Zoysia (also known as zoysia grass) is one of the most common types of grass found in the United States. It’s increasingly popular due to its sturdy nature and carpet-like growth. While it’s notoriously slow growing, zoysia grows in thick bunches that crowd out weeds. I have experience with zoysia grass and have put together this zoysia grass ultimate guide.
Zoysia grass is known for being particularly robust because it has a deep root system. It can withstand disease and insect infestations while being relatively low maintenance.
If you live in the southern United States or even in the transition zone, Zoysia may well be the right choice for your lawn.
Let’s get started with my guide to everything you need to know about this popular warm-season grass.
What is Zoysia Grass?
Zoysia is a warm-season grass but certain strains are able to withstand cooler temperatures. This has made it incredibly popular across the United States, especially in the transition zone stretching approximately from the Carolinas to Missouri.
It goes dormant in the winter, but as a perennial it will return when the weather warms up. Zoysia requires less water than other grasses and, because Zoysia grows and spreads slowly, it will require less mowing.
Since being brought to the United States, Zoysia has been beloved for how easily you can keep it looking green with very little effort.
Another selling point is how it grows in thickly enough to crowd out weeds and keep your lawn looking great.
However, Zoysia has finer textures than some other warm-season grasses like St. Augustine.
History of Zoysia Grass
Zoysia is native to Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. Its name, commemorating the 18th Century Austrian botanist, Karl von Zois, was designated in 1801.
The first strains were introduced to the United States in 1895 from Manchuria.
Later on, a USDA botanist, C.V. Piper, brought over a new strain in 1911. Piper’s studies involved grass taken from the Philippines, where he noted it grew in abundance.
He brought it to the United States with the assumption that it would grow well in Florida and along the Gulf of Mexico.
Why You Should Grow a Zoysia Lawn
Zoysia is a sod-forming grass, so it grows in impressively thick. Its peak growing season comes during the late spring and summer each year.
It has a light to medium green color. It does fade to brown when it goes dormant in the winter, but it keeps its green color longer than most other warm-weather grass varieties.
Zoysia has an exceptionally deep root system, which allows it to conserve moisture and withstand drought conditions by reaching untapped water and nutrients deep below the ground.
Zoysia does require sunny conditions, though some strains can withstand light shade.
Ever wondered why Zoysia is a top choice for golf courses and playgrounds?
It’s because Zoysia is incredibly sturdy and able to withstand heavy foot traffic. This grass is good at repairing itself when damaged.
Zoysia spreads using both stolons and rhizomes, which is responsible for the thick carpet of grass that it forms.
What are Stolons and Rhizomes?
Outside of its seed, there are two systems that grass use to spread across your lawn: they do so via stolons or with rhizomes.
One characteristic that makes Zoysia unique is how it spreads via both stolons and rhizomes.
That gives it an advantage while growing.
- Stolons are branched structures that run across the ground (above the soil surface) as they form new plants. The new plant forms roots of its own and eventually sends off stolons to spread laterally as well.
- Rhizomes are underground branch structures that grow horizontally to the grass root. They form adventitious roots from which the new grass stems grow.
Combine the two and you get thick sod that is nearly impenetrable to weeds. That’s what Zoysia offers homeowners.
Basic Types of Zoysia Grass
There are three standard types of zoysia. Each has its own unique properties, though the largest distinction between them is their tolerance to cold.
Zoysia japonica is the first strain that was introduced to the United States from Manchuria in 1895.
Commonly referred to as Japanese or Korean lawn grass, it has a coarse texture and light green color.
Zoysia japonica is the strain most capable of handling colder temperatures, and it thrives in the U.S. transition zone.
Most zoysia is available either as sod or plugs, but you can grow zoysia japonica from seed.
This makes it a popular choice for overseeding lawns in the spring.
Zoysia matrella is the strain brought to the United States in 1911 by C.V. Piper. It was brought over from the Philippines, which is how it became known as “Manillagrass”.
Zoysia matrella is a tropical or sub-tropical strain, though it has been known to be added to lawns as far north as New England.
It can withstand moderate amounts of shade, with approximately four hours of direct sunlight.
In tropical climates, it stays green year-round. In relatively cooler climates, however, it goes dormant and turns brown until the weather warms in the spring.
Zoysia matrella has narrow, pointed leaf blades. You cannot grow this grass from seed, so you have to use plugs or sod.
Sod is a popular method since it gives you an instant lawn. If you use plugs, it can take several years to get a fully established, gorgeous lawn.
An established zoysia matrella lawn has a thick cover. For the thickest possible mat, you’ll have to give it maximum direct sunlight.
Zoysia tenuifolia is the most delicate of the three strains. It has the finest texture, with short, fine, and wiry blades.
In warm, sunny weather it provides dense and fluffy turf. However, it’s slow to spread, taking years to get fully established if you use plugs.
It is used most as a ground cover in the American southeast or on the west coast, like California.
Varieties of Zoysia Grass
Since the introduction of Zoysia to the United States, different cultivars have been created within the three basic types I listed above.
These different types of Zoysia grass have been created to suit different conditions, or to have a finer texture and brighter color.
They fall into two larger categories:
- coarse-textured Zoysia, and
- finely textured Zoysia.
Coarser Zoysia is more resilient and able to better withstand colder temperatures, so let’s start with some information about these varieties.
Coarse Cultivars of Zoysia Grass
Here are the coarse cultivates of zoysia grass.
This is an improved variety of zoysia japonica and is notable for spreading more quickly than other strains. It is a medium coarse grass with good cold tolerance.
Meyer is the original commercial variety of zoysia and was the standard for decades in America.
While it is available as seed, sod, or plugs, I recommend using sod or plugs for the best quality.
Belaire is another improved variety of zoysia japonica.
It has a coarser texture and establishes much more quickly than Meyer grasses. It also has a stronger cold tolerance.
This variety has a medium green color.
The El Toro variety was developed in California for shade tolerance. It has the best shade tolerance of the zoysia grasses.
It isn’t available as seed and is rarely available as plugs, so you’ll definitely need to buy sod if you want El Toro.
The Empire strain boasts outstanding resilience, including disease and insect resistance.
If you don’t have much lawn care experience or want a low-maintenance yard, Empire might be a great choice.
Empire establishes more quickly than other zoysia strains and can thrive with less fertilizer. It is only available as sod or plugs.
JaMur is a medium coarse grass that is great for lawns.
With a slightly finer texture, it’s easy to mow. This variety has better than average shade tolerance.
This variety is popular for sports fields, golf courses, and home lawns. Its emerald color and medium coarse texture make it sturdy without sacrificing appearances.
It can withstand being mown as low as ½ inch with a reel mower, or 2 inches if using a rotary mower.
This variety has an upright growth that allows it to grow quickly, though its resilience allows for it to be cut dramatically shorter. This makes it great for golf tee boxes.
It has more aggressive rhizome activity, which helps it withstand poor soil conditions. It can tolerate shaded areas.
This is a relative of Meyer grasses and one of the few available as seed. It does not grow in as dense as Meyer does, but its finer texture makes it easier to mow.
While still being a high-quality grass, it is less vibrant than other zoysia varieties.
This is another popular choice for sports fields. It is resilient and hardy. In warmer climates, it exhibits a degree of shade tolerance.
However, it needs full sun in cooler climates. It has an additional benefit for being tolerant of salt, which makes it popular in coastal areas.
Unlike many of the other varieties, it is available as seed.
Fine Cultivars of Zoysia Grass
Below I’ll talk about fine cultivars of Zoysia grass.
This is a hybrid strain of zoysia japonica and zoysia tenuifolia. It is known for its deeper green color and finer texture.
It’s less capable in cold weather, but it grows in a fluffy, dense layer in the right conditions. It is available only as plugs or sod and grows best in the south.
This is a fine-textured grass with a dark green color. It is notable for being resilient to multiple adverse conditions, such as shade, drought, and wet growing conditions.
This type is notable for its quick growth pattern and excellent recovery from damage. It has a fine texture, as well as high tolerances for salt and shade.
It has also exhibited excellent resilience during the colder winter months.
A newer cultivar, this was developed for greater tolerance to shade, heat, and cold, and drought. It has a darker green color and fine texture.
This is a very fine bladed grass that is known for being very soft. This makes it popular in sports fields and for homes. Its dark green color makes it additionally popular.
Cashmere is known for is emerald shade of green. Its fine texture gives it a softer feel. While it has shade tolerance, it is not cold tolerant.
It is best suited to the Atlantic coastal regions in the American southeast.
Zoysia is established most often as plugs or sod, though some strains can be planted and grown from seed. Each method has unique benefits and issues.
The biggest complication with Zoysia is how slowly it spreads, which makes planting seeds or plugs challenging. A seeded lawn requires warmth and sunlight to establish in a yard, which can take a full year even in the best of conditions.
Not many people have the patience to follow-through on the daily care required to establish a Zoysia lawn this way.
A plugged lawn also requires full sun and warmth, and it will take two to three years to fill in the way most homeowners want it to. Within that time, weeds need to be painstakingly combated to allow the grass proper conditions to establish.
Sod, on the other hand, establishes quickly. It provides an almost immediate transition into having a lawn and establishes itself in about two weeks.
However, it is much more expensive.
Sod allows for better tolerance to adverse conditions, such as shade or colder temperatures. The seeds are finicky and will not establish themselves in less than perfect conditions.
The Best Time to Plant Zoysia
As a warm season grass, it is best to plant Zoysia or lay sod in the spring. It is heat tolerant, which makes this the more optimal time for planting.
You can still plant it in the fall, but it needs to be at least two months before the first frost.
Preparing Your Lawn for Zoysia
While Zoysia can withstand more adverse soil conditions, it’s still in your best interest to start off by getting a soil test. Zoysia can tolerate slightly acidic conditions, between 5.8 and 6.5 pH.
Best Overall Lawn Soil Test Kit
The Soil Test Kit I Use & Recommend
There are many options for testing your lawn’s soil, but I prefer a lab-based soil test that provides a detailed analysis of your soil’s nutrients and what’s needed for your lawn to thrive.
I use this one from MySoil every year.
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Depending on your test results, apply a starter fertilizer that will replenish the nutrients missing in your lawn and provide sufficient phosphorus for rapid root development.
You should loosen the first two inches of your soil and rake it smooth to create a proper surface for your grass to take root easily.
Planting Zoysia Grass Seeds
If you’re planting Zoysia seeds to establish a new lawn, sow the seed evenly using a quality fertilizer spreader at the recommended rates. I have a helpful grass seed calculator which can help you figure out the perfect amount of seed to spread for your project.
Lightly rake the ground and work the seed into ¼ inch of the soil. Don’t bury your seed too deep. Zoysia grows best when it can get the most sunlight.
Keep the seed moist until the seedlings have germinated, then slowly transition to less frequent and deeper irrigation to encourage deep root growth.
Just be sure not to water so much that the seeds wash away.
When overseeding an existing lawn, cut your grass as low as possible and use an iron tine rake to loosen the soil.
Use a spreader to lay the seed onto the grass, then use the back of a plastic leaf rake to press it into the ground and ensure good seed-to-soil contact.
You should cover your grass seed to protect it from birds, and water daily for 30 days until the grass seeds germinate and sprout.
Laying Zoysiagrass Sod
Zoysia lawns are most commonly established from sod, which allows for a quick finished product you can enjoy.
You have to lay sod on bare soil, which is typically tilled and graded prior to sod delivery.
Use a rake to smooth the soil and moisten before rolling the patches of sod out. Water lightly each day until the roots have grown into the soil, then water in a normal pattern.
I have a full guide with tips explaining how to lay sod properly which you should read if you’re going to DIY this project.
Growing a Zoysia Lawn from Plugs
Establishing a Zoysia lawn from plugs can be done by planting Zoysia plugs that are 2-inches in diameter. You should plant these on 6-inch centers. It grows slowly and needs to be plugged more densely than some other grass types.
Under proper conditions, this should fill in the lawn over 2 years. However, it really depends upon your prepwork, follow-through, and the conditions where you’re planting your plugs.
You’ll find that an established Zoysia lawn responds best to a reel mower. The sharper blades and cleaner cut allow the grass to grow back more responsively.
A well-graded Zoysia lawn is also a good candidate for a robotic mower if you want a more hands-off approach to your lawn care.
My Pick for the Best Robotic Mower
If you’re looking for the perfect robotic lawn mower that offers a balance of performance and price, the WORX Landroid WR165 is my #1 recommendation.
Its brushless motor and excellent navigation means you’ll enjoy great performance, and it costs less than its competitors.
These mowers have come a long way, and with the right conditions robotic mowers can be quite good. Zoysia lawns are a good candidate for this type of mower.
Dethatching Zoysia Lawns
Thatch is a common issue with Zoysia due to its dense, carpet-like growth. Aerating your lawn and/or using a quality dethatcher in the early summer will allow more oxygen to get into the ground and prevent thatch from developing.
As added precaution, rake your lawn with a tine rake in the fall to prevent thatch buildup in the winter.
Having a good drainage system from aerating will also help Zoysia develop the root structures needed to have optimal drought tolerance.
Like many types of lawn grass, Zoysia grows best when it receives an inch of water per week in one or two extended periods of deep watering. This ensures the water penetrates the ground, allowing the root systems to grow deep.
Shorter, more frequent watering will cause shallow roots to develop.
- Watering early in the morning is optimal, as it is cool enough for the grass to absorb the water before the heat dries it off.
- Evening watering will leave grass moist and you’ll be putting your lawn at risk of fungus growth and disease.
- I never recommend watering during the heat of the day – wind and heat will take a lot of the water you’re using. This makes mid-day irrigation pretty wasteful and ineffective.
Common Issues with Zoysia Grass
Depending on the zoysia cultivar, the shades of green are temperamental throughout the season. Especially when planted in cooler, more northern climates.
It goes dormant in the winter season, usually when the temperature drops regularly below 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Its optimal temperature is 70 degrees.
Zoysia is slow growing, which makes it difficult for certain strains to recover when exposed to excessive wear from high traffic.
It also makes it tough for the grass to spread and fully establish in a lawn. New seeds will not grow unless they are in optimal conditions of full sun and warmth.
There are certain diseases and issues that are common to zoysia. It’s particularly thatch prone due to its thick, bunching nature. It is also susceptible to patch disease.
Best Fertilizers for Zoysia Grass Lawns
Zoysia requires less nitrogen than many other grasses. The optimal amount is 1 to 3 pounds of nitrogen per 1000 square feet of lawn. Increase the nitrogen amount in sandy soils and decrease it for soils high in clay.
And if you’re not sure of your yard’s square footage, use my free lawn size calculator to get a quick, accurate measurement so you can fertilize properly:
While it does not need the same quantity of fertilizer that other types of lawn grass may need, Zoysia still benefits from 3 to 5 treatments over the course of a year.
Be careful not to over fertilize Zoysia because doing so will cause thatch to build up more quickly in this dense turfgrass.
Final Thoughts about Zoysia Grass for Lawns
Zoysia is a sturdy and resilient warm-season grass that is notable for cold tolerance. It is incredibly popular in the United States, where it is especially well-suited to the conditions of the transition zone.
Zoysia was initially marketed as a miracle grass in the 1950s, and it has proven itself as a low- maintenance grass that is as popular for sports fields and golf courses as it is for lawns.
Under the best conditions, Zoysia develops a beautiful green shade and thick carpet that is a sight to behold.
Want to learn more about Zoysia grass? Read my how fast does zoysia grass spread article.