Zoysiagrass for Florida lawns

Zoysiagrasses (Zoysia spp.) were introduced into the United States from the Orient and provide attractive turf throughout much of the United States. Several species and varieties are used for residential and commercial landscapes, athletic fields, and golf course tees, fairways, and roughs. An established, well-managed zoysiagrass provides a high quality turf, but zoysiagrasses generally require a high level of maintenance. Improvements in zoysiagrass varieties, however, are a major objective of many turfgrass breeders. These improvements are aimed at maximizing the positive attributes of zoysiagrass, while minimizing the disadvantages.



Zoysiagrasses are adapted to a variety of soils and have good tolerance to shade, salt, and traffic. They provide an extremely dense sod that resists weed invasion. Once established, the slow growth of some zoysiagrass varieties is an advantage because mowing frequency is reduced. When properly maintained, however, zoysiagrasses make excellent turf.



The improved zoysiagrasses must be propagated vegetatively and some varieties are extremely slow to establish. For some varieties, two growing seasons may be required for coverage when propagated by plugging or sprigging; others establish much more rapidly. All zoysiagrasses form a heavy thatch that will require periodic renovation. Other disadvantages of the older varieties include slow recovery from damage, poor growth on compacted soils, high fertility requirements, and poor drought tolerance. Some varieties are also prone to damage by nematodes, hunting billbugs, and several diseases. Zoysiagrass also tends to form shallow roots and is weakened when grown in soils low in potassium. Due to toughness of leaves and stems, a reel mower will provide the best cut.



Zoysia Japonica

This species was introduced into the United
States in 1895 and is commonly called Japanese or
Korean lawngrass. It is a very coarse textured grass
with hairy, light green leaves. Of all the
zoysiagrasses, this species has a faster growth rate
and exhibits excellent cold tolerance. Zoysia japonica
is the only zoysiagrass for which seed is
commercially available, however, the seeded varieties
generally do not produce as high quality turf as do the
vegetatively propagated varieties. They can be used
for lawns or general turf areas where convenience of
establishment by seed is more important than quality.
Additionally, hunting billbugs and nematodes cause
considerable damage to some varieties of this

Belaire is an improved Zoysia japonica
developed in Maryland by the USDA and released in
1985. It is noted for its excellent cold tolerance and
medium green color. Compared to 'Meyer', 'Belaire'
has a more open growth habit, coarser leaf texture
and faster establishment rate. Brown patch disease
may be a problem for this variety.
Crowne is a coarse-textured vegetatively
propagated clone of Zoysia japonica released by
Texas A&M University. 'Crowne' is noted for its
tolerance to low water use requirements, cold
hardiness and rapid recuperative ability. It was
released for used on home lawns, industrial parks,
highway rights-of-way, and golf course rough areas.
As with 'Palisades', nematode susceptibility is not
known for this variety.

El Toro is also an improved Zoysia japonica
released in 1986 from California. It resembles
'Meyer' but has a quicker establishment rate,
improved cool-season color, better cold tolerance,
and less thatch buildup. 'El Toro' is also reported to
have early spring green-up, more shade tolerance, and
improved resistance to rust disease.
Empire zoysiagrass is a native proprietary
selection of Zoysia japonica. It it said to be dark
green in color with a wide leaf blade and open growth
habit. It has performed well in sandy and clay soil
types with aggressive growth from its stolons and
rhizomes, but can be mowed with a standard rotary
mower due to its broader leaf and open growth habit.
Empress is another native proprietary selection
of Zoysia japonica, however, unlike 'Empire', this
grass was selected for its fine bladed texture, tight
growth habit, and green color. 'Empire' is best suited
for applications where a fine, small leaf, soft textured
turf is desired such as home lawns, golf courses,
parks, and sports fields.

Meyer zoysiagrass, also called Z-52 or
'Amazoy', is an improved selection of Zoysia
japonica released in 1951. 'Meyer' is the zoysiagrass
often advertised as the "miracle" grass in newspapers
and magazines and has long been the standard
zoysiagrass in use. It has a deep green color, medium
leaf texture, and spreads much faster than other
varieties, although it produces few rhizomes. 'Meyer'
makes an excellent turf once established. It is less
shade tolerant than 'Emerald', but is one of the most
cold tolerant zoysiagrasses. Hunting billbugs and
nematodes pose serious problems with 'Meyer',
limiting its use in Florida.

Palisades is an improved Zoysia japonica that
forms a medium to coarse-textured turf. Released by
Texas A&M University, 'Palisades' produces a
vigorous regrowth from stolons and rhizomes and is
noted for its good winter hardiness, tolerance to low
mowing, and good to excellent shade tolerance. It is
said to be a low water user and has good salt
tolerance. 'Palisades' is being marketed for home
lawns and for use on golf courses. One concern with
'Palisades' is the lack of research information on
nematode susceptibility.

