NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Tom Rogers and his yard are the envy of the neighborhood this summer.
While surrounding cool-season fescue lawns bake in abnormally dry, hot weather, Rogers' warm-season zoysia stays mostly lush and green.
"It's the most beautiful lawn I've ever had," says Rogers, a master gardener who lives in Williamsburg, Va. "The 100-plus (degree) days made it turn yellowish-brown in spots, but it came right back with rain."
Tired of all the work it takes to keep a fescue lawn looking good, Rogers jumped at the chance last year to turn his yard into a testing ground for Zeon, a relatively new, fine-blade zoysia. Zeon isn't grown from seed, so it must be planted from sod or sprig.
Whether you grow a warm- or cool-season lawn is basically a matter of preference and where you live. Mike Goatley, a turf expert at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, says he has seen zoysia growing as far north as Traverse City, Mich., surviving the winters there just fine.
Zoysia is a slow-growing grass, creeping above and below ground, but it's not a fast mover like Bermuda.
"You might cover a lawn during the summer growing season with 2-inch-diameter zoysia plugs on 4- to 6-inch centers, if you are persistent with enough irrigation and light fertilization to encourage growth," Goatley says.
For Rogers' installment, workers first used a sod cutter to remove the fescue. After putting down a layer of compost, they installed the sod, all on the same day. Rogers filled all seams with sand, so the zoysia would quickly grow together, which it did, he says. He watered daily for 10 days to help the sod root into existing soil. Earlier, he had taken a soil sample to determine the pH and what nutrients were needed. He applied an organic fertilizer in a 7-7-7 formula at the two-week mark and potash 0-0-6 at the rate of 5 pounds per 1,000 square feet several weeks later.
In October, he put down a bag of Supomag, a potassium and magnesium supplement in a 0-0-22 formula, to keep it green into fall.
In December, once the lawn was dormant and almost all brown, Goatley used backpack sprayers filled with water-soluble paint to color the lawn green.
"From the street, you could not tell it was painted, and it stayed that way until it came out of dormancy in spring," Rogers says.
For homeowners who can't decide what seed or sod to use on their yard, Cooperative Extension services publish recommendations for turf grasses of all types. (See Susan Smith-Durisek's Clippings column, Page B1) Among zoysias, Meyer is recommended for sod or sprig, and Zenith and Compadre are good seed forms.
Although zoysia tolerates shade better than Bermuda, it won't thrive in heavily shaded, persistently wet conditions. Zoysia needs four to six hours of direct sun to maintain good density; it's pricier than Bermuda because it takes longer to get the product to market.
"A mature zoysia lawn in the right setting provides some of the highest-quality, lowest-input turf possible," Goatley says.