St Augustine Vs Zoysia

St Augustine vs Zoysia Grass: What’s Better For My Lawn?

In Grass Guides, Lawn Care, Tips by Jamie

Choosing the right grass for your needs will save you a lot of time and trouble in the long run, especially when you need to pay a lot for plugs or sod to even get started. St Augustine is a popular favorite in the subtropical parts of the US while Zoysia is known as the softest lawn possible. Which is best for your lawn? Read on to find out.

What Are St Augustine And Zoysia?

  St Augustine Zoysia
Scientific Name Stenotaphrum secundatum Zoysia spp.
Zone 9 – 10

Warm-Season

6 – 10

Warm-Season

Sun Full Sun to Part Shade Full Sun to Part Shade
Soil Ideal is sand-silt. All.
pH 5.5 to 7.5. Able to handle acidic to slightly alkaline soils. 6.2 – 7.2. Able to handle acidic to slightly alkaline soils.
Water Requirement Medium. Not drought tolerant and not suitable for a non-irrigated lawn or for areas with low rainfall or extended dry periods. Low. Drought-tolerant and suitable for non-irrigated lawns or areas with low rainfall.
Yearly nitrogen (lb/1,000 sq ft) 3 to 4; High.

High amounts of fertilizer cost more money and take more time, while exacerbating other conditions like thatch or worsening its insect and disease resistance.

3 to 4; High.

High amounts of fertilizer cost more money and take more time, while exacerbating other conditions like thatch or worsening its insect and disease resistance.

Growth Habit Stolons. Spreads aboveground. Causes more thatch problems especially when the grass grows faster. Able to self-repair and grow thick to outcompete weeds. May look bad if the lawn is thin. Rhizomes and Stolons. Spreads both underground and aboveground. Stolons may cause more thatch, but its slower growth may not cause thatch problems. Able to self-repair and grow thick to outcompete weeds.
Mowing Height 2 to 3 inches. 2 to 3 inches. The more often you mow, the finer the texture.
Maintenance High. Requires a LOT of work and money to keep healthy. Medium. Requires work and money to keep healthy, but less than high maintenance grasses.
Wear Medium. Tolerates the frequent use that most yards experience. Medium. Tolerates the frequent use that most yards experience.
Tolerances & Resistances Good tolerance of heat and salt.

Low tolerance of cold.

Good tolerance of salt, heat, and cold.
Insects & Diseases Low resistance to insects and disease. Medium resistance to insects and disease.
Germination Time Only available as plugs or sod.

Medium establishment rate.

15 – 30 days. Only some varieties are available as seed. Most often established as plugs or sod.

Slow establishment rate.

Texture Rough/coarse texture that’s prickly underfoot. Medium to fine texture depending on cultivar; nice to walk upon. Known as the softest lawn.
Color Green Dark Green (varies depending on variety and cultivar)

What Is St Augustine?

St. Augustine

If you live in Florida, then you know St Augustine grass. It’s one of the most popular choices in the subtropical coastal area because it can handle extreme heat, humidity, salt and sandy soils while also being tolerant of part shade.

But those advantages come with lengthy drawbacks. St Augustine is not known as an easy lawn. Its texture is rough and scratchy. It is vulnerable to cold, insects, and disease. It even has its own disease named after it – St Augustine Decline (SAD). If you don’t get a lot of rainfall, you will pay through the nose for water as St Augustine is not drought tolerant and requires a lot of water to live.

If you live in South Africa and Australia, you will know this grass as Buffalo Grass or Buffalo Turf, not to be confused with the native North American Buffalo Grass (Buchloe dactyloides).

To learn more, check out our complete guide to St Augustine.

What Is Zoysia?

What Is Zoysia

Arriving in the US from Asia at the beginning of the 20th century, Zoysia only became popular as a turfgrass during the 1980s and is known for its fine, soft texture. It’s not a low maintenance grass, as it requires more fertilizer and mowing than others, but you also won’t be spending all your weekends nursing this grass.

For this care, you get a beautiful lawn grass that can survive on little water, under part shade, and even through cold snaps – all while happily existing in whatever soil type you have. Unlike Bermuda, its slow growth means it’s unlikely to invade other parts of your yard.

Zoysia has three main varieties. Zoysia japonica is the most common variety with a medium-coarse texture and lighter green texture, although the Emerald variety has a finer leaf texture and more shade tolerance. Zoysia matrella is high maintenance but is the most attractive turfgrass – if a beautifully manicured lawn is important to you, then this is the variety for you.

And finally, if you’re looking for a ground cover rather than turf, Zoysia tenuifolia’s puffy clumps look like fluffy, green clouds.

To learn more, check out our complete guide to Zoysia.

Which Is Better: St Augustine Or Zoysia?

Appearance And Texture

St Augustine is a good looker, although its texture is very rough. If the grass grows thin, then the stolons stick out unattractively. It can be mowed low which lends itself well to a manicured look.

Zoysia grass is very attractive, although this can vary based on the variety and cultivar. Zoysia tenuifolia makes a beautiful ground cover. Zoysia matrella is the best looking turfgrass (along with high maintenance), but for something with a lower maintenance, then take a look through Zoysia japonica’s cultivars, especially Emerald. There’s always a trade-off between attractiveness and other desirable qualities, so explore these carefully.

You can mow both down as low as 2 inches, although that’s only if you mow frequently (once a week). Otherwise, you’ll want to keep your grass height at 3 inches to avoid scalping the lawn.

