Drought Tolerant Grass

It’s time to talk once more about that dreaded D-word: Drought.

But Australia’s frequent water shortages don’t mean you can’t have a wonderful green lawn throughout the summer.

It’s all about choosing a drought resistant turf that thrives even with minimal watering, a smart irrigation system and some good horticultural practices to encourage a strong root system of the lawn.

Recovery time is also an important aspect of maintaining a drought-resistant lawn so that if it does get damaged it will recover in a reasonable time..

Drought not only causes many types of grass to turn brown and die off but those dead patches will allow unsightly weeds to quickly take over your lawn.

But choosing one of the drought tolerant grasses means your lawn will quickly recover it’s healthy green appearance even after severe droughts.

Reduce summer stress on your lawn and take the drama out of watering your lawn with one of Atlas Turf’s drought tolerant turf varieties.

What are new Level 2 Watering Restrictions in Sydney?

The current drought conditions are really taking their toll on the water levels in the reservoirs and dams around NSW.

NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian has announced that water restrictions were upgraded to Level 2 on December 10th 2019.

This is the first time water restrictions have reached this level of severity since 2004 when dam levels fell below 40%.

You may use smart watering systems or drip irrigation systems for a maximum of 15 minutes per day per zone before 10am and after 4pm unless you have a permit to establish new turf. In this case you can water for longer. (see below)

You are not allowed to use standard sprinkler systems or mist sprayers at any time unless you are watering new turf or have a “Smart Irrigation System” .

Level 2 water restrictions state that you use watering cans or buckets to water your lawn or garden after 4.00pm and before 10am if you don’t have a Smart irrigation System.

What is a Smart Irrigation System

A Smart Irrigation System is a good quality and efficient sprinkler system with an automatic control panel connected to either a Rain Switch, Soil Moisture Sensor or Weather Station.

The “smart” automatic controller must be programmed to operate after 4 pm and before 10 am and for no longer than 15 minutes per zone per day during Level 2 Restrictions.

For clarification or making your system “smart” and more water use efficient please contact your local irrigation dealer.

Irrigation systems for your home lawn

What are The Watering Restrictions for New Turf?

If you have laid new turf over an area of 30m2 or larger, you are allowed to water more generously for up to 4 weeks to allow the turf to become established.

Make sure you keep your new turf delivery receipt as proof of purchase to verify that you can water the new lawn with extended times.

If you have laid new turf of 30m2 or larger, you are allowed to water more generously for up to 4 weeks to allow the turf to establish itself.

Weekly Timeframe Level 2 Restriction Requirements
Week 1 You may use a handheld hose fitted with a trigger nozzle or a sprinkler or watering system up to 3 times per day for 30 minutes per session at any time of day. Or you can water with a Smart Irrigation System before 10am and after 4pm.
Week 2 & 3 Water up to two times per day for a maximum of 15 minutes before 10am and after 4pm.
Week 4 Water before 10am and after 4pm, for a maximum of 30 minutes on no more than 3 days during that week.
After week 4 You must adhere to the current water restrictions. This means you can water before 10am and after 4pm with a bucket or watering can, or with a smart irrigation or drip system for a maximum of 15 minutes per zone.

You can apply for an extension on this exemption period if there are extenuating circumstances such as the grass having not taken root adequately.

If you can still lift the turf rolls and the roots haven’t taken to the soil, you may need to apply for an exemption.

In some Shires, the Level 2 restrictions are even more severe so please check with your local council if you’re in any doubt.

How Can I Improve my Soil to Help with Drought Tolerance

Many soils are poor in structure and texture and don’t have good water holding capacity

Helpful Tips How to improve soil in drought conditions
Tip 1 If the soil is a clay you can apply Gypsum to the soil and incorporate it. This is best done before new turf is laid but can be done later with good mechanical aeration of the existing lawn and then water the Gypsum into the profile.

