Zoysia will tickle your toes and ward off the weeds

Published: Saturday, January 1, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 30, 2010 at 9:10 p.m.

Q: Our homeowners’ association is considering allowing zoysia grass for lawns in our development. I am not at all familiar with zoysia. Can you give me the pros and cons, if there are any, to growing and maintaining it in this part of Florida? I have looked at the UF/IFAS website and see things from other counties about browning, insects and invasiveness. How does it do in North Central Florida, and how does it compare with St. Augustine?

A: Zoysia is a good turf grass that does well in North Central Florida. It has fine leaf blades as compared to the wider and coarser blades of St. Augustine. This fine texture makes it a pleasure to walk on, a toe tickler if you will. Zoysia grass’ growth habit is low and dense. It grows so densely that healthy strands of zoysia easily out-compete weeds. Because of its low and slow growth, it does not have to be mowed as often as St. Augustine. Depending on the cultivar you grow, it will perform well in full sun or partial shade. You may be getting the feeling that I am a fan of zoysia, and I am, but I have only warmed up to this grass in the last few years. Before that we didn’t have excellent cultivars to choose from, and marketers’ claims about zoysia made it sound too good to be true. Now Floridians have a few good types of zoysia to choose from, and we know that, like any grass that we grow in Florida, it comes with its own set of issues.

The cultivar Empire has been planted widely in developments like the Villages, and it is doing pretty well there. Empire has a dark green color and fills in quickly. The Ultimate flora cultivar was developed at the University of Florida, has a slightly finer leaf than Empire and shows decent shade tolerance. An older cultivar that is planted in North Central Florida is called El Toro; this zoysia is reported to have good cold tolerance, but all of the zoysia cultivars will go brown when we have our first freeze. They will quickly green up in the spring when the warm weather returns.

To insure good growth and color, zoysia will need to be watered and fertilized. How much depends on your maintenance level. For a moderate maintenance level, you will fertilize up to four times a year with a nitrogen fertilizer and water one-half to three-fourths of an inch when the grass shows water stress and according to Water Management district’s watering restrictions. Check the IFAS website for specific fertilizer formulations to make sure you are applying the nitrogen appropriately and to prevent runoff pollution.

You know that if you grow St. Augustine grass that at some point you will have to deal with chinch bugs. If you are growing zoysia, you will have another six-legged enemy called the hunting bill bug. Its larva appear as a white grub in the lawn that chews the roots. This pest is controllable with insecticide treatment, but it is an insect that you will need to keep an eye out for. Also, zoysia has issues with nematodes, the microscope worms that infest plant roots. The cultivars that I have mentioned have good nematode resistance, which is one of the reasons they are perfectly suitable for North Central Florida.

There is no perfect grass, but it is nice to be able to add zoysia to the list of turf grasses that will perform well for us in North Florida. University of Florida has continuing research on new cultivars of zoysia, so we will be seeing more of this grass in the future.

Wendy Wilber is an extension agent with UF/IFAS. E-mail her at

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