Establishment & Growth Rate

St Augustine and most Zoysia cultivars are only available as plugs and sod. A few Zoysia japonica cultivars are available as seed. Once in place, St Augustine will establish itself quicker than Zoysia, although both will create thick, self-repairing carpets of grass once fully established. St Augustine grows using only stolons while Zoysia grows through both rhizomes and stolons.

Both increase the likelihood of thatch, although St Augustine with its faster growth will suffer more frequently.

The best time to start both is in the late spring or summer when the soil is warm.

Soil

St Augustine does best in the sandy-silt soils that trouble other grasses, but Zoysia can grow in pretty much anything but very acidic soil or alkaline soil. St Augustine is more prone to compaction, as Zoysia can handle some compaction and clay-based soils. 

Climate & Sun

Both St Augustine and Zoysia are warm-season grasses, meaning they’re green during the heat of the summer but go dormant during lower temperatures. St Augustine has a very limited range to grow in as it cannot handle cold at all, so it’s best to go with another grass if you’re outside Zone 9 and 10.

grass in winter

Zoysia can handle some cold (some cultivars better than others) which means you can grow it between Zone 6 and 9, giving it more range, and you don’t have to worry about surprise cold snaps destroying your lawn.

Both St Augustine and Zoysia do best in full sun, but can also grow well in part-shade. Some Zoysia cultivars like Emerald can handle shadier spots.

Pests & Disease

St Augustine is extremely susceptible to both pests and disease. It even has its very own disease – St Augustine Decline (SAD). Other culprits include Take-All Root Rot, Brown Patch, Gray Leaf Spot, chinch bugs, and Lethal Viral Necrosis.

None of these have effective controls, whether organic or chemical, so you may end up spending a lot of time and money treating your lawn only to lose it anyway.

Few things bother a Zoysia lawn with its medium resistance to both pests and disease, and those that do are treatable. Your grass may even recover when the weather changes without any effort on your part.

Following an organic lawn treatment plan will nurture the microbiology in the soil, which then supports your grass in turn. A healthy lawn has greater resistance against pests and disease, as they both prey on the weak and ailing.

Watering Sprinkler Rotating Lawn Sprinklers Large Area Coverage Water Sprinkler for Garden Yard Lawns Oscillating Hose 360 Degree Rotation Irrigation System for Outdoor Grass (Green)

If you’re looking for a drought-tolerant grass, St Augustine is not it. It needs more water per week than Bermuda grass and its shallow roots mean that it can’t withstand dry periods. If your lawn naturally gets a lot of rain, then that’s less of a problem.

Zoysia is a drought-tolerant grass that can withstand extended dry periods. Like all grasses, it’ll turn brown (dormant) during this period and require at least 1 or 2 inches of water per month during dormancy to stay alive. Otherwise, it needs very little water to stay green and is a great choice for non-irrigated lawns or lawns in dry climates.

Weeds

As long as you maintain a healthy lawn, both St Augustine and Zoysia will grow thickly enough to outcompete most weeds. The rest can be easily hand-weeded.

While all grasses benefit from not using herbicides (even those rated safe for use with a grass can harm and stress out grass, making it more vulnerable to pests and disease), St Augustine is sensitive to 2,4-D herbicides and so those should be avoided.

Fertilizing Scotts 44615A Green Max Lawn Food 5,000 sq. ft

St Augustine and Zoysia both have similar needs for fertilizer, requiring 3 – 4 lbs of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per year (a high amount). Along with frequent mowing, this is the reason that Zoysia is not a low maintenance grass. Use organic methods to help support the microbiology in the soil which breaks down thatch before it becomes a problem and supports your grass across pests and disease.

They both benefit from warm-season grass fertilizer schedules, starting in the late spring when the grass is growing vigorously and ending before the weather cools. For organic fertilizer, apply compost twice a year (once in the late spring and once in early fall) with monthly compost tea boosts in between.

Additional Care

Any grass that grows by stolons will have thatch problems, although three factors exacerbate this: how fast they grow, synthetic nitrogen (causing excessive growth), and poor soil health.

St Augustine will have a lot of problems with thatch as it grows solely by stolons, grows medium fast, and requires a lot of nitrogen. You may need to dethatch annually, which stresses out your lawn to make it susceptible to pests and disease.

While Zoysia requires a lot of nitrogen too, it grows much more slowly giving the stolons more time to break down before they build up.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is St Augustine More Shade Tolerant Than Zoysia?

Whether St Augustine is more shade tolerant than Zoysia depends on the Zoysia cultivar. Zoysia has many cultivars available with their own advantages and disadvantages, and there are some that have more shade tolerance than others. Finely textured cultivars tend to be more shade tolerant than thicker textured ones.

Is St Augustine Cheaper Than Zoysia?

Both St Augustine and Zoysia are more expensive to start a new lawn because you must start both from plugs or sod. A limited number of Zoysia cultivars have seed commercially available.

Zoysia plugs may be more expensive since they grow slower (and so growers have to spend more time caring for them before they can sell them). After installation, the lower maintenance Zoysia will be a bit less expensive to maintain.

Can You Mix Zoysia And St Augustine?

There’s no benefit to mixing Zoysia and St Augustine. Zoysia doesn’t do well when mixed with other grasses. The only time you may want to mix Zoysia is with an annual grass like Annual Ryegrass while your plugs are getting established. The Annual Ryegrass will pop up to outcompete weeds but die off after its time while Zoysia has gotten more firmly established.

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