You could aerate the lawn again straight after spreading the Gypsum if it doesn’t cause too much damage to the turf. It will open up the soil pore spaces to capture more moisture for a longer period and incorporate the Gypsum better.
Tip 2 Apply a wetting agent to assist the moisture in penetrating the soil profile.
Tip 3 Apply some composted green waste over an existing lawn to help hold moisture. About 10mm over the surface is adequate.
Tip 4 Aerate the soil and apply washed river sand in a clay soil to get a funnel of sand into the profile for water to penetrate further down. If the soil is low in organic matter you can use composted green waste instead of the river sand.
Tip 5 Apply Kelp and Fish emulsions to increase the heathy soil microbiology back into the profile. This is good for the soil and will encourage the roots of the plants to develop so that they can grab more available soil moisture.
Tip 6 Please note that not all soils are the same and some expert advice may be required to get your lawn and soil into the best condition possible.

What Makes a Good Drought Tolerant Grass?

For homeowners and grass lovers Level 2 restrictions mean you will have to take even greater care with your lawn to keep it healthy and happy over what promises to be a long hot summer.

So, if you’re thinking about laying new turf it’s a really good idea to consider a truly drought-tolerant grass.

The best drought resistant grasses display a number of important features.

These include:

  • Deep roots—by sending roots deep into the soil these grasses can absorb moisture below the evaporation line and they won’t dry out so quickly.
  • Rapid recovery—Australia’s harsh droughts may cause large areas of lawn to brown off and die. Drought resistant grasses recover quickly sending out new shoots.
  • Minimal thatching—thatching can quickly dry out exposing the soil to rapid moisture loss. Ideally, you want enough thatching to protect the soil from evaporation but not too much.If you mow your lawn at about 25mm to 40mm that should be a good height.

Here are some of Atlas Turf’s more popular drought resistant grasses.

Sir Walter Buffalo

Sir Walter Buffalo is tough, drought resistant, a good looking lawn and is one of Australia’s most popular grass choices for drought tolerant lawns.

Sir Walter Buffalo is a soft-leaved grass featuring a crisp green colour and does well in the shade.

What makes Sir Walter Buffalo so good for drought?

Sir Walter Buffalo was developed in Australia for Australian conditions. It has good drought resistance, is great in direct sun or shade and has a good recovery time.

On sandy soils on our farm we have seen the roots go down as far as 50 centimetres.

Sir Walter also produces less thatch than some other buffalo varieties. Too much thatch can be a problem as it doesn’t allow the water to penetrate down into the to the roots.

Shade can help your lawn survive drought by keeping soil temperatures down. Sir Walter Buffalo is a good turf choice for shaded areas.

Zoysia Grass

Zoysia is one of the best choices for an attractive drought resistant lawn. Even though Zoysia features a soft leaf blade it’s one very tough grass once it is established.

Why is Zoysia So Good In Drought?

Zoysia is renowned for its ability to withstand severe drought. It loves growing in hot, humid areas with full sun and yet Zoysia also displays good shade tolerance.

Zoysia has a massive root system when established which enables it to recover well when damaged from drought but it will need to be well watered during the establishment phase.

Zoysia provides good recovery times, however it’s growth rates are slower than Sir Walter Buffalo and will therefore take longer to re establish itself.

It boasts some of the lowest maintenance requirements of all grass types in Australia and has excellent inbuilt disease and pest resistance. Mowing requirements would be half of the buffalo varieties.

Kikuyu Grass

Given its origins in Kenya, it’s hardly surprising that Kikuyu with its broad coarse leaf and lush green appearance rates as one of the toughest drought-resistant grasses around.

Kikuyu is especially ideal for large lawns where the budget is low.

What Makes Kikuyu a Great Choice for Drought?

Kikuyu displays exceptional drought resistance and it can thrive despite an amazing amount of neglect.

Its deep roots and rhizomes allow it to survive and thrive in the harsh conditions and enable it to rapidly spring back seemingly from the dead.

The ability to rapidly spread and recolonise dead areas makes Kikuyu one of the best choices if you’re seeking a drought tolerant lawn that can recover when rainfall or good watering is available.

Palmetto Buffalo

Palmetto Buffalo is another very popular drought resistant turf variety. It’s long, broad, soft blades and dark green colour will be an asset to any lawn.

Why Choose Palmetto?

