Brad Stevens : Austin, TX

Growing Emerald Zoysia Grass in Austin/Central Texas
... tips on watering, fertilizing, aeration, disease, mowing and more

After many of my friends and neighbors asked how I am able to maintain such a rockin lawn, I decided to write this article for the benefit of those with Emerald Zoysia grass. We reside in Round Rock, Texas (just north of Austin). We have Emerald Zoysia and our lawn is the envy of the neighborhood. In fact, people in the neighborhood call it "the golf course yard".

After having a significantly shorter article posted for a number of years, I have recently edited the article to expand and detail my yearly maintenance routine, which has changed and been refined over the years ... and, continues to be refined. For your convenience, I've separated my routine into major categories.

Zoysia loves the sun and is drought tolerant. Emerald Zoysia is a hybrid and does not come in seed. It only comes in sod. Good luck finding it. Not many sod farms carry Emerald Zoysia ... they usually carry the cheaper species of Zoysia. Emerald Zoysia more expensive and known as the 'Cadillac of Zoysias'.

We have two small dogs and you would never know it by looking at our lawn. The lawn supports foot and paw traffic, as well as dog wiz and poo very well.

I've followed other routine maintenance directions from so-called "experts" but have never had the success that I am now having utilizing the following common sense approaches to growing Zoysia. Now, our Zoysia is so thick that it's like walking on carpet ... and, weeds don't have a chance ... they are completely choked out by the thick grass.

There is a lot of information out there about "maintenance free Zoysia". That's just a bunch of bull crap and marketing hype. Yes, Zoysia is a little easier to maintain than other grasses and does not require as much work if you want just an average, decent looking lawn. But, I don't. Rather, I want a golf course looking pristine lawn. If you do too, then follow these recommendations and you too will be "The Smiths" that everyone in your neighborhood tries to keep up with!

Insects, Disease & Specialized Weeds:

If you water properly and keep thatch low, insects and disease will not be a problem. But, the following are some things that I do and also some recommended actions if you find that your encountering problems:

In early April, treat for Fire Ants with Spectracide Fire Ant Killer.

In early spring through early summer, watch for Take-All Root Rot and, if present, treat with Actinovate. Also, if present, be careful not to over-water during the entire spring, summer, and fall. As well, look for thatch and get rid of it if it is present.

In mid to late May, if you see any plants in your planting beds that have yellow leaves, make sure that you are not over-watering. If you are sure that you not overwatering, you most likely have iron chlorosis (iron deficiency). To fix it, spray your entire lawn and planting beds with Seaweed Emulsion with Iron and apply Green Sand.

At any time of the year, if you see Nutsedge, treat with SedgeHammer.

Throughout June, check for Chinch Bug damage and, if present, treat with Spectracide Triazicide Granules.

In late July, check for Grubs and, if more than 4 or 5 are present in a good shovel full of soil, treat with Bayer Grub Control or Scotts Grub Ex.

In late September, check for Brown Patch and Take-All Root Rot, if present, treat with fungicide like Green Light Fung-Away or Scotts Lawn Fungus Control. If present, be careful not to over-water during the fall and winter.

If you're not sure what the problem is, cut a 6" x 6" x 3" section of your lawn (cutting it from a section of your lawn where a problem area meets a healthy portion of your lawn) and take it to Natural Gardener. They will place it under a microscope and give you a diagnosis.

While I'm on the subject of Natural Gardener, I highly recommend them for all your gardening needs. The place is well laid out, they have amazing products, and the staff is incredibly knowledgeable. And no, I am not getting paid or receiving discounts to recommend their products. I simply have found them to be the best in Austin at providing salient information and superior products and I am happy to give them their due plug. That said, they do offer natural solutions ... and, I try to reduce chemicals whenever possible ... but sometimes I just need some good ole chemicals to get the job done. So, you will find a mixture of both a natural and a chemical approach to my lawn care throughout these recommendations.

Fertilization & Micronutrients:

Be VERY careful not to over-fertilize your Zoysia. I cannot stress this enough ... DO NOT over fertilize! It will cause thatch, which in turn will cause other problems. Also, do not fertilize too early in the spring or it may cause Zoysia Patch (a soil borne fungal disease).

In mid February, apply a pre-emergent herbicide to control weeds, such as Scotts Halts.

In mid to late April, fertilize with 1-0-0 ratio fertilizer at a rate of 1.0 pound of actual nitrogen
per 1,000 sq. ft. (using a slow release source of nitrogen). This would be equivalent to 5 pounds of 21-0-0 or 7 pounds of 15-0-0 per 1,000 sq. ft.

