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How to Plant & Grow a Zoysia Grass Lawn

Get easy tips on how to plant and maintain this drought-tolerant grass.

If you live in the Transition Zone -- an area that stretches from Kansas to the Carolinas -- then a zoysia grass lawn may be a good option for you. Zoysia is heat- and drought-tolerant, and produces a thick green lawn during the growing season. Zoysia is a popular grass for golf-course fairways and tees since it makes the ball sit up high for an easy hit—and who wouldn't want golf course-worthy grass for their own lawn?

Everything You Need to Know About Zoysia Grass

  • Zoysia is a warm-weather grass that also tolerates cold weather well.
  • This grass type loves sunshine (6 to 8 hours daily) but also grows well in light shade.
  • Grows best in Southern and Transition regions.
  • Can withstand heat and dry spells.
  • An overall low-maintenance grass type that succeeds with little watering.
  • Blades grow densely together making them excellent at withstanding high foot traffic and play.
  • Zoysia grass grows best in USDA planting zones 6-11.
  • The best times to plant zoysia grass are in late spring (once all chances of frost have passed) to early summer. Plant when daily temperatures are consistently in the 70s. Zoysia planting can also be done in early fall, but make sure to plant at least 60 days before the first fall frost.
  • Zoysia seeds typically germinate in 14 to 21 days under good growing conditions.
  • Cut zoysia lower than most grasses—1 to 2 inches is a good height.
  • Blades provide a beautiful green color through the spring and summer but will turn tan or brown when the grass goes dormant after the first fall frost. 
  • Seeds germinate best when exposed to direct sunlight, so covering up seeds with a thin layer of soil or straw is not recommended.

Planting Zoysia Grass for a New Lawn

Zoysia grass can be grown from seed, sod, or plugs. Zoysia is a slow grower so sod or plugs are most commonly used. However, there are innovative seed products on the market, such as Scotts® Turf Builder® Zoysia Grass Seed and Mulch that make seeding zoysia a good option. Before laying sod or after planting plugs or grass seed, apply Scotts® Turf Builder® Starter® Lawn Food for New Grass to help your zoysia lawn get off to a good start by providing the right nutrients young grass seedlings need to grow. Water your newly planted lawn frequently until the plants are established.

1. Measure your lawn.

Before you get started, measure your property so you can determine how much seed, topsoil, and fertilizer you'll need to get the job done without running out of supplies or buying too much. The Scotts® My Lawn App features a property measuring tool so you can estimate your lawn size in just a few minutes.

2. Test your soil.

Zoysia prefers slightly acidic soil with a pH of 6.0 to 6.5. About a month before starting your new lawn seeding project, perform a soil test to be sure your lawn has the right balance of nutrients for successful germination. After all, you wouldn't want to spend your time and money seeding a new lawn only to find out your soil chemistry is off. The good news is your local extension office provides inexpensive soil tests. Results usually take about two weeks to arrive.

3. Improve your soil.

Depending on the results of your soil test, you may have to add nutrients to your soil to reach the ideal pH level. This is done by tilling the recommended amount of deficient nutrients into the top 4-6 inches of your soil.

4. Prepare the soil.

Now that your soil pH is balanced for successful germination and growth, it's time to level the surface. First, use a hard rake to break up large chunks of soil, and remove debris such as rocks and sticks. Then, use a soft rake to create a fine, loose top section for the seedbed.

5. Spread some seed.

With the seedbed prepared, use a spreader to evenly cast your seed across your future lush green lawn. Spreaders make it easy to apply the right amount of seed. Too much seed can cause overcrowding and low germination rates, and too little seed could leave your lawn looking thin. Every bag of Scotts® grass seed comes with spreader setting recommendations so you get the perfect amount of coverage.
For small lawns (1,500 ft2 or less), a hand-held spreader such as the Scotts® Whirl™ Hand-Powered Spreader makes for a great seeding sidekick. If you have a bigger property, then walk-behind spreaders such as the Scotts® Turf Builder® Edgeguard® DLX Broadcast Spreader (15,000 ft2 or less) or the Scotts® Elite Spreader (20,000+ ft2 or less) will help you tackle your new lawn project with speed and precision.

6. Ensure seed-to-soil contact.

You may have seen many seeding projects call for gently raking the soil to cover seeds or covering them with a thin layer of straw, but don't do this with zoysia grass seed. Zoysia seeds germinate best when they receive direct sunlight, so avoid covering them up. Instead, lightly tamp or use a lawn roller over your freshly seeded soil to ensure good soil contact.

7. Keep soil consistently moist.

Under ideal growing conditions, seeds will take 14 to 21 days to germinate. During this time, keep soil consistently moist but not soggy. You can switch back to a regular watering schedule once your new grass is established.

