Mr. Hutcheson

Eco-Friendly Practices

Landscaping During a Drought

By Ken Hutcheson, President, U.S. Lawns

According to a 2014 study from the University of California-Davis, last year's drought was likely to inflict $2.2 billion in losses on the agricultural industry. Harsh drought seasons have led to habitat destruction, wildfires, and have also caused entire landscapes to change. In severe and prolonged seasons, droughts reduce the quality of soil and promote soil erosion, which can result in the loss of the landscape all together.

However, by working with your contractor to create the right preparation plan that includes vegetation selection and proper irrigation methods, hoteliers can protect and increase the durability of their landscapes.


Implementing a comprehensive drought preparation plan is the key to preventing landscape upheaval during periods of drought. One way hoteliers can achieve this is by choosing grass, flowers, trees, and other vegetation that require less water. These landscape features are particularly important because they're features that hoteliers can plan and control before drought season begins. Below you will find a more in depth look at each of these landscape features.


Hoteliers understand how important it is for their properties to maintain a crisp, clean, and overall attractive appearance. And since grass is one of the largest components of the exterior landscape, it's critical that it upholds both its green color and strength. In order to accomplish this, hoteliers should work with their contractors to identify which species of grass is the most appropriate for their climate and location. Hoteliers need to look for options that are both drought tolerant and low maintenance. It's important to point out that there's a direct correlation between maintenance and drought-tolerance, so choosing a low maintenance grass can also help you reduce water runoff, lower irrigation costs, and increase its overall lifecycle.

Your hotel's location is the best indicator of which type of grass is appropriate for your property. Note, that there are two different types of grass (cool and warm) and your contractor will be able to recommend the suitable species depending on the property's soil composition. A common misconception is that all warm grass species are drought-tolerant, however this is not the case, so it's key to work with your contractor when selecting the right grass for your property.

Here are the Top Six Most Drought Resistant Grasses:

Zoysia Grass

Zoysia's deep roots and tough exterior make it one of the most flexible and drought resistant grasses. In particular, El Toro, Palisades, and Jamur require the least amount of water among the Zoysia options. This grass can adapt to the sun or shade, and also endures foot-traffic as well-which is important to uphold that crisp and clean atmosphere. It can withstand the heat or cold, and its tough exterior allows it to heal itself if damaged. In addition, Zoysia grass grows at a slower pace, so you don't have to worry about mowing it as often. Zoysia is commonly found in coastal areas or grasslands.

Bermuda Grass

Bermuda grass is a diverse grass that's drought resistant; it can grow on many soil types, and is durable in regions with high sun exposure. Specifically, Bermuda grass grows best in subtropical and southern zones. While there are many viable drought tolerant species of Bermuda, it's more attractive when it's watered at a higher frequency. It also requires more mowing compared to that of other grass options.

St. Augustine Grass

Like Bermuda grass, St. Augustine flourishes in regions that experience high temperatures, including the Carolinas, Florida, Texas and Southern and Central California, but is not durable in regions that experience cold weather conditions like those in the Northeast/Mid-West. Since it's considered to be a "coastal" grass, it can tolerate a wide variety of soil types, and is considered drought resistant.

Floratam St. Augustine

Floratam St. Augustine grass was created by the Florida and Texas Agricultural Experiment Stations in 1972 as a SAD virus and cinch bug resistant selection, and also happens to be one of most drought resistant grasses in the St. Augustine family. Popular among Floridians, Floratam's composition allows it to adapt to many soil types and is a suitable option for high-traffic areas. Likewise, Floratam thrives in areas that receive direct sunlight.

Buffalo Grass

A Midwest prairie native, Buffalo grass is a fine-textured, low-water use, and attractive native grass. It's a slow growing grass, making it a low-maintenance option for those living throughout the Great Plains. It's an extremely durable grass, as it's also tolerant of the cold, and has a low insect problem. While Buffalo grass grows in a variety of different soils, it doesn't grow well in sandy soils-it prefers "heavier" soils.

