Zoysiagrass: A warm-season grass in a cool-season world

When April showers turn your lawn green, thick, blonde patches of turfgrass reveal a completely different creature lurking among your bluegrass.

One small zoysiagrass patch can soon take over a whole lawn. Photo credit: Rebecca Finneran, MSU Extension
One small zoysiagrass patch can soon take over a whole lawn. Photo credit: Rebecca Finneran, MSU Extension

What could be better than a lush, green lawn that is so thick your bare feet literally plunge into its softness? Zoysiagrass is touted to be a “miracle grass” of sorts – not needing much water and only an occasional mowing. With a vigor that will literally choke out weeds, and other lawn grasses, this green giant sounds almost too good to be true. And yes, it is!

Native to tropical areas of Eastern Asia, zoysiagrass (Zoysia japonica) is a warm-season turfgrass used in the South and transition states for lawns and golf courses. Although it is plenty hardy in Michigan, zoysiagrass remains dormant – tan, brown and dead appearance – from October well into May. Starting out in small patches, homeowners notice it in the early spring when the color appears like the rattan chaise lounge you should be sitting in. Its aggressive nature will launch a few small, round patches into an entire lawn. Since the lawn environment does not read property deeds or respect boundary lines, this could also lead to a disgruntled neighbor who does not appreciate your miracle grass in their turf.

Keep your cool with cool-season grasses

Michigan State University Extension has been researching turfgrasses that are adaptable to our state for many years. Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass and fine fescue are commonly used in Michigan for home lawns and are known as “cool-season” grasses. These grasses look very nice in spring and early summer. However, without irrigation, cool-season grasses can brown in late summer when temperatures become high and moisture is limiting. At this point, zoysiagrass will typically look a little greener in color and be more be drought-tolerant than cool-season grasses.

Unless this browning appearance is tolerable in early spring and summer, zoysiagrass should not be used in Michigan. Infrequent mowing and drought tolerance are two advantages that are advertised to lure homeowners into purchasing the seed.

Zoysiagrass can be removed physically from the soil by digging or treating with a non-selective, directed application of glyphosate (Roundup®, others) and then re-seeding with a cool-season grass. Remember, always read and follow labeled directions.

For more information on a wide variety of Smart Gardening articles, or to find out about Smart Gardening classes and events, visit www.migarden.msu.edu.

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