Landscaping in America

Warm season grasses for homeowners living in southern America

Zoysia grass

Southern Lawns by Chris Hastings

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Zoysia Grass

Zoysia grasses 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 grass .

The third species of Zoysia grass 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.

Zoysia grass 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 Bermuda grass.

The leaf blades of Zoysia grass 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.

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

Zoysia grasses are among the most wear tolerant turf grasses. However, their slow rate of growth gives them very 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"

First mowing should be done while the Zoysia grass 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

NOT RECOMMENDED IN COOL SEASON AREAS. 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 grass 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 ZOYSIA GRASS FROM YOUR LAWN for additional information.


Newspaper ads touting the advantages of Zoysia grass 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 these headlines:

First, no grass will stay green in extreme drought conditions without additional water. Some are better than others at withstanding drought. Zoysia grass is one. So is St. Augustine grass, Bermuda grass, and Bahia grass, 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 Zoysia grass 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.