8. Wait to mow.

You want your new grass to develop deep, strong roots, so avoid mowing it until it has grown to at least 2.5 inches tall. Once you start mowing your new grass regularly, avoid cutting off more than ⅓ of the blade length at a time. If your goal is to maintain a 1-inch length to get that golf course look, then do so gradually by cutting it a ½-inch shorter each week.

Patching Bare Spots

Bare spots can be caused by a variety of things – spilled fertilizer, dog urine, heavy foot traffic, extreme weather, or harmful insects such as grubs. No matter what causes them, bare spots won't fill in on their own and are prime real estate for weeds to move in. Here's the tried-and-true way to fix them up right.

1. Clear the area of debris.

For successful bare spot repair, you'll need to clear the area first. This part is easy. With a rake or blower, remove all leaves, sticks, rocks, and thatch from the area you're repairing. This helps ensure good seed-to-soil contact later on.

2. Remove dead grass and create a clean cut.

Some bare spots are completely bald with exposed soil, but sometimes you might have to repair a patch of dead grass. It's best to remove all dead grass so you can start fresh with a clean seedbed. Even if the soil is exposed, you may want to consider using a shovel to cut around the bare spot to create a uniform shape for your new section of grass. This is helpful if the bare spot has an odd shape or is sparsely populated with grass.  

3. Loosen the soil.

Before spreading seed, it's important to loosen the top 1 to 2 inches of soil so your seeds have the best chance of germinating. The easiest way to loosen the soil is with a hard rake or hand rake. If you have to remove a bunch of dead grass and roots, then be sure to fill in the hole with nutrient-rich topsoil so it's level with the rest of your lawn.

4. Apply Seed.

Most patch repair projects are small enough that you can spread seed by hand. When applying seed, do so evenly and don't put down too much. Being heavy-handed with your seed will cause crowding and low germination rates.

5. Water well.

Check the patch daily and water enough to keep the soil moist but not soggy. Consistent soil moisture is one of the best things you can do to ensure successful germination. Under ideal growing conditions, you'll start to see growth in 14 to 21 days.

6. Wait to mow.

It may look funny to have a patch of long grass for a few weeks, but for best results, let your recovering patch of grass grow out to about 2.5 inches long before mowing it.

Overseeding a Thin Lawn

Overseeding is a great maintenance step that you can do 1 to 2 times per year. It will help thicken your lawn to crowd out weeds and give you a lush turf that holds up well to traffic and play. There are a few ways to overseed and you can pick the best one that suits your goals, time, and budget.

1. Time it right.

To make the most of your overseeding efforts, do so in late spring or early fall because these are when temperatures are best for germination. If you're overseeding in the fall, make sure you have at least 60 days before the first frost. 

2. Mow low.

Cut your grass to a 1-inch length to ensure seeds make their way down to the soil. We usually recommend mulching your grass clippings, but since you want to keep as much debris off the lawn as you can for this project, bag them this one time.

3. Aerate or dethatch.

Aerating and dethatching are optional, but both are great annual maintenance steps for getting the best lawn possible. Aerating (sometimes called core aeration) is the process of putting holes into your lawn to loosen up compacted soil and allow air and water to penetrate deeper into your turf. 
Dethatching is a little different because it removes the layer of dead grass shoots, stems, and roots that build up over time and sit on top of your soil. Too much thatch can keep air and water from reaching the soil and will eventually thin out your lawn. Dethatching before overseeding also ensures your seed reaches the soil.

Depending on the size of your lawn you can manually aerate or dethatch, but it is a labor-intensive task. The most efficient way to get it done is to rent an aerator or power rake from your local hardware store. Whether you choose to aerate, dethatch, or both, it's best to do so right before overseeding. For more info, check out How to Aerate & Dethatch Your Lawn.

4. Spread some seed.

With your lawn cut short and primed for receiving seed, it's time to get out your spreader. If you don't yet have a spreader or you're unsure of the best one for your yard size, then we made this guide just for you. Be sure to check the label on your seed for the correct spreader setting. 
To get an even application, do a perimeter pass with the EdgeGuard® on (if your spreader has it), then walk up and down your lawn at a brisk pace to cover the rest of your lawn. For you visual learners, check out the chart below.

Maintaining Your Zoysia Grass Lawn

You can begin to mow your new zoysia grass lawn when it reaches mowing height. Zoysia grass prefers a middle mower setting that provides a 2 to 3 inch cut. Feed your lawn 6-8 weeks after planting with Scotts® Turf Builder® Southern Lawn Food. Continue to feed every 6-8 weeks until the lawn goes dormant in the fall.

Things to Remember about Zoysia Grass

As soon as the weather gets chilly, zoysia grass goes dormant. You'll see a brown lawn until some time around March. If you live too far north, you'll have a dormant lawn for much of the growing season, which is why this grass type is typically not recommended for cooler climates.