Bahia Grass

If your hotel's located along the southeastern shoreline, Bahia grass is a viable option for you. Originally it was used as a pasture grass for sandy soils, but now due to its low maintenance (for both water and fertilizer requirements) it has become a popular choice for landscapes. Its deep roots allow it to hold onto water longer, but it does needs to be mowed quite often, since it grows tall and has sharp blades. Conversely, Bahia grass shouldn't be planted around areas of the property that experience a high amount of traffic or shade.


For those living in the Northeast, Fescue grass comes in an array of types (i.e. Kentucky Blue Grass and Rye Grass varieties). And unlike a majority of cold season grasses, Fescue grass does well in the shade, and performs well in seasonal transitions. It also absorbs water well after a drought. Editor notes to caution using GMO grasses as they will increase the usage of the herbicide Roundup which will deplete the soil quality and kill the important bacteria, as well as run-off contamination.

Vegetation Selection

While flowers, shrubs, and hedges make up a small component of a hotel's landscape, they still have a large influence on the property's overall appearance and work to support other landscape features. This is why it's important that they're properly maintained at all times-even through difficult weather conditions like droughts.

Going Native

To avoid having to aggressively trim your foliage-leading to further dehydration-hoteliers should work with their landscaping contractor to select vegetation that's better suited to their location. Adding native flowers, shrubs, and hedges is not just a great way to support local wildlife, but it can also help you promote a healthy and attractive landscape.

Because a majority of native vegetation is well matched to the local soil and climate, it's able to withstand any weather related changes, which includes dry conditions, making it a durable and cost-effective option. Once it's been established on your landscape, it also requires little maintenance. For example for those located in California, planting drought-tolerant vegetation like California Yarrows, Palmer's Indian Mallow, and California Mountain Lilac are all sustainable choices. And for those living in the Northeast, Black-Eyed Susans, Daylilys, Catmint, and Butterfly weed, are all drought-resistant perennials.


Trees are the foundation your landscape so making sure your property's trees are hydrated is critical to the overall health of the entire landscape. Trees not only provide shade, but their deep roots also work to keep surrounding vegetation moist-decreasing the chance of dehydration and overheating. But in order to keep trees healthy it's important that your contractor mulches frequently. Mulching insulates the soil helping to provide a buffer from hot and cold temperatures. Mulch also retains water to keep the roots moist and weeds out.

It's equally as important to water established trees in a certain manner. If overwatered, trees will rot, so your contractor will moisten the soil to a depth of 10" each time. If water's applied directly around the trunk it can drown the roots.

Low water trees for those located in California include, Indian Laurels, Fruitless Olives, Museum Palo Verdes, and Sissoo Trees. And for those living in dryer regions like Texas, Live Oaks, Crape Myrtles, Desert Willows, and Texas Persimmon, make great options.

Maximizing Landscape Watering During a Drought

Unfortunately, it's not enough to just choose drought-tolerant vegetation to protect your landscape and your budget from the negative effects of drought. However, there are other irrigation practices that hoteliers can take advantage of to reduce the amount of water needed while also keeping their landscapes healthy. For example, hoteliers should talk to their contractors about which sprinklers and attachments can help with water conservation. Smart controllers/sprinkler heads in particular are valuable investments for those who experience prolonged periods of drought. Watering before 9a.m., to avoid the heat of the day, will also increase the absorption of water. Checking irrigation systems frequently for potential leaks is another important approach for preventing water losses.

While there isn't anything anyone can do to interrupt Mother Nature's plan, there are many tactics that can help you overcome the conditions your landscape experiences during a drought. By taking a proactive approach, and working with your contractor to make necessary investments, you can achieve a sustainable landscape during even the toughest dry seasons.

Ken Hutcheson is President of U.S. Lawns. He joined the company in 1995 and has grown the organization from a regional 18-franchise network to a national network of over 250-franchises in all 48 contiguous states. U.S. Lawns is nourished by the values and passion of family-owned and operated franchise businesses. Mr. Hutcheson champions an entrepreneurial spirit and a teamwork culture. He’s skilled at developing employee, franchisee and customer bases that are anchored on a commitment to long-term relationships. His focus on the company’s Franchise Development and Support is central to the company’s steady national expansion and consistently high rankings on industry lists. Mr. Hutcheson can be contacted at 407-246-1630 or khutcheson@uslawns.com Please visit https://uslawns.com/ for more information. Extended Bio...

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