Depending on where you live in the country, Zoysia and Bermuda grasses can serve as great options for your lawn. Each requires similar types of maintenance, and each will thrive under slightly different conditions. Both are durable grasses that can withstand a lot of wear and foot traffic, which may make them perfect options for your backyard.
Ideal Growing Conditions
|Dormant in Winter||Yes||Yes|
Both Zoysia and Bermudagrass are warm-season grasses, meaning they will go dormant in the winter months and experience active growth in the late spring and summer. Both zoysia and bermudagrass are extremely drought resistant due to the deep root systems they develop. Not only does this make them good options for areas with little rain, but it also helps to minimize maintenance.
Both are invasive species, so during their growth periods they spread quickly to cover bare spots and choke out undesirable weeds. Many cool season and broadleaf grass will be overtaken by Zoysia or Bermuda. Both varieties spread with runners that creep horizontally moreso than vertically.
One difference between them is their shade tolerance. Any amount of shade in your lawn can cripple Bermuda, while Zoysia is much more tolerant of it. While areas of Zoysia in the shade may be slightly discolored, its growth won’t be affected like Bermuda’s.
If you are in a state that is more prone to droughts like California or Texas, Bermuda is going to be your best option. What if you are in southern and coastal states like the Carolinas and Florida, or as far north as Kentucky? The fact that Zoysia can handle colder temperatures and heavy rains better than Bermuda may make it the better option for your yard.
States in the transition zone like Arkansas, Missouri, and Tennessee are capable of catering to both types of grass. Dryer, less humid conditions pair best with Bermuda while the humid environments you find in Louisiana and parts of Florida can cater well to both. One thing to be aware of in areas with excessive rainfall is Bermuda's higher susceptibility to diseases like pythium.
If you are looking to put Bermudagrass in your lawn, this can be done by planting seeds or introducing live sprigs. For Zoysia, you will most likely be installing plugs or full strips of sod. Plugs can be installed with a small hand shovel or a handheld sod plugger made just for the job.
If planted at the same time in favorable conditions, Bermuda will grow and spread the quickest of the two. This is great for patching bare spots, but also means it requires a more watchful eye. It is very easy for Bermuda to jump into a flower bed or an area with other varieties of grass you may not have intended it to spread to.
If Bermuda does get into an area you have not intended it to be, it can be very difficult to remove because of the deep root system. Pulling by hand is nearly impossible, and spraying a herbicide is tricky at best.
If you spray Bermuda, you are killing more grass than just the area where you apply the chemical. A shot of Round-Up will spread through the plant like water and may terminate more than you intended. If you are looking to completely remove Bermuda from your property, you are best off consulting a turf grass professional.
For both Zoysia and Bermuda, it is recommended that you aerate your lawn in the late spring once the threat of frost has passed. This will help to alleviate the compactness of the soil and get air to the root systems. After aerating you can apply a pre-emergent to keep weeds and broadleaf grasses at bay.
Aerating and applying pre-emergent helps keep your lawn healthy. The healthier your Zoysia and Bermuda grasses are, the better job they can do as a type of “controlled invasive” to overrun and outcompete weeds.
During the rapid growing season, it is recommended to apply nitrogen to both of these grasses. For every 1,000 square feet of turf add two to four pounds of nitrogen. You will want to spread this application out over the course of the growing season. Do not apply more than one pound of nitrogen to 1,000 square feet of turf at a time.
The low end of that two to four pounds of nitrogen scale is for soil that is heavier in clay. The high end is for the sandiest soil conditions.
While both can survive in a variety of soil conditions, clay or sandy soils are preferred by Zoysia and Bermudagrass. If you are looking for the ideal pH levels, aim for 5.5-7.0 for Zoysia, and 6.5-8.0 for Bermuda.
If your pH levels test too high for the grass you choose, pelletized sulfur can be used to lower them during the growing season. Make sure the temperature is still below 75 degrees and you can add up to five pounds per 1,000 square feet. If pH levels are too low, consider adding lime to your lawn.
A general rule of thumb is to keep both of these grasses cut at a low height. Depending on the variety of zoysia, it is to be kept from 1” – 2.5” during the growing season. The finer the blade width, the shorter the cut should likely be. Bermuda is generally kept between 0.5” – 2”.
Remember, just because you keep these cut at a short height does not mean you will be having to mow the lawn every other day. The horizontal growth creates a dense lawn that expands quickly but has a generally slow vertical growth.
Pros and Cons
|Zoysia||✅ Heat tolerant|
✅ Drought tolerant
✅ Shade tolerant
✅ Tolerates moderately cold weather
|❌ Spreads slower than bermuda|
❌ Can discolor under extreme heat
|Bermuda||✅ Heat tolerant|
✅ Drought tolerant
✅ Spreads faster than zoysia
|❌ Struggles in shade|
❌ Difficult to control if it escapes
Bermuda has many pros including its heat and drought resistance, rapid growth, and generally low maintenance. However, any significant shade in your yard could slow its progress, and if it spreads outside of its intended area it can be incredibly difficult to remove.
Zoysia’s pros include being generally tolerant to heat, drought, shade, and moderately cold weather alike. However, it won’t grow as quickly as Bermuda and may become discolored after long periods of excessive heat that would not phase Bermuda.
Generally speaking, if you live in the southern half of the country, or along a coast, one of these grasses can succeed in your lawn. Take into consideration how much sunlight your yard receives in a day, the severity of your winters, and some of the other factors mentioned above to determine whether Zoysia or Bermuda grass will best meet your needs and lawncare goals.