what you prefer to decorate your home with, there are ways to be more environmentally conscientious about it besides just avoiding pesticides.
Depending on where you live, there are several choices. In San Antonio, Texas, for instance, an ordinance requires residential and commercial builders to now install turfgrass with summer dormancy capabilities selected for their ability to survive with little or no water for extended periods. Specific varieties are listed with the city's water department, including some of the following:
Flexible. Loves sun and shade. Slow growing. Tolerates traffic. Produces lush carpet. El Toro, Empire, Jamur, and Palisades most drought-resistant.
Loves the sun, responds well to watering, good traffic tolerance, but needs lots of mowing. Many varieties are drought-tolerant. Best in sub-tropical southern zones.
St. Augustine grass
Floratam is most drought-tolerant variety but generally it prefers dappled shade. Got trees? Ask your local municipality if it's giving them away. LA gives up to seven but palms don't count. Water-wise arbors here are crape myrtle, London plane and silk tree.
Midwest prairie native needs full sun but so-so with traffic. Warm season but tolerates cold. Low rainfall and slow grower. Most are drought-tolerant.
Decent choice for infertile soil. Needs full sun. Course but thick covering.
Cool season grasses for more northern climates. Absorbs water well after drought.
Establish your turf
Determine if cool or warm season grass is best for your location. Keep in mind, not all varieties of warm season species are drought-friendly. Check with a local nursery or master gardener for natives. The key is deep roots and deep watering. Over-watering can damage roots.
Those other things to do: make it a smaller patch of lawn by surrounding the plot with drought-tolerant plants and ground covers. Might be a good time for thyme, and at the risk of another pun, think sedum.