Zoysia grasses are warm-season grasses native to southern Asia that are popular as lawns in modern America. Zoysia turf is renowned for its dense mat-like qualities, as well as tolerance of shade, summertime heat and seasonal droughts. It makes great lawns for athletic fields and golf courses in the southern half of the continental United States, especially in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 6 and warmer. All zoysia grass varieties require a well-drained soil.
The zoysia grass variety "Empire" is a type of Japanese lawn grass (Zoysia japonica). According to Phillip Jennings Turf Farm in Soperton, Georgia, "Empire" was selected by turf horticulturists in Brazil. "Zeon" is a variety of Manila grass (Zoysia matrella). It was selected by a turf grower in Poteet, Texas from a collection of seed-grown Manila grasses imported from Japan, according to the U.S. Trademark and Plant Patent Office.
"Empire" is often marketed as a modern replacement and improvement over the long-standing "Emerald" selection of zoysia grass. "Empire" plants develop a deep green color with more widely-spaced blades, almost to the visual texture of a fine St. Augustine grass. It quickly grows via stolons (stems running on the soil surface) as well as by underground rhizomes.
"Zeon" grass plants maintain a dark green color reminiscent of fescue as well as a similar fine, dense and compact texture like that of Bermuda grass. It also grows quickly.
Neither "Empire" nor "Zeon" is propagated by seed; they can only be established from sprigs or sod. The University of Georgia's Center for Urban Horticulture notes that "Zeon" received high marks for its excellent quality in lawn applications.
According to Purdue University's turf test trial results, "Empire" is faster growing and quicker to establish when compared to "Zeon." For example, after 90 days of controlled, favorable growth on samples of these two varieties, "Empire" grew to cover an area nearly twice as large as a comparable planting of "Zeon." Average stolon growth is slightly longer in "Empire" than "Zeon," but no more than 1 inch. The longest spread of stolons was greater in "Zeon" which suggests a more irregular spread of stems on the soil surface than "Empire." Overall, The Turf Grass Group comments that the stolons of "Zeon" are consistently short and dense, causing less thatch build-up from mowings across the growing season.
"Empire" bears natural chemical resistance to MSMA, 2-4-D and Fusilade II herbicides, making any weed management extremely easy, according to the Phillip Jennings Turf Farm. It also demonstrates excellent tolerance to drought and oceanside salty winds once well-established in either clay, loam or sandy soils. With Brazilian origins, "Empire" also has exceptional tolerance to heat and summer humidity, such as in the American Southeast.
"Zeon" is tolerant of drought and ocean saltspray. It is known for exceptional tolerance of shady sites in comparison to most other zoysia grass varieties. "Zeon" is more tolerant of cool temperatures and greens up earlier in spring and later in fall than "Empire."
Since neither variety is grown from seed, both "Empire" and "Zeon" are sold only by licensed grower/suppliers in the United States. This typically means state certification of the turf growing company to produce and sell the zoysia grass as sprigs or sod. Certification by an independent third party ensures the grass is truly the variety being sold under the "Empire" or "Zeon" name.