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Gardening 101: Zoysia Grass

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Gardening 101: Zoysia Grass

January 18, 2019

Zoysia Grass, Zoysia: “Fairway Favorite”

Zoysia did not become a favorite turf for golf courses by accident. This sturdy, creeping grass is drought tolerant, will  control erosion on slopes, and grows thickly enough to prevent weeds from taking hold. Enough to make you wonder why everyone doesn’t have a fairway for a front lawn, isn’t it?

Not so fast. Zoysia has its drawbacks too, the most glaring being that the perennial grass goes dormant in cool weather (in autumn, your grass could turn brown pretty fast after temperatures dip). So while zoysia will survive in USDA growing zones 5 to 11, it’s actually an ideal choice only in warmer states (think: Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and other southern climes where temperatures of 80 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit are common during several months of the year).

Is zoysia a good lawn alternative to try in your landscape? Read on for the pros and cons:

See more of this zoysia in Architect Visit: A Hazy Landscape of Grasses in Santa Monica. Photograph courtesy of Griffin Enright Architects.
Above: See more of this zoysia in Architect Visit: A Hazy Landscape of Grasses in Santa Monica. Photograph courtesy of Griffin Enright Architects.

Native to warmer climates—zoysia is a favorite turf grass in Australia, where its low-water personality is particularly prized—zoysia is particularly happy in tropical settings. Among the most widely planted species is Zoysia japonica, which is shade tolerant and has coarse blades. Slow-growing Zoysia matrella, which has slender blades, has a prostrate growing habit and is native to Manila.

For use as lawn or turf grass, mow-able Zenith Zoysia Grass Sod are 85 cents per square foot from Central Sod Farms.
Above: For use as lawn or turf grass, mow-able Zenith Zoysia Grass Sod are 85 cents per square foot from Central Sod Farms.

Some varieties of zoysia grow in clumps: look for plants or seeds labeled Zoysia tenuifolia. “Due to its slow growth habit and its puffy appearance, it is usually used as an ornamental specimen plant in Asian themed gardens,” notes Clemson University Cooperative Extension.

Zoysia japonica in San Diego. Photograph by Cultivar4\13 via Flickr.
Above: Zoysia japonica in San Diego. Photograph by Cultivar413 via Flickr.

Cheat Sheet

  • Like other warm-season grasses such as Bermuda and St. Augustine, zoysia will turn brown in cold-weather months. So although it can survive the winters in southern New England, it will look green only in late spring and summer.
  • In colder climates, a better choice for turf is a cool-season grass. Consider fescues, Kentucky bluegrass or perennial rye varieties.
  • A vigorous creeper, zoysia will sneak into adjacent flower beds if given the option. Landscape edging is recommended to make it behave.
Zoysia japonica &#8\2\16;Compadre&#8\2\17;. Photograph by Kenraiz Krzysztof Ziarnek via Wikimedia.
Above: Zoysia japonica ‘Compadre’. Photograph by Kenraiz Krzysztof Ziarnek via Wikimedia.

Keep It Alive

  • If grown as turf grass, zoysia should be mowed weekly.  But it “can be difficult to mow due to its thickness and leaf composition. Zoysia grass should be mowed as low as possible, but not so low scalping occurs,” notes Clemson University Cooperative Extension. “A reel type mower is recommended, but a rotary mower can be used if the blades are sharpened on a regular basis and the cutting height is set at 2 inches.”
  • If planting seed, start sprinkle zoysia grass in late spring and rake lightly to cover seed with a light layer of soil.
  • If planted in plugs, zoysia grass will spread and develop a dense root structure to choke out weeds.
  • Fertilize zoysia two or three times a season when it is green (and actively growing).
Photograph via  @hockerdesigngroup.
Above: Photograph via @hockerdesigngroup.

Read more growing tips in Zoysia: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design in our curated Garden Design 101 guides to Grasses 101. For more of our favorite turf grasses and lawn alternatives, see:

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