Zoysia is a popular grass in southern climates due to its shade, drought, and cold tolerance. And it comes in many varieties, which makes it easier to find the right grass for your lawn.
But zoysia isn’t without its weaknesses. It has slow lateral growth and low recuperative potential. And despite low nutrient needs, it still requires a good degree of maintenance.
In this guide, we’ll look at important zoysia grass characteristics to determine if it’s right for your yard. We’ll also tell you everything you need to know to care for this warm-season grass using our helpful lawn care calendar.
|Also Known As||Zoysiagrass; Zoysia sp.|
|Type of Grass||Warm season perennial|
|Optimal Zones||Southern through warmer transition zones|
|Root Structure||Shallow to medium|
|Self Repair Capacity||Low|
|Overall Maintenance Requirements||Moderate|
Quick Zoysiagrass Summary
- Zoysiagrass is a warm season perennial grass native to Asia, Australia and New Zealand.
- This grass is popular in southern climates for its shade, drought and cold tolerance.
- There are several species of zoysia, including Zoysia japonica, Zoysia matrella, and Zoysia tenuifolia.
- Fine-leafed zoysia has a better texture but requires more maintenance. Coarse-leafed zoysia is more drought tolerant but more susceptible to diseases.
- Zoysia is best suited for southern climates and has good winter hardiness, heat tolerance, and drought tolerance.
- It requires moderate maintenance, with moderate water requirements and slow lateral growth.
- Zoysiagrass prefers full sun but can do well in partial shade.
- Zoysia has a high wear tolerance but low self-repair capacity.
- It should be installed in late spring using sod or plugs, not seeds.
The History of Zoysia Grass
Zoysia is native to Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. It first made its way to America in the late 1800s.
As early as 1908, Zoysia was being celebrated as a turfgrass for use on golf courses and lawns. Its slow but thick lateral growth makes it impervious to weeds. And it has a unique ability to thrive in various microclimates within temperate zones.
As the years went on, more species of zoysia were discovered and introduced in America. Three are still commonly in use today: Zoysia japonica, Zoysia matrella, and Zoysia tenuifolia. Within these species, cultivators can be found in two types: fine-leafed and coarse-leafed.
Fine leaf zoysia is less drought hardy but has a better texture and appearance for residential lawns. These species require the highest degree of maintenance.
Coarse leaf zoysia has deeper roots and is more tolerant of drought, heat, and cold. These types are easier to care for but more difficult to mow. They are also more susceptible to some diseases.
Zoysia Grass Lawn Characteristics
Zoysia grass is one of the more hardy warm season grasses available. But it requires a lot of maintenance, careful care, and is difficult to establish.
To help you decide if zoysia is right for your yard, let’s take a closer look at the characteristics of this species.
Type of Grass
Zoysia is a perennial warm-season grass. “Perennial” meaning it comes back every year. And “warm season” meaning it does most of its growing when temperatures are between 75 and 90 degrees.
Like Bermudagrass and St. Augustine, zoysia grows the most in the summer. In temperate climates, it goes dormant from the first frost until about May.
Zoysia is best suited for southern climates. However, its hardiness has led to its popularity in warmer transition zones as hot summer temperatures become more common across much of the country.
Coarse strains of zoysia have the longest root systems, reaching about 2 feet in length. However, all species form a thick root mat that helps them excel at absorbing water.
Note: Zoysiagrass uses both rhizomes and stolons to reproduce.
Zoysia grasses are very cold hardy for a warm season lawn grass. Some cultivators, such as Amazoy zoysia, can handle temperatures as low as -30 without damage.
All varieties will turn brown and go dormant during cooler weather. They’ll begin to green up when temperatures are consistently above 50 degrees, usually by mid to late spring.
Zoysiagrass thrives in heat. It can handle temperatures as high as 120 degrees without turning brown. In fact, it is one of the last warm-season grasses to die off in extreme heat.
Zoysiagrass prefers full sun but can do fairly well in areas of partial shade. It will thin and die off in areas of full shade, however.
Note: For a shady lawn, look for cultivators adapted to low light, such as El Toro, Empire, Royal, and Geo.
Water Requirements & Drought Tolerance
Zoysia has moderate water requirements. Infrequent, deep watering helps entice deep root growth. Zoysia root mats are highly absorbent and can accept more water at once than other grasses.
One watering session totaling 1 inch each week is enough to keep zoysia going through the warmest summers.
Self Repair Capacity
Zoysia has a high wear tolerance but a low self-repair capacity. Lateral growth is incredibly slow. Bare spots caused by high foot traffic are likely to fill in with weeds before the grass grows back.
Growing Zoysia From Seed
Zoysia lawns need to be installed in late spring using sod or plugs. Seeding is generally not recommended because it takes so long to germinate and establish.But if you do wish to attempt it, mid-late spring after the final frost is the ideal time.
Zoysia Lawn Care Calendar
Zoysia takes time to establish, but once it does, vertical growth is rapid. Keeping it maintained at the correct height takes a lot of work, especially in the summer. But in terms of water and fertilizer, it is a fairly easy keeper.
Brand-new lawns can be mowed after two weeks. At this point, you can begin following our zoysia lawn maintenance plan, below.
Zoysiagrass will begin to green up and start growing in mid to late spring. But lawn maintenance will need to begin before this.
The first mow of the season should take place right before the grass begins to green up in the spring. Set your mower lower than normal—to about 1 to 1 ½ inches high. Use a mower bag to collect the dead cuttings to avoid adding to the thatch.
Once the grass begins growing, continue mowing at this low height every week. Leave fresh cuttings on the lawn to provide nutrients.
Zoysia is best mowed with a push mower. But using a very sharp rotary mower is also possible. If you notice tearing and browning at the grass tips, your mower blade is not sharp enough.
Fertilization should only be done in the spring if there is zero risk of freezing weather. Zoysia that is encouraged to grow too quickly before frost will sustain damage.
Because this grass performs well in low nitrogen environments, there is little risk in waiting until after May to fertilize. This is, however, the best time to have a soil test done to evaluate missing nutrients.
Pre-emergent herbicide should be applied to your lawn early in the spring, around mid-February. Applying again in late April will help further control weeds through the rest of the year.
Post-emergent weed killers should not be applied to a lawn until after the grass is fully greened up. In the meantime, pull troublesome weeds by hand or use spot treatments.
Irrigation is generally not needed in spring assuming at least 1 inch of rainfall per week. When supplemental watering is needed, water deep, up to 1 inch at a time once per week.
Pest and Disease Control
In warm springs, Zoysiagrass is susceptible to mole cricket damage. Unless the damage is severe, however, treatments should be delayed until summer when they will be more effective.
Disease is typically not an issue this time of year.
Aeration and Dethatching
Spring is the best time to have your lawn aerated to avoid compact soil. Aerated soil is better able to accept nutrients and water. Spring aeration should be done right before the second application of pre-emergent weed control.
Zoysiagrass is prone to thatch but it also performs better when a little thatch is allowed to build up. If your lawn has over 1 inch of thatch, use a dethatcher with 2 to 3-inch blade spacings. Narrower spacings will damage the lawn.
Summer is when Zoysia grass grows the most. It will need careful watering and mowing to thrive.
Set your mower height between 1 and 2 ½ inches for the summer. You can typically get away with shorter heights early on but should aim for closer to 2 inches during the heat of the summer. This will help reduce stress and protect the root system.
Zoysiagrass growing in shade will perform better if left at longer lengths, as well.
As always, be sure to keep a sharp blade on your mower for the best results.
In early summer, apply nitrogen fertilizer at a rate of ½ to 1 pound per 1,000 square feet to your grass. Sandy soils will need the higher amount while clay soils will need the lower one. Based on the soil test you did in the spring, choose a product with high or low phosphorus and sulfur amounts for your zoysiagrass.
In mid-summer, fertilizer with nitrogen at the same rate, but assure the mix also contains high potassium. Again, choose the phosphorus amount based on your soil test.
In early August, apply another round of nitrogen and potassium fertilizer as you did in mid-summer. Potassium is important in helping zoysia survive the winter.
Only water zoysiagrass when it shows signs of moisture stress. It will take on a bluish-green color and won’t bounce back when walked on.
When this happens apply ¾ to 1 inch of water to your grass in a single watering. Early morning is the best time to do this.
In periods of no rainfall, you will likely have to water your lawn once a week. But it’s best to let the grass tell you when conditions are too dry.
Apply broadleaf herbicide in the early summer after the grass is fully greened up but before daytime temperatures get over 90 degrees. This is only necessary if weeds are a problem. Choose a product safe for zoysia grass.
Alternatively, you can pull weeds manually or use spot treatments as needed.
Pest and Disease Control
Pests can be a big problem for zoysia in the summer. The most common suspects are:
- Mole crickets
- Ground pearls
Each requires its own specific treatment, but most can be targeted this time of year, if needed. Keep an eye out for damage to the lawn and treat only when necessary.
Large Patch and Dollar Spot can occur on your grass in summer. This is typically a sign of too much moisture in the turf. Watering infrequently and just before sunrise will help.
Thatch buildup can also contribute to damage from these funguses.
Only dethatch if your grass is not stressed and temperatures are not too high.
Bare spots in lawns should be addressed in early summer by planting plugs or laying sod as needed. Some varieties can also be put in at the end of summer.
The fall season is all about preparing your zoysiagrass for winter dormancy.
Continue mowing your grass at 1 ½ inches until nighttime temperatures cool to below 70 degrees. At this point, raise the mower ½ to 1 inch to allow for more leaf surface.
As usual, make sure your blade is very sharp to avoid grass leaf damage.
If fertilization was done consistently through the summer, it is not usually necessary now. However, soil tests can confirm nutrient levels are adequate.
The most important nutrient for fall is potassium, as this will help zoysia survive dormancy. If your soil test shows low potassium, add 1 pound of potash per 1,000 square feet about 6 weeks before the first expected frost.
While winterizer fertilizer can be helpful for cool-season lawns, it is not recommended for zoysia in most cases.
Control winter annual weeds and invasive grasses by using a pre-emergent weed control spray in September and again in late November.
Lawn irrigation is generally not needed in the fall. However, if there is not much rainfall, you may need to supplement as you did in the spring.
Once grass goes dormant continue to keep an eye on moisture levels. If no precipitation occurs for 3 weeks, apply about ¾ inch of water when temperatures are above freezing.
Keep an eye out for fungus problems this time of year. Large Patch, especially, can spread rapidly in moist, cool conditions. Treat with fungicides as needed.
Fall is the best time to overseed your lawn with cool-season grasses for winter color. Zoysia is more difficult to overseed than Bermuda, however. For best results, thatch must be removed almost completely.
You can find out more about how to overseed warm-season grasses, here.
Zoysia will start to go dormant as soon as temperatures drop below 50 overnight. After the first freeze, it will be completely dormant. From here, care revolves around assuring the grass doesn’t get too dry.
Continue monitoring moisture accumulation in your lawn through the winter. If more than 3 weeks pass without precipitation, apply ¾ inch of water as soon as daytime temperatures get above freezing.