Zoysiagrass is extremely drought tolerant. Although it does turn straw colored under severe drought conditions


Zoysiagrasses are warm season grasses native to China, Japan and other parts of Southeast Asia. The species was named to commemorate an 18th century Austrian botanist, Karl von Zois. In 1911, Zoysia matrella was introduced into the United States from Manila by a USDA botanist, C. V. Piper. Because of its origin the grass was commonly called Manila grass.

Piper described the grass as abundant on or near the seashore in the Philippine Islands. When closely clipped, it made a beautiful lawn according to Piper's notes. He suggested that the grass had unusual promise as a lawn grass along the Gulf Coast and Atlantic coast of Florida.

Zoysia japonica, sometimes called "Japanese lawn grass" or "Korean lawn grass", is a coarser textured, but more cold hardy species than Zoysia matrella. Zoysia japonica was introduced into the United States in 1895 from the Manchurian Province of China. In the United States, Zoysia japonica could be expected to do very well as far north as Maryland. It is a seeded variety of Zoysia.

The third species of Zoysia used for turf is called Korean velvet grass or Mascarene grass, Zoysia tenuifolia. It is a very fine textured species, but is the least cold tolerant of the three species. Zoysia tenuifolia is native to the Far East and was introduced in the U.S. from the Mascarene Islands. In the U.S. it is used in southern California as a low growing ground cover.

Zoysiagrass is extremely drought tolerant. Although it does turn straw colored under severe drought conditions, it has the capacity to respond to subsequent irrigation or rainfall. Its water requirements are similar to those of Bermudagrass. The leaf blades of Zoysiagrass are among the first to roll under drought conditions, thus it tends to conserve moisture more effectively than other species. Zoysia grass also has a deep root system allowing it to more effectively extract water from greater soil depths.

Zoysiagrass is nearly as salt tolerant as Bermudagrass. It is widely grown along sandy seashores where drainage is adequate. Zoysiagrass does not tolerate poorly drained soils whether they are saline or otherwise.

Zoysiagrasses are among the most wear tolerant turf grasses. However, their slow rate of growth gives them poor recuperative potential.

  • Shade tolerance: fair/good

  • Cold tolerance: good

  • Traffic: fair/good

  • Rate of establishment: slow

  • Fertilization: regular feeding

  • Watering: weekly regular, but will tolerate some drought conditions

  • Mowing height: 3/4" - 2"

  • Overseeding: is not recommended for Zoysia lawns. The lawn's dense structure prohibits the growth of any cool-season grasses to maintain a green appearance throughout the winter months

First mowing should be done while the Zoysia is still dormant. Mow at about the 1" height to remove as much dead top growth as possible. This should only be done after danger of a hard freeze has passed. The dormant grass blades acts as insulation.

Pests: Zoysia patch, mole crickets, grubs, sod webworms, armyworms

See also: Emerald zoysia grass

Fertilizing Newly Planted Zoysia Sod

According to university studies, it is best to wait at least one month before fertilizing newly placed Zoysia grass sod. During that first month, there is little root development or activity. This means that the turfgrass is not actively absorbing the nutrients and it is more likely that these nutrients will migrate away from the roots and there is greater risk these elements may enter the watershed.

Zoysiagrass Varieties

Japanese or Korean Lawngrass (Zoysia japonica)

Korean Lawngrass has a coarse texture similar to tall fescue. Its light green leaf is hairy and has a relatively faster growth rate than other zoysiagrass species, with excellent cold tolerance. However, this species of zoysiagrass does not make as good a lawn as other improved cultivars and species make.

Although Japanese Lawngrass is the only species of zoysiagrass that can be established from seeds, it is likely to be damaged by the hunting billbug and nematodes. Therefore, this turfgrass is recommended for home lawns where convenience of establishment from seeds is more important than quality.

Meyer Zoysiagrass (Zoysia japonica 'Meyer')

Meyer was tested and developed under the name Z-52 and is sometimes referred to as either Z-52 or Amazoy. Meyer is an improved selection of Zoysia japonica and was released in 1951. It has a dark green color, medium leaf texture, and is the most cold tolerant of the zoysiagrasses; however, it is less shade tolerant than Emerald zoysiagrass is. The leaf size is intermediate in width between that of Korean Lawngrass and Emerald zoysiagrass.

Meyer can be established by either plugs, sprigs, or sod and makes an excellent lawn once established. This is the earliest to green up the last to go dormant.

