How to Choose Between Zoysia Grass and St. Augustine Grass

With many municipalities and HOA’s adding more restrictive lawn watering limitations, you may be considering Zoysia grass as an alternative to St. Augustine. Before you choose let’s look at all the factors to consider.

Zoysia blades are finer textured than St. Augustine grasses and have a softer feel. They are slower growing and produce less leaf clippings than St. Augustine varieties.

Once fully established, Zoysia lawns will produce underground rootstalks known as rhizomes, in addition to above ground stolons. This is the key attribute that allows Zoysia to be more tolerant of traffic, drought and freeze than St. Augustine. However, establishment to this degree will typically require 12 to 18 months.

In northern and north central areas of Florida, Zoysia grasses will typically go dormant in the winter. When completely dormant, the turf will appear uniformly brown. However, when the grass is going into or out of the dormant state, the turf may appear mottled with green and brown patches. Zoysia grasses are often the last turf varieties to become green again in the springtime. Some homeowners will react too quickly to this, thinking something is wrong, when it is really the natural growth cycle of Zoysia grass.

Here are some tips for caring for Zoyisa grass from our 30-plus years cultivating it and keeping it healthy with our Landscape Services.

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  • Zoysia grass does not perform well in areas that excessively retain water. Like most turf grasses, Zoysia grass prefers a soil that is moist, but well drained.
  • While Zoysia grass is often marketed as being more drought tolerant than St. Augustine grass, Zoysia requires just as much water in terms of frequency and volume as St. Augustine to remain green and attractive.



  • Proper mowing height and frequency is crucial to the health and appearance of a Zoysia grass lawn. Avoid mowing at heights higher than recommended. The most widely planted Zoysia variety in Florida is Empire. Empire should be mowed at 2.25 inches. This is slightly higher than most commercial services cut grass. Dwarf varieties, such as Geo, require a lower mowing height of 1.5 to 2 inches. Mowing should always occur when the height of the grass becomes 1/3rd higher than the mowing height.
  • It is highly recommended that the mowing height be reduced by 1/3rd of the recommended mowing height for the first mowing in the spring.
  • Clippings from regular cuts should be mulched back into the soil to return valuable organic matter and nutrients to the landscape. The mulching process allows sunlight to more easily reach the new shoots emerging from rhizomes and will provide a quicker spring green-up.


Drought Conditions

  • The attribute that makes Zoysia grasses more drought tolerant is its ability to transition into a dormant state under drought conditions. In the dormant state, the color of the turf is brown to grayish-brown. Under short-term dry conditions, St. Augustine grass will wilt. Upon receiving sufficient water, it will return to an attractive appearance within a few days. Under the same short-term dry conditions, Zoysia grass will turn brown in its dormant state and require new leaf growth to cover the dormant brown leaves.
  • The benefit of Zoysia grass over St. Augustine is only under severe drought conditions. In severe drought situations, Zoysia grass would be more likely to recover, while St. Augustine grass may require replacement.

Other Important Information

  • Make sure Zoysia is the right grass for the conditions of your lawn. Zoysia grass lawns perform best in full sun and will tolerate only moderate shade.
  • Zoysia grasses are equally or more affected by disease issues than St. Augustine grasses. Dollar spot and brown patch fungus are the primary concerns. Zoysia grass performs well when growing in an acidic soil and does poorly in an alkaline soil. We recommend a soil pH value below 6.5, which can be achieved through amendments to modify soil pH and the use of organic soil conditioning.

For additional information or for a free landscape inspection, contact Massey Services today!

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