Palmetto delivers hardy drought resistance thanks to its strong root system. It’s relatively fast growth rates ensure good recovery from damage.

It retains good colour even with minimal water available and the low level of thatching ensures moisture is retained in the soil.

Palmetto is quite happy in full sunlight or shade and it’s dense growth habit helps to compete with weeds.

CT2 Couch

CT2 Couch has a great reputation for being a tough attractive blue/green grass that displays exceptional drought resistance as well as having relatively low maintenance requirements.

In fact, research shows that Couch varieties are some of the most drought resistant of all grasses.

This particular variety has been specified for use at Macquarie Links Golf Course at Narellan NSW.

Why Couch is Ideal for Drought Conditions?

CT2 Couch is a superb drought resistant grass. CT2 Couch’s watering requirements are around one third less than some other Couch varieties.

It also boasts a rapid recovery rate so even if your lawn takes a beating this summer CT2 Couch will quickly bounce back.

How to Prepare Grass for Drought

The way you look after your lawn through the winter and spring can make an enormous difference to how well it will survive the dry times.

Encourage Deep Roots

Deep roots will enable your grass to survive through a long drought period.

You can encourage your lawn to grow deep roots and improve its drought tolerance by watering less frequently but more deeply into the soil. Aerate your lawn regularly and at least twice per year to open up pore spaces in the soil to trap more moisture.

This lets the water sink more deeply into the soil and the grass roots respond by growing down to the moisture using up more of the available water in the soil profile.

You can apply a wetting agent to help water penetrate into the soil profile. This is important on heavier soils as if the water cannot penetrate the soil surface it will run off and be lost to the plant.

Kelp and fish emulsion products are a great addition to create better root growth which provides better drought tolerance.

Frequent Watering Weakens Grass

Frequent watering will encourage the grass to produce shallow roots leaving your lawn more vulnerable when the big dry hits.

By watering only when necessary, and deep into the profile, you can actually train grasses to be more drought tolerant.

Generally a good deep watering no more than once a week is the best practice. But do not allow water to run off and be wasted which can happen on clay soils which have poor infiltration.

Watering like this throughout the year will mean that come summer your lawn will have pushed roots down below the evaporation level and will be better prepared to survive the drought.

However, if you have an unhealthy lawn or a clay soil, you may have to water more often to keep it alive especially if the root system is shallow.

But by aerating, deep watering and applying kelp and fish emulsions you will create a deeper root system for better drought tolerance and less water use.

Best Grass Types for Shade

Mow Lawns Less Often

Keeping your lawns a little longer will also increase drought tolerance. Longer leaf blades retain more moisture and provide more surface area for photosynthesis.

Taller grass mown at around 25mm to 40mm will also help reduce evaporation from the soil.

Reduce Wear and Tear

Reducing any stress such as wear and tear on your lawn will help boost drought tolerance.

If you want to develop a drought resistant lawn this summer, you simply need to choose one of Atlas Turf’s super tough drought resistant grasses and follow these straightforward maintenance tips.

Comparison Table for Turf Varieties

Rated Drought Tolerance Shade Tolerance Less Mowing Recovery
No1 Couch Buffalo Zoysia Couch
No2 Kikuyu Zoysia Buffalo Kikuyu
No3 Zoysia Kikuyu Kikuyu Buffalo
No4 Buffalo Couch Couch Zoysia


Buy Turf Online or Contact Us

Recommended Irrigation Dealers

Hawkesbury Valley Irrigation

Located in Windsor NSW, this company has been in business for 35 years and are one of Sydney’s most experienced companies that offer expert advise on Sydney Water Restrictions, Smart Irrigation systems and how to make your irrigation system more efficient.

Hawkesbury Valley Irrigation cater for the DIY market and commercial projects. They can be contacted on 02 4577 6222.

Pacific Mist

This company is located in Artarmon, NSW and is well versed on domestic irrigation systems .

They offer good products for the DIY market or they can have some of their trained staff upgrade your tired system to make it Sydney Water compliant and more water use efficient. They can be contacted on 02 9436 1077.

Last updated 23rd July 2021

Drought Tolerant Grass