Zoysia Matrella

Also called Manilagrass, this species was
introduced into the United States in 1912 from Manila
(hence the name). It produces a finer and denser turf
than Zoysia japonica but is less winter-hardy and
slower growing. Manilagrass resembles
bermudagrass in texture, color and quality and is
recommended for a high-quality, high-maintenance
turf where a slow rate of establishment is not a
disadvantage. Some varieties of Zoysia matrella are
highly susceptible to damage by nematodes.
Cashmere is a 1988 release from Pursley Turf
Farms located in Palmetto, Florida. It is dark green,
has a fine leaf texture and forms a dense turf. Its shade
tolerance is not fully known, but it does lack cold
hardiness, and is thus best adapted to the lower
southern region.

Cavalier is another fine-textured Zoysia matrella
cultivar and is appropriate for home lawns, sports
fields, and golf course fairways and tees. A
long-leafed variety, it is said to make a very attractive
turf, especially during summer. It is rated as having
good shade tolerance, good salt tolerance, and
excellent fall color retention. In trials conducted at
Texas A&M at Dallas, 'Cavalier' showed good
resistance to fall armyworms and moderate resistance
to tropical sod webworms. 'Cavalier' has done well
in trials in Texas, the Midwest and mid-Atlantic
regions, however, limited research has been
conducted in Florida on this grass.
Diamond is an improved Zoysia matrella that is
vegetatively propagated. It was released from Texas
in 1996. 'Diamond' is distinguished from other
zoysiagrasses by its fine texture, excellent salt and
shade tolerance, and faster growth. It performs best
when mowed at a height of 1/2-inch or less. In fact,
'Diamond' has been planted on several experimental
golf greens mowed at 1/4-inch or lower. Like other
zoysiagrasses, it has poor cold tolerance, which may
limit its use in northern parts of the state and it is
highly susceptible to tropical sod webworms.

Zoysia Tenuifolia

Also called Mascarenegrass or Korean
velvetgrass, this species is the finest textured and
most dense zoysiagrass available. It has good wear
tolerance but poor cold tolerance, and is only adapted to the central and southern areas of the state. It also produces an excessive thatch, giving it a puffy appearance.

Zoysiagrass hybrids

Emerald zoysiagrass is a selected hybrid
between Zoysia japonica and Zoysia tenuifolia
developed in Tifton, GA and released in 1955. This
hybrid combines the winter-hardiness, color, and
faster growth rate of one parent with the fine texture
and density of the other parent. 'Emerald' resembles
Manilagrass in color, texture, and density, but is
faster-spreading and has a wider adaptation.
'Emerald' zoysiagrass is highly recommended for top
quality lawns where time and money allow for
adequate maintenance. 'Emerald' produces an
excessive thatch layer and is susceptible to dollar and
leaf spot. Brown patch disease also can occur.
Zoysia sinica--A new species for turf?
Seashore zoysiagrass (not to be confused with
Seashore paspalum) is an obscure species that was
previously not considered suitable for turf. However,
breeding efforts have produced an improved cultivar
'J-14'. It most closely resembles Zoysia japonica as
far as leaf texture, color, density, and general
appearance are concerned. One major difference is
that the seed for Seashore zoysiagrass is much easier
to handle and appears to propagate better. 'J-14' is
currently being tested at Gainesville and Milton.



With one exception, zoysiagrasses must be
planted vegetatively, by sod, plugs, or sprigs. Zoysia
japonica is the only species for which seed is
commercially available. Success with any
propagation method is highly dependent on proper
soil preparation.


Establishing zoysiagrass from seed is increasing
in popularity. The seed, however, is extremely
sensitive to light and cannot be covered with soil.
Consequently, areas to be established by seed need to be covered with some type of erosion cloth to reduce any surface disruption caused by rain or irrigation.

After seeding, frequent, light irrigations are necessary
to keep the soil moist and encourage germination.
Maintain this moisture regime until the planted area
is completed covered.


Sodding will produce an instant turf, as the entire
area to be planted with grass material is covered. Sod
should only be laid over bare moist soil with pieces
laid in a staggered brick-like pattern and the edges
fitted tightly together to avoid any open cracks.
Rolling and watering thoroughly will insure good
contact with the soil for fast rooting. Sodded areas
should be watered at least twice per day with a 1/4 inch of water until the sod is held fast (usually 2 to 3
weeks) to the soil by new roots; then watering should
be reduced to an as-needed basis.


