Everything You Need to Know About Zoysia Grass

Zoysia Grass At A Glance

  • warm-season grass with improved cold tolerance
  • prefers sun, tolerates some light shade
  • suitable for southern and ‘transition climate zones’
  • heat- and drought-tolerant
  • low water and maintenance requirements
  • dense, traffic-tolerant growth

An Overview – Key things to know about Zoysia Grass

Zoysia grass (Zosyia spp.), is native to Asia, but it has been in the United States since at least 1895,(1) around the time turf grass lawns first captured the interest of American homeowners. It is what’s known as a ‘warm-season grass’, meaning its active growth starts in the warmth of late spring and peaks during hot summer weather. It’s well-suited to lawns across the southern United States, from the hot, humid Southeast, Texas, and even to parts of California. Zoysia is a perennial grass, so it comes back year after year when grown in appropriate climates.

For homeowners in the the midsection of the United States, known in the turf industry as the ‘transition climate zone’, Zoysia can be an ideal turf lawn solution. This area, stretching from the Atlantic into the Midwest, is where lawn grass zones meet their limits for successful growth. It is too hot and humid for cool-season grasses, such as Kentucky bluegrass, and is too cold for warm-season grasses, such as Bermudagrass. However, the heat and cold tolerance characteristic of Zoysia grass allow it to flourish in this region where many of the other warm season grasses tend to fail.

Characteristics and Traits of Zoysia Grass

One thing to note is that Zoysia grass establishes more slowly than some other warm season lawn grasses, but as it slowly grows it forms a very dense carpet of grass beneath that feels lush under foot. In fact, the grass grows so dense, few lawn weeds are able to penetrate a healthy mass of established Zoysia lawn. The grass spreads by above-ground stems called ‘stolons’ and underground stems called ‘rhizomes’. This combination of above and below ground stems allows for the thick, dense growth and earns it favor from warm-climate sod producers and families that use their lawns heavily for lawn games and entertaining.

During its active growing season, Zoysia typically stays light to medium green. It turns brown when winter dormancy sets in, but it stays green much longer than Bermudagrass and other warm-season grasses. Some homeowners choose to overseed Zoysia lawns in fall with cool-season ryegrass for green winter color, but others appreciate its straw-like natural hue. Come spring, Zoysia lawns are among the first to green up again.

Zoysia naturally develops a deep root system, and it’s very efficient at conserving moisture and resisting drought. During short drought episodes, the grass remains green. If drought and heat persist, Zoysia will go dormant, but it greens up quickly when watered again. Zoysia prefers full sun, but it tolerates light shade — unlike Bermudagrass and other sun-loving, warm-season grasses.

Varieties of Zoysia Grass and their Differences

Since Zoysia grass has been propagated for the past 100 years, several strains or varieties have evolved(1). The following are just a few available varieties and their primary characteristics:

  • Zoysia japonica, often called Korean or Japanese lawn grass, was introduced into the U.S. in 1895. Zoysia japonica is more cold tolerant than the other species but is also the most coarse textured of the three species. It’s actually the only zoysia grass species that can be established from seed.
  • Zoysia japonica ‘Meyer’, is an improved strain of Zoysia japonica. Meyer was selected primarily for its texture, color, and vigor compared to other zoysiagrass selections. Meyer is slow to become established and must be propagated by sod or sprigs. Once established it develops a very dense turf, demonstrates good cold tolerant and grows well in partial shade. Meyer is best adapted to the transition zone where summers are too hot and humid for cool-season grasses and winters too cold for bermudagrass.
  • Zoysia matrella was introduced into the U.S. in 1911 from Manilla. It is chiefly a tropical and subtropical grass but can be grown as far north as Connecticut in the United States. Zoysia matrella grows well in moderate shade and forms a thick mat in full sun. The leaf blades of Zoysia matrella are narrow, sharply pointed and wiry. In tropical climates, the grass remains green year round. But, in cooler climates, it turns brown after several hard touches of frost and remains brown until late spring. Zoysia matrella must be propagated from sprigs and is quite slow to become established.

The Disadvantages and Advantages of Zoysia Grass

Many factors can result in dead or thin spots in a warm-season lawn. Resist the first reaction many gardeners have of wanting to spray for disease. Before you make this mistake, consider the many other causes (2). Following are the most common causes (3).

Zoysia Grass Disadvantages:

  • Heat and drought stress – Although zoysia grass is more tolerant of heat and drought than any of the cool-season grasses, in severe heat and drought it may go dormant or die. Dormant lawns green-up when environmental conditions improve. Irrigated lawns are less apt to go dormant but run the increased risk of disease and insect problems. Zoysia grass requires about a ½ inch of water per week to remain green and about a ¼ inch of water per week to stay alive in dormancy
  • Aggressive Growth –  Like many grass species, advantageous traits can often become a disadvantage when lawns are improperly cared for. The dense mass that Zoysia grass forms are great when it is contained within a lawn, but if that grass gets into areas for planting beds or native plantings, Zoysia can be nearly impossible to remove. This is due to its relative tolerance of selective grass herbicide formulas (3).

Zoysia Grass Advantages:

  • Shade Tolerance
  • Drought Tolerance
  • Cold Tolerance
  • Light Foot Traffic Tolerance
  • Low Fertilization Requirements

Zoysia Grass and Lawn Maintenance

With warm-season grasses, month-by-month lawn care occurs on a different timetable than cool-season northern grasses that peak during fall. Zoysia grass is best planted in spring, after the final frost, as warm-season grasses come out of dormancy and enter prime growth. Overseeding existing turf lawns with additional Zoysia seed can also be done at this time. Before you begin following the lawn maintenance calendar, obtain a soil test. A soil test provides key information including soil pH, potassium and phosphorus levels. Soil testing is usually available through county Cooperative Extension Service offices. Proper soil pH is necessary to produce a healthy, high­quality, attractive lawn. Zoysiagrass prefers soil with a pH from 5.8 to 6.5 but will tolerate a range of soil pH (3).

Basic tips for getting your Zoysia turf lawn off to a good start:

  • Plant your sod or plugs during a cooler part of the year to avoid stressing the plants.
  • Water your grass during the early morning hours to minimize evaporation.
  • Mowing is a necessary stress that all grasses are able to tolerate, but each variety has a preferred mowing height; Zoysia is 1 to 2 inches for residential lawns.
  • Know which variety of Zoysia you have in your lawn to be sure of proper care

Still unsure of how to best care for your Zoysia lawn? Check out your state’s agricultural extension office for helpful tips and soil testing kits that will help you determine your best lawn care plan.

If you live in the southern or warm coastal United States and your lawn needs call for a durable and wear-resistant warm-season lawn that can withstand both heat and drought, Zoysia grass may be the perfect solution providing you seasons of turfgrass.

1. Duble, Richard L., “Zoysiagrass,” Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.
2. http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org
3. https://www.uaex.edu/yard-garden/lawns/FSA-6122%20zoysiagrass.pdf

Still looking for more information about lawn care? Please visit our lawn care page for more information.

Top Photo: www.thegrasspatch.com

About Wikilawn

Wikilawn’s mission is to provide the best resources and information to help you enjoy your outdoor spaces the way you want. Whether you are a DIY, lawn-loving, gardening guru, or someone who wants help in picking a local lawn care professional, we can smooth your path to a beautiful backyard!

About Wikilawn

Wikilawn’s mission is to provide the best resources and information to help you enjoy your outdoor spaces the way you want. Whether you are a DIY, lawn-loving, gardening guru, or someone who wants help in picking a local lawn care professional, we can smooth your path to a beautiful backyard!