Lawns must be managed increasingly under less frequent or deficit irrigation. Deficit irrigation can reduce gas exchange, carbon assimilation, and physiological function in both warm- (C4) and cool- (C3) season turfgrasses, yet limited research has compared the physiological response to increasing levels of soil water deficit. The objectives of this greenhouse study were to compare three commonly used transition-zone turfgrassesbermudagrass [
Cynodon dactylon(L.) Pers.] (C4), buffalograss [ Buchloe dactyloides(Nutt.) Engelm.] (C4), and tall fescue ( Festuca arundinaceaSchreb.) (C3)and their ability to maintain quality and physiological function under water deficit stress. Visual turf quality, normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), reflective canopy temperature, and gross photosynthesis were evaluated initially near field capacity (FC), and subsequent soil water deficit [48% (moderate) and 33% (severe) of plant-available water] conditions. Bermudagrass and tall fescue had similar quality ratings near FC, although the photosynthetic rate was greater for bermudagrass. Compared with other turfgrasses, bermudagrass maintained greater turf quality, NDVI, and photosynthetic rates further into water deficit stress. Tall fescue quality and photosynthetic rates declined most rapidly in both experiments as a result of the combined heat and drought stress. Buffalograss used less water compared with other species, and maintained consistent turf quality, NDVI, and photosynthetic rates under moderate and severe water deficit. These results support the notion that buffalograss and bermudagrass are better adapted than tall fescue at maintaining functional and ecosystem services with shallow soil depths in landscape situations under imposed summertime water restrictions.