Zoysia grass works well in light shade

By: samjack


DALLAS — Zoysia grass, introduced into the United States from China in 1895, grows well in lightly shaded areas. It’s fairly drought-tolerant, similar to Bermuda. And it handles wear and tear. It needs half the fertilizer of Bermuda, and its cold tolerance is very good. When properly taken care of, it makes a beautiful lawn.

“If you want something that grows in shade, is drought- and wear-tolerant, zoysia will come the closest,” says Dr. Jim McAfee, Texas AgriLife Extension Service turfgrass specialist.

So, instead of admiring their St. Augustine or Bermuda lawns, why aren’t more homeowners marveling at their fine expanse of zoysia?

Mainly because it’s so tough.

The blades of zoysia are stiff, and your average rotary mower, with cutting blades sharpened once a decade or so, doesn’t cut it. The toughest zoysias require a reel mower, similar to those used on golf courses.

Without sharp blades and a good mower, cutting zoysia isn’t much fun. Also, zoysia needs to be kept crisply clipped; when it gets too tall, zoysia doesn’t look good.

“Mowing height and frequency are very important,” says McAfee. “You have to have a good, sharp mower blade to get a clean cut.”

The good news is that zoysia can be cut with a rotary mower. Just cut the lawn frequently and keep the blade sharp.

Zoysia needs to be mowed every five to seven days, Dr. McAfee says, at a lower height than more commonly planted grasses, such as Bermuda. One to 1 1/2 inches high is ideal.

Zoysia is almost always sold as sod in the Dallas area. Sod, which is more expensive than plugs or sprigs, is probably another reason zoysia hasn’t caught on.

The two main types of zoysia for homeowners are japonica and matrella.

Matrella is much finer-bladed than japonica. “It makes the prettiest lawn in the South,” says Dr. McAfee. But he doesn’t recommend it for most folks. Its blades are too tough and thick for the average homeowner to maintain.

Instead, McAfee recommends japonica. You can mow it with a rotary mower, and it’s very cold- and drought-tolerant. “It’s easier to maintain, and it still looks good.”

Some varieties of japonica include ‘Palisades’, ‘JaMur’, ‘Crowne’ and ‘El Toro’. A variety called ‘Zenith’ is sold as seed.

Matrella types include ‘Emerald’, ‘Zeon’, ‘Zorro’, ‘Cavalier’ and ‘Diamond’. (‘Cavalier’ and ‘Diamond’ are among the toughest to mow, says McAfee.) ‘Emerald’ is a hybrid of matrella and a third type of zoysia, tenuifolia, that looks like matrella.

Sunday newspaper supplements often advertise a type called ‘Meyer Z-52′. That variety is for northern climates, McAfee warns.

Like other warm-season grasses, zoysias turn brown once temperatures get consistently below 40 degrees. Zoysias green up in spring about the same time as Bermuda, St. Augustine and buffalo grass.

Late spring and early summer are good for planting zoysia. Prepare the site as you would for any type of turf.

McAfee says a key maintenance task is to scalp the grass in the spring every year or every two years. Because it is so thick, scalping helps keep it at the right height.

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