Because of the relatively slow establishment rate
of zoysiagrass, plugs are usually planted on 6- to
8-inch centers. This means that plugs are planted
every 6 inches in a row and rows are spaced 6 inches
apart. Even with 6-inch spacing, at least one full
season will be required for complete coverage; longer
for some varieties. Plugs should be tamped firmly into
the soil and watered in. During grow-in, the soil
should be kept moist until the grass is well rooted.
Extra attention to weed control is necessary during
this type of establishment.



Planting zoysiagrasses by sprigs is a laborious,
but effective, method of establishment. Fresh sprigs
with at least two or four nodes should be planted in
rows that are 6 inches apart. Plant the sprigs
end-to-end or no more than 6 inches apart in the row,
and cover them with soil about one to 2 inches deep,
leaving part of each sprig exposed to light. A roller
can be used to press sprigs into the soil. Soil must be
kept moist until plants initiate new growth and the
area is completely covered.



Proper fertilization is an important component of
the best management practices of your turf.
Fertilization and other cultural practices influence the
overall health of the turf and can reduce or increase
its vulnerability to many stresses, including weeds,
insects, and disease.

Having soil tests done annually to determine the
exact fertility need is advisable. Your local UF
Cooperative Extension Service county office has
instructions and bags for taking soil samples and
submitting to the UF Extension Soil Testing Lab for
analysis. These tests form the basis for your turf
fertility program and recommendations from the soil
tests should take precedence over recommendations
given in publications or on fertilizer bags. In
particular, phosphorous levels are best determined by
soil testing. Since many Florida soils are high in
phosphorous, little or no phosphorus may be needed
for satisfactory turf growth. The exception to this may
be during establishment.

In general, two weeks following complete spring
green-up, apply a fertilizer at the rate of 1/2
(water-soluble) to 1 (slow-release) pound of nitrogen
per 1000 square feet. The three numbers on a fertilizer
bag refer to percent nitrogen, phosphorus, and
potassium, respectively, in the bag. For example, a
50-pound bag of 16-4-8 contains 16% nitrogen or 8
pounds total nitrogen. This bag will fertilize 8000
square feet at the rate of 1 pound of nitrogen per 1000
square feet. To look their best, zoysiagrasses require
frequent fertilization. They should receive 3 to 6 lbs.
of nitrogen during the growing season in most
situations. University of Florida guidelines for
lawngrass fertility show a range of fertilizer rates
over which a particular species may be successfully
grown for various areas of the state. These ranges are
included to account for individual homeowner
preferences for low-, medium-, or high-input grass.
Additionally, localized microclimate effects can have
a tremendous effect on turfgrass growth, and a range
of rates provides more opportunity to allow for these
environmental variations. An example of this would
be a typical home lawn that is partially shaded and
partially sunny. The grass growing in the shade
should receive lower rates of fertilizer than that
growing in full sun. The guidelines are also separated
into three geographical locations statewide as
indicated in Table 1 and Table 2. All rates are in
pounds of nitrogen per 1000 square feet.

Fertilizer should be applied to zoysiagrass in 3 to
6 applications from spring greenup through fall. Do
not apply nitrogen too early in the growing season,
particularly in north Florida, or subsequent frosts
may damage the grass. Likewise, don't fertilize too
late in the year, as this can slow regrowth the
following spring. If applying water-soluble forms at
the lower application rate, it will take more
applications to apply the total amount of fertilizer
needed for the year than if applying a slow-release
fertilizer form.


If fertilized as recommended, zoysiagrasses will
require frequent mowing (e.g., weekly) during the
summer to look their best. Zoysia japonica should be
mowed every 7 to 10 days, or when it reaches a
height of 3 to 4 inches. It should be mowed at a height
of 2 to 3 inches with a rotary mower. 'Meyer'
zoysiagrass looks best when cut at 1 to 2 inches every
10 to 14 days, or when it reaches a height of 2 to 2.5
inches, using a reel mower. 'Emerald' and
Manilagrass should be cut with a reel mower at 1/2 to
1 inch every 10 to 14 days, or when they reach a
height of 3/4 to 1.5 inches. Because zoysiagrass leaves
are very coarse, they can be quite difficult to mow. A
sharp, well-adjusted rotary or reel mower should be


Zoysiagrasses require watering especially if
parasitized by nematodes, which greatly restrict the
root system. During prolonged droughts, watering
zoysiagrass every other day may be necessary.
Irrigation on an as-needed basis is an excellent way
to water any grass, provided the proper amount of
water is applied when needed; not at a later or more
convenient time. When using this approach, water at
the first sign of wilt and apply 3/4 inch water per

Information provided by the University of Florida's IFAS Extension