Thanks to the warm weather and ample rainfall in Florida, it can be easy to maintain a lush lawn. Whether you live in the northern panhandle or as far south as the Keys, the characteristics of the most popular Zoysia varieties make it the best turf for the state of Florida.
Why Zoysia is a Great Turf Grass for Florida
The weather that Florida often receives is ideal for growing Zoysia grass. Let’s look at some of the basics of the grass. First, Zoysia is a warm-season grass that does well in direct sunlight. Average temps over ~65 degrees can keep it in its active growth stage all year long. This means it may not enter a stage of dormancy in the winter months like in colder parts of the country.
Because of Florida’s long growing season, it seems ornamental horticulture is more widely practiced in the state. People love to decorate their properties with large shrubs or even trees like the Palmetto or Palm. Doing so can cast more shade on a lawn, which some warm-season grasses can’t take.
Luckily for us, Zoysia performs well with some shade, and you won’t see its growth stunted by shade as you may with many Bermuda varieties.
Another quality that makes Zoysia such a great fit is its durability. More time outside on our lawns means more foot traffic. Zoysia is a dense, durable grass that grows horizontally faster than it does vertically. This means it takes longer to show wear and recovers more quickly when it does. Durability is one reason it is such a popular choice among the state’s golf courses.
Controlling Weeds & Maintaining a Florida Zoysia Lawn
Zoysia is a low-maintenance variety of grass to have on your lawn. Its deep root system holds moisture well. The only real watering needs come in periods of excessive drought when you start to see discolored patches appearing. Because of the way Zoysia grows mowing does not need to happen as frequently as with other grasses and can be done between 1” – 2” for most varieties.
Aerate zoysia in the spring after the threat of frost has passed. Aeration helps combat the number one disease that can strike your Zoysia – large patch fungus. Large patch occurs when your soil and roots hold too much moisture for too long. This poor drainage is often created by too much thatch build-up or compact soil.
Aeration will allow air to get to the Zoysia root system and encourage better drainage across your lawn, lessening your odds of encountering large patch disease. Another quick preventative would be to run a thatch rake across your lawn occasionally, perhaps once every couple of months.
Use a Pre-emergent
Because of its creeping nature, Zoysia will out-compete a lot of weeds once it’s established and do the work for you. However, without a harsh winter to kill off certain annuals and knock back slower-growing grasses, you can rely on a pre-emergent applied in the early spring to help keep weeds out.
Adding nitrogen to your lawn is another easy step to help keep your Zoysia happy and healthy. Over the course of the grass’s active growing season, apply 2-4 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 sq. feet of turf. Limit your applications to only one pound per 1,000 sq. feet at a time. The denser the soil (like clay), the less you should apply. The less dense the soil (those with a lot of sand), apply more nitrogen.
Your soil’s pH level should be between 5.5-7.0 for Zoysia. You can check this with a simple soil test and adjust it one of two ways if needed. As long as the average temperature has been below 75, add sulfur to lower a pH above 7.0, or add lime if it is below 5.5. Zoysia is a hearty grass that will grow outside of its ideal range, but 5.5-7.0 is the target if you’re really trying to fine-tune your lawn.
Meyer Zoysia has been a standard since the 1950s but more recently, improved varieties like El Toro and Empire outperform it, especially in Florida. El Toro has a faster establishment rate and a faster green-up rate in the spring. Empire and El Toro both are more shade tolerant than Meyer, and Empire is now the most common Zoysia variety across the entire state of Florida.
Each of these three are what we call coarse textured cultivars. There are many varieties with slimmer, finer blades that we refer to as fine-textured cultivars (such as Geo, Zeon, and Zorro). Though they are fine grasses, they do not have the same presence in or suitability for Florida as El Toro, Empire, or even Meyer Zoysia.
Installing and Establishing
Seed, plugs, sprigs, and sod can all be used to establish Zoysia in your lawn. If you choose to seed, you will need some type of erosion cover as the seed can’t be covered by soil. If you choose to use plugs, they should be planted 6” – 12” apart. Keep the soil moist, and be on the lookout for the weeds that will likely take over the bare spots in between the plugs.
Sprigs will require putting 4” long pieces end to end less than six inches apart. Cover them with 1”-2” of soil, and keep the ground moist until it is totally covered. This process is very labor intensive, both during the initial installation and while maintaining it.
Of all the methods you could use to establish Zoysia, sodding is the most effective. There is no waiting around for seeds to germinate or plugs to spread. By laying sod you greatly decrease the chance of weeds competing with your Zoysia, and your yard is instantly covered. Water and roll it regularly to get the roots established as quickly as possible.
Pros and Cons
|✅ Pros||❌ Cons|
|Excels in warm weather and direct sunlight||Is susceptible to large patch fungus and rust|
|Can handle time in the shade||Can become discolored after an extended period of drought.|
|Deep root system|
|Can overtake bare spots and establish itself relatively quickly|
|Can withstand a cold snap of weather and bounce back|
So many considerations have to be made when deciding what type of grass to put in your yard. But, if you want to make a choice that requires minimum maintenance, especially living in the state of Florida, you won’t find a better all-around choice than Zoysia.