In mid May, spray the entire lawn and planting beds with Seaweed in the late evening on a night that your irrigation system will be rotating.

In mid July, spray the entire lawn and planting beds with Lady Bug Terra Tonic Super Soil Activator in the late evening on a night that your irrigation system will be rotating.

In mid August, spray the entire lawn and planting beds with Seaweed in the late evening on a night that your irrigation system will be rotating.

In early September, fertilize with a 2-0-1 ratio fertilizer at 1.0 pound of actual nitrogen per 1,000 sq. ft. using a slow release source of nitrogen. This would be equivalent to 5 pounds of 20-0-10 per 1,000 sq. ft.
Repeat iron application if iron chlorosis is a problem. Apply iron if necessary. Three days after applying the fertilizer, apply a pre-emergent herbicide to control winter weeds, such as Scotts Halts. Make sure both are applied before September 15th.

So, that's my fertilization program. If you choose to hire a lawn service, DO NOT have them fertilize your Zoysia more than 2 or 3 times a year even though they will jump up and down and get red in the face while telling you that you must fertilize at least 4 to 6 times per year. Zoysia DOES NOT need to be fertilized that much and, in fact, fertilizing that much can be a detriment to its health because doing so will increase thatch which may cause all kinds of problems. They are just trying to sell you more than what you need.

Dethatch, Aeration, and Top Dressing:

De-thatch your Zoysia at least every other year. Do it in late-May. Make sure you remove all the thatch off your lawn. Rake if necessary.

If your lawn is uneven, then get some good quality top soil and/or sand and do what is necessary to level the lawn. Use top soil if you already have good drainage. Use sand if you need to create better drainage. Apply it in late May after your lawn begins to grow vigorously. Your lawn needs to be level for a number of reason. Holes and valleys in lawns are a collection point for standing water during heavy downpours and Zoysia does not like standing water. Also, your mower will be able to better maintain proper grass height as it has a smooth surface to traverse. Subsequently, top dress your lawn with 1/4" to 1/2" of Lady Bug Revitalizer, Farm Style Compost, or Dillo Dirt every two to three years, or every year (combined with sand) if you still have challenges with soil drainage (usually caused by a clay soil base). Here's a formula to help you figure out how much top dressing you need: Length (in feet) x Width (in ft.) x Depth (in inches, 0.25" to 0.5") / 324 = # Cubic Yards. Be careful to not put too much amendment on top of your Zoysia or you will kill it. Zoysia needs a good amount of oxygen and sunlight to survive.

Core aerate your lawn once yearly preferably in the early fall, around mid September. If you want to get it done, you can also do it early in the spring, shortly after you have top dressed it. DO NOT core aerate prior to dethatching or top dressing. The process of detaching and top dressing will fill in the aeration holes, which somewhat defeats the purpose. Use a machine that will remove plugs from your lawn. Do not use a machine that has spikes. Driving spikes down into the soil will create holes, but it will also compact the surrounding soil. Taking plugs out of your lawn will create holes and also provide room for the surrounding soil to expand back into the hole. The plugs removed will integrate back into the lawn over the course of 10 days to 2 weeks or so.

Watering / Irrigation:

After installation of the Emerald Zoysia sod, water it every day until it is established (10 days to 2 weeks). Once it is well established, you can get away with watering your lawn once weekly even during the heat of summer. However, if you desire a thick, deep green, pristine lawn, you will need to water more frequently. Here's what I do:

Starting in March, I water our lawn once a week, 15 to 20 minutes per zone starting the rotations to begin after we have taken our morning showers and are not using the water service (shower usage may adversely reduce the water output of your irrigation system). For us, that creates a start time of about 7am. Always water in the early morning hours.

Starting in mid April, I begin watering twice weekly, 20 minutes per zone, adjusting the start time to begin the rotation as late as possible in the early morning to finish before we wake up in the morning and take our morning showers. For us, that is a start time of about 3am. Watering earlier helps the grass utilize the water before the heat of the day begins without allowing the grass to stay wet too long which invites disease.

Starting in early June, and continuing through July and August, I water three times a week, 20 minutes per zone. Watering three times per week also helps to ensure that your lawn is getting sufficient water, especially if you have a rain gauge. Sometimes, I have seen my rain gauge shut off my irrigation system just because of a short, light sprinkle of rain. In those cases, the lawn still needed water, but was denied because of the rain gauge. Having more opportunities to apply water to your lawn reduces these problems and also reduces problems of uneven water distribution because of windy nights.

