Zoysia grasses are warm season grasses native to China, Japan and other parts of Southeast Asia. They are drought tolