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Zoysia Grass: A Planting, Growing &
Care Guide

Zoysia Grass

What Is Zoysia Grass?

Zoysia grass is a low-maintenance grass that grows best in southern and transition zones. When planted in these preferred areas, Zoysia can hold its own against a variety of common stressors and remain healthy and lush. For this reason, it's ideal for those who can't or don't want to invest much time into their lawn.

Key Characteristics of Zoysia Grass

  • Warm-season grass that can tolerate some cold
  • Prefers full sun for optimal health
  • Great for USDA planting zones 5-10
  • Can tolerate heat, drought, and high foot traffic
  • Minimal watering needs
  • Green in spring/summer and turns beige when dormant in cooler months
  • Tolerates acidic soils
  • Not prone to pests

When to Plant Zoysia Grass

It's best to plant Zoysia grass in late spring to early summer. This varies for different geographic areas because the deciding factor is temperature. You should wait to plant until after the last frost, but don't wait until extremely hot temperatures. Ideally, you should plant when daily temperatures are consistently in the 70s. Also plant at least 60 days before the first fall frost.

How to Plant Zoysia Grass

When planting Zoysia grass, you can start from Zoysia seed, sod, or plugs. Since Zoysia can take some time to grow, most prefer beginning with sod or plugs.

Planting a New Zoysia Lawn From Seeds

To plant a new Zoysia lawn from seeds, follow these steps

  1. Take Lawn Measurements

  2. First, measure your lawn so you know how much you'll need of the materials you choose. There are many online tools and apps today to help determine the size of your property.

  3. Assess Your Soil

  4. Since Zoysia grass does best in acidic soil with a pH of 5.8 to 7.0, you may need to prep your soil. Test your soil's pH level a few weeks before you want to plant. Depending on the results, you may need to till recommended nutrients into the top layer of your soil.

  5. Spread Seeds

  6. Use a spreader to evenly distribute Zoysia grass seed around your property. Make sure to keep seeding consistent and to not apply too much or too little. Spreading too dense a layer of seeds can lead to overcrowding and improper germination. Spreading too little can lead to a sparse lawn. Lightly tamp the seeds to ensure a good soil contact.

  7. Pomote Germination

  8. These seeds will take about three weeks to germinate if cared for properly. During this phase, it's important to keep soil moist, though not oversaturated. Once your grass is established, you can cut back to a more regular watering routine. It's also important not to mow the grass until it has reached at least 2.5 inches tall to give it time to fully develop.

Patching Bare Spots

Bare spots can happen in your lawn for a variety of reasons, from pet urine to pests. To patch these areas, you'll first want to cut out the dead, discolored grass. Then rake the top inch or two of the soil to loosen it and prepare it for germination. From there, use steps three and four above to regrow your Zoysia grass in the bare spot.

Overseeding a Thin Lawn

If you want to thicken your zoysia lawn, you may want to do a process called overseeding once or twice a year. Do this around spring or fall when temperatures are comfortable and far from freezing or high heat. Cut your grass down to one inch so seeds can reach the soil. Though not required, it's a good idea to aerate your lawn for best results. Finally, implement steps three and four above.

How to Grow and Care for Zoysia Grass

To keep Zoysia grass healthy, first make sure the optimal soil pH level is maintained. If pH levels drop below 5.8, you may want to add a lime application. You'll also want to remove as much shade as possible so your Zoysia grass can receive plenty of direct sun. Though this grass is drought-tolerant, it does best with an inch of water per week. Maintain this watering routine, ideally watering in the morning so grass can dry quickly and fungal issues won't occur.

Keep Zoysia lawns mowed to a height of one to one and a half inches, and feed it one to three pounds of nitrogen per thousand square feet in late spring. Raking zoysia grass in the spring and fall can keep it from accumulating thatch.

Zoysia Grass Varieties

Several species of Zoysia grass are available for use for the Zoysia lawn. Some of the most common ones used are:

• Zoysia japonica: With a coarser texture and better cold tolerance than some varieties, Zoysia japonica is used in Zoysia lawns and other turf areas. It's light green and performs well at higher mowing heights.

• Zoysia matrella: Sometimes called Manila grass, this species has a finer texture and is more shade tolerant than Zoysia japonica. Slower to establish, it can tolerate lower mowing heights. Zoysia matrella produces a high-quality, high-maintenance turf.

• Zoysia tenuifolia: Less cold hardy and with a puffy appearance, this species is not used as often for lawns. Instead, it's used as a ground cover or specimen plant in gardens.

Zoysia Grass Pests & Diseases

Care for Zoysia grass is fairly easy, as Zoysia grass is not often bothered by pests and diseases. However, one step for Zoysia grass care is monitoring your lawn for brown spots and other signs of damage. The most common pests, diseases and problems include:

• Grubs: Grub damage usually shows up in late summer to early fall. Usually the grass starts to thin and small patches of dead grass appear. Grubs, which are immature forms of beetles, are usually found just below the surface.

• Chinch Bugs: Chinch bug damage usually shows up during the
hot, dry months of summer and looks like drought damage. To check
for chinch bugs, pull up damaged turf and look for small, fast-moving,
black bugs

• Large Patch: This fungal disease has a distinctive pattern of circular,
brown patches that enlarge.

• Overwatering: Zoysia grass does not tolerate standing water well and
the grass may die. If you see Zoysia grass dying in low-lying areas, the
cause may be overwatering.

Expert Advice

Find our answers to common questions regarding Zoysia grass below.

Q. I'm looking at a magazine ad for the Zoysia grass you sometimes talk about, and the claims look too good to be true. There must be some downside. Will it really replace my existing lawn if I plant one plug every foot like they say?
    ---Stephen in Spinnerstown, PA
I saw an ad in Parade magazine touting the wonders of a Zoysia grass lawn. Can you share your thoughts on this type of lawn—especially for my area?
    ---Phyllis in Chester Springs, PA
Would Zoysia grass be a good choice for my yard? I've read that it's hardy in this area.
    ---Julianna in Oklahoma (zone 7, I think)
I am thinking of planting "Amazoy" zoysia grass plugs in my backyard (not my front yard, which has a lot of shade). Am I too far north? Is October to late to plant?
    ---Kris in Plymouth MA
A. As I've mentioned many times on the show, I grew up with a zoysia grass lawn in front of our Philadelphia row home, as my dad was one of the many homeowners roped in by those ubiquitous magazine ads (which probably haven't changed much in the ensuing 50 years). So I can tell you from experience that it really did fill in completely from plugs planted as directed. (My father had been a draftsman in the shipyard, so I'm certain he not only followed the directions, he measured the distance between plugs.) It was, as advertised, weed-free, slow growing, and spread to fill in its own bare spots—and anywhere else it could reach, eventually taking over the neighbor's attached lawn (luckily for us to their delight).

What the ads don't tell you—they are advertising, after all —is that zoysia grass lawns go dormant in cool climes in the Fall, turning a tannish beige until they green up again the following Spring. Our Philadelphia lawn (USDA Growing Zone 6) was green about five months of the year. In warmer climes like Oklahoma, the green stage will be lengthier, with very little, if any, dormant time in the deeper South.

That's because zoysia is a warm-season grass, like Bermuda and St. Augustine. But while most warm-season grasses can't handle a winter chill, zoysia can survive cold weather, even in extreme areas like Massachusetts—and Michigan, where callers to our show have described decades-old zoysia lawns. BUT those lawns are only green for three or four months of the year. Northerners who don't want a light brown yard should stick with the classic cool-season turfs: Kentucky bluegrass, the fescues, perennial rye, or blends of those grasses.

Now, we always warn that cool-season grass seed must be sown in the Fall for the lawn to thrive; that's probably why Kris in Massachusetts wonders if she missed the planting window for this year. She would have missed it for a cool-season turf, but warm-season grasses are installed in the Spring, not the Fall. And very few warm-season grasses grow well from seed, so you generally plant sod, sprigs or plugs. (Zoysia plugs are just punched out of rolls of sod, so they're kind of the same thing.)

Till up the soil as soon as its dry in Spring, rake away as much of the old green material as you can, level the surface, apply an inch of compost, well-aged mushroom soil and/or high-quality, dark-colored topsoil, level that, plant your zoysia plugs and keep them watered until they start spreading sideways.

Warm-season lawns get a closer cut than cool-season ones, so leveling the surface first is essential if you want to avoid bare spots. (Its actually essential no matter what kind of grass you grow; an un-level lawn will never look as good as it should.)

That inch of compost and/or topsoil on top is also essential, as it will prevent lots of the buried weed seeds you uncovered from sprouting and provide a nice base of organic matter for your new lawn. If you can afford it, buy more than the recommended number and plant the plugs closer than directed; the faster it fills in, the fewer weeds you'll have to worry about. (This is true of all warm-season grasses, not just zoysia.)

After it's established, cut zoysia at about two inches high and feed it LIGHTLY while it's actively green and growing; two feedings from the Philadelphia area North, one in late Spring and one in Summer. You can feed three times in warmer regions where the turf is green longer, but don't go nuts; zoysia is just not a heavy feeder.

Use an organic fertilizer that provides about a pound of Nitrogen per thousand square feet of turf each time. Ten pounds of corn gluten meal per thousand square feet would be ideal, providing exactly the right amount of food, and—thanks to its natural pre-emergent herbicide capability—preventing any of those dormant weed seeds from sprouting. At least it will if the corn gluten is labeled as a natural pre-emergent herbicide and licensed by Iowa State University (as all of Gardens Alive's CGM products are). Corn gluten sold as animal feed is an inferior fertilizer, and won't provide any weed protection.

IMPORTANT NOTE: All warm-season grasses are fed in the warm months. Centipede grass is a light feeder like zoysia, but the others all want a little more Nitrogen each time—say 15 to 20 pounds of corn gluten per thousand square feet, or other natural lawn fertilizer that provides a pound and a half to two pounds of Nitrogen each time. But don't feed bluegrass, fescue or rye in the summer; cool-season lawns are on a very different feeding schedule. See this Previous Question of the Week for more info on the care and feeding of cool-season grasses.

Back to zoysia: Once established, it is such an aggressive grower that deep edging is absolutely necessary to keep it from creeping into adjoining flowerbeds or such. (Install this barrier when you put the plugs in; it's really hard to establish a Maginot Line AFTER the fact.)

Our zoysia lawn also needed a good de-thatching every summer with a specialized rake. This produced little haystacks of dead material I used to think would make sensational mulch, until Iowa State University Turf Grass Professor Dr. Nick Christians warned me that the seemingly dead rhizomes could still spring back to life—just where I didn't want them.

Oh, and while our listener is correct that zoysia is generally considered a full-sun turf, Dr. Christians rates it as actually having pretty good shade tolerance. You wouldn't want to plant a full shade area with it, but it should do okay in in-between spots.

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