June through August, I also rotate my irrigation system 4 to 5 minutes per zone directly after I mow the grass to reduce the stress from cutting. Also, if my grass is stressed in any way (recovering from any issue), I will also rotate my irrigation system 4 to 5 minutes per zone in the mid afternoon heat, around 2pm or so until the grass is fully recovered. Some call this a "syringe cycle". It is designed to cool the grass, not water it. Many so-called "experts" will tell you not to do such a cycle. They usually say that doing so is a waste of water because of evaporation, will not promote deep root growth, and/or may cause Zoysia Patch, blah, blah, blah. But, I have not found that to be true. Just be careful not to schedule your afternoon cycle too late in the afternoon. You will want the sun of the day to fully dry things out again before the evening hours.

If you find standing water on your lawn after a 20 minute cycle, that means your soil most likely has too much clay in it. The fix is to top dress the lawn for two to three years in a row with quality top soil. During this time, create a split watering schedule. Water each zone 10 minutes and then immediately start the rotation again, watering each zone another 10 minutes. This type of split rotation allows the water from the first rotation to seep into the ground before the second rotation begins. If you cannot set that type of split rotation up on your irrigation controller, then contact your favorite irrigation install/repair company and see what they can do for you.

In early September, I reduce the cycle to water twice weekly at 20 minutes per zone, beginning at 3am or so. I also stop the syringe cycle after mowing.

In early October through the end of November, I water once weekly at 15 to 20 minutes per zone, starting the rotations to begin after we take our morning showers and are not using the water service.

During the winter (December through February), I water once ever 4 to 5 weeks and only if needed.

For your chosen watering schedule, the question really is ... how green and lush do you want your lawn? If you're a penny pincher or water conservationist, then the a once weekly deep watering will keep your Zoysia looking just fine and relatively healthy. However, if you want a lush, thick, golf-course green lawn, then you're going to have to water more often.

Times for each zone may need to be adjusted a little depending on shade and/or the water output of your nozzles. I do not recommend watering more often than what I've listed above. By the way, all these times are for a stationary pop-up spray irrigation system. For sprinkler system that has rotating heads, you're going to have to adjust accordingly (usually to 30 to 40 minutes per zone).

Be careful not to water too much. Get out and frequently walk your lawn looking for dry spots and overly wet spots. Adjust your system as necessary. If your irrigation system does not have a rain-sensor that shuts off your system for a period of time when it rains, then have one installed. Also, if you have thatch and you water as much as I do, then you're going to have problems. Get rid of thatch and you will not have problems.

Mowing:

I mow our lawn once weekly with rotary mower that has a bagger and a very sharp blade. However, I will be the first to admit that reel mowers are better and will give your lawn a better look. The reason is the way that a reel mower cleanly cuts the blade of grass. But, the truth is, if you keep your rotary blade sharp, it will look just fine. Again, I cannot stress this enough, KEEP YOUR BLADE SHARP! That means sharpen your blade at least once every 4 to 5 cuttings or so. For convenience get an extra blade and have one always sharpened and ready to install on your mower.

Scalp your Zoysia to 1" in early March and rake up all the clippings/leaves real good. MAKE SURE TO RAKE ... EVEN IF YOU HAVE A BAGGER! Then, mow once a week at 1-3/4" to 2" for the rest of the year.

I recommend keeping your Zoysia cut between 1-3/4" to 2" because it is sufficient height to allow the grass to become thick enough to choke out most any other foreign growth (weeds, grasses, etc.), but yet short enough to allow sunlight down to the lower stalk and crown of the plant (helps reduce disease). If you keep your grass any longer, never water three times per week, but rather once or twice.

One note on most lawn services: They mow too high because their mower beds are usually set high to mow that cheap, nasty, water hogging St. Augustine junk that is so prevalent here in Austin (do you really want to know what I think of St. Augustine grass!).

Years ago, I tried a couple of the well known national lawn services and they never did better than what I have been able to achieve myself with what I am telling you here. I just found them to be lazy in properly adjusting and maintaining their equipment. So, if you hire a lawn service, make sure they are cutting at the proper height.

Shade:

Zoysia loves sun and does not like shade. However, Emerald Zoysia is more shade tolerant than many other species of Zoysia. If you have big trees, then have them professionally trimmed every two years. Thin out the interior of the canopy so more sun filters through the trees to your lawn. Emerald can handle up to 50% shade. If you have your trees trimmed, you'll be just fine. At the end of the day, however, expect portions of your lawn that are under large trees to be thinner than portions of your lawn that are in direct sunlight. There is nothing better than direct Texas sun to create a good growing environment for Zoysia grass.

Winter Overseeding:

I overseeded our lawn several years with Rye Grass. Most so-called "experts" will tell you not to for a number of reasons that I never found to be true. I really do not have any opinion one way or the other. Overseeding will create a nice green lawn for the winter, but will also create more work because you will obviously need to maintain it. Trying to get Rye seed to germinate in a healthy, thick Zoysia lawn can be challenging, but can be done. Come springtime, the best way to get rid of the Rye is to scalp the lawn in March ... and keep it scalped for a few weeks to allow the Texas sun to do it's job on the Rye. Overseeding will delay the growing of your Zoysia in the spring, but not by much. So, it really is a personal choice. That said, I would not overseed your lawn if you have issues with your Zoysia. Wait until you have a strong growing environment before you begin overseeding your lawn.

Summary:

Emerald Zoysia is a relatively slow growing grass. Once damaged, it will take quite a bit of time to recover. So, don't expect to start following these recommendations and get a lush lawn in a matter of months. When we bought our home, the lawn was in very, very bad shape. I think the previous owner changed the oil in his car over the front lawn. Idiot. The entire lawn was very damaged. Overall, it was very thin and had multiple bare spots. The soil was compacted, had grub and chinch bug infestation, and had a bunch of holes that were dug by their two big dogs. They never ran the irrigation system, so the soil was parched. What a mess.

Shortly after moving into our home, one of my neighbors told me that the lawn was once the envy of the neighborhood. Frankly, I was surprised by his comment. But, those comments caused me to begin a mission of bringing the lawn back to pristine shape. It took me 4 years to get it into decent shape and 6 years to get it looking pristine. Then again, much of this time was spent in trial and error, trying different things and various services. If I had all the knowledge about Zoysia that I do now, I could have had a pristine looking lawn in half that time.

Finally, I get a lot of responses to this article. I receive many questions asking where to buy Emerald Zoysia. The answer is: I don't know. I recommend googling 'emerald zoysia sod texas' and see what pops up. Just because a sod farm had it one year does not mean they will have it the next. Since Emerald Zoysia is a relatively slow growing grass that cannot be grown from seed, it takes time for the sod farms to grow it ... and, because of that, it's expensive. Good luck in trying to find it. If you cannot find Emerald Zoysia, then buy Jamur, Palisade, or Empire. DO NOT BUY ANY OF THE OTHER VARIETIES.

There is no silver-bullet that is the answer to all your challenges. Everything here works in concert together to create an excellent growing environment. You will need to do it all if you want a thick, lush lawn. If you cut corners, then do not expect results. It's that simple.

Still having problems? I don't really have any more information to give you than what I have conveyed above. If you follow these recommendations, then you should have a pristine lawn. If you're following the directions from some lawn service, well good luck. I've found that most of them either do not have the knowledge necessary to create a pristine lawn, or they don't care enough about quality and will make shortcuts that will just end up creating frustration and headaches.

That all said, I will admit and there are times that good ole' experience is required to alter and tweak the program in such a way to respond to current environmental conditions. So, all I can say is that this program will provide you with an excellent base ... and, over time, you will learn what works best if you pay attention and respond appropriately to the growing habits of your particular environment.

Do You Need Some Questions Answered?

If you've gotten this far down in the article, you must be pretty interested in a quality lawn. Over the years, I've received quite a few inquiries asking all kinds of questions. While all the answers are in the article above, sometimes it just takes experience to properly assess a growing environment.

So, I finally started to offer consulting services. I have a passion for creating pristine lawns and enjoy a challenge. It's not something I do full time, nor do I want to do it full time ... but I do enjoy a challenge ... and my lawn is currently on cruise control. So, if you think my services would be helpful, I invite you to contact me.

I offer two services:

1) ON-SITE CONSULTING: Cost: $249
If you are in the Austin/Round Rock area, I will personally visit your property, assess your specific turf growing environment, answer any questions you have, and develop a 12 month customized lawn care program just for you (30 mile limit from zip code 78664). Also includes 12 months of follow-up consulting services by email to answer any questions that comes up during the execution of your lawn program. Any needed subsequent visits (at your discretion) during the 12 months are billed at $30. Renewals for subsequent years are $199 and includes an onsite assessment, updated 12 month lawn care program, and 12 months of consulting by email.

2) OFF-SITE CONSULTING: Cost: $149
If you are out of the Central Texas area, I will assess your specific growing environment, answer any specific questions you have, and develop a 12 month customized lawn care program based on photos you send me of your turf. Also includes 12 months of consulting services by email to answer any questions that comes up during the execution of your lawn program.

Contact me if you're interested in my services.


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LAST UPDATED: September 8, 2011

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Copyright 2000 BRAD STEVENS all rights reserved worldwide
Austin, Texas