Matrella Zoysiagrass or Manilagrass (Zoysia matrella)

Manilagrass resembles bermudagrass and is recommended for a high-quality, high-maintenance lawn where a slow rate of establishment is not a disadvantage. This species of zoysiagrass was introduced from China and produces a finer and denser lawn than Zoysia japonica cultivars, but it has less cold tolerance and seems to be highly susceptible to damage caused by nematodes.

Matrella has a finer leaf texture and is more shade tolerant than Meyer zoysiagrass but is less shade tolerant than Emerald zoysiagrass.

Emerald Zoysiagrass

Emerald zoysiagrass is a hybrid between Zoysia japonica and Zoysia tenuifolia. It combines the cold tolerance, color, and growth rate of one parent with the fine texture and density of the other parent. Emerald zoysiagrass resembles Zoysia matrella in color, density, and texture but grows faster and has a wider adaptation.

Characteristics include fine leaf texture, good cold tolerance, good shade tolerance, good wear resistance, and dark green color, but lacks the cold tolerance of Meyer zoysiagrass. Emerald zoysiagrass is highly recommended for high-quality lawns where time and money allow for an adequate maintenance program. Emerald may be the most beautiful of the zoysiagrasses, but it also is subject to thatch accumulation and "puffiness" and is susceptible to brown patch, dollar spot, and leaf spot diseases.

Belaire Zoysiagrass

Belaire is an improved selection of Zoysia japonica developed in Maryland and released by the USDA in 1985. It is noted for its excellent cold tolerance and medium green color. Belaire has an open growth habit, and it has a coarser leaf texture and faster growth rate than Meyer zoysiagrass has. This cultivar is susceptible to brown patch disease.

El Toro Zoysiagrass

El Toro zoysiagrass is an improved selection of Zoysia japonica released in 1986 from California. It resembles Meyer zoysiagrass in appearance but has a faster growth rate, improved color in cooler temperatures, and less thatch accumulation. El Toro also has early spring green up like Meyer zoysiagrass and has been reported to have improved resistance to the rust diseases.

Cashmere Zoysiagrass

Pursley Turf in Florida released Cashmere zoysiagrass in 1988. This cultivar of zoysiagrass resembles Emerald zoysiagrass in color, density, and texture, but does not exhibit the stiff, bristle-like feel common to Emerald. Cold and shade tolerance and shade tolerance is not fully known; therefore, it is recommended that Cashmere be grown in the central and southern areas of the state. Pursley Turf recommends that this cultivar be grown in soil containing clay, shell, rock, marl, or sand.

Zoysiagrass is NOT RECOMMENDED

Do yourself and your neighbors a favor and do not plant this grass where cool season grasses dominate home lawns. Very invasive root system that will crossover into your neighbors bluegrass lawn. The bluegrass will remain green most of the year, but the Zoysia turns brown as soon as temperatures cool and does not turn green again until late spring. This makes your neighbors bluegrass lawn look like it has large irregular shaped dead spots all winter and into spring. Should be made illegal to plant in the northern zones. See REMOVING ZOYSIAGRASS FROM YOUR LAWN for additional information.

BUYER BEWARE: Newspaper ads touting the advantages of Zoysiagrass sometimes appear in cities where cool season grasses are the norm. These ads speak of how great Zoysiagrass is (or they use some other trade name). The ads include headlines such as "cut water bills and mowing as much as 2/3," "no need to spend money on dangerous chemicals," "no need to dig up old grass," "chokes out crabgrass..."

Well, it sounds like an almost perfect solution to your lawn woes. In reality, it is only asking for more problems. Zoysiagrass is great for warm climates and in a few cases in transitional zones. But that's about all.

Looking at some of those headlines:

First, no grass will stay green in extreme drought conditions without additional water. Some are better than others at withstanding drought. Zoysia is one. So is St. Augustine, Bermudagrass, and Bahiagrass, but that doesn't mean these grasses are the answer to all situations.

The reason you don't have to remove your old lawn is because of it's invasive nature. It will spread into your flower beds; it will spread into your neighbors lawn; and, it will turn straw brown after the first heavy frost and remain brown well into April or later depending on your climate— long after most cool season grasses have greened up.

It will choke out crabgrass, but then any thick, healthy lawn, will choke out crabgrass as well as other weeds. They don't mention that Zoysiagrass is more prone to heavy thatch buildup, or that the common broadleaf herbicide found in many weed and feed products can seriously damage the grass if used at the wrong time of year.

All chemicals can be dangerous, including table salt if its misused. Following label directions, most lawn chemicals are safe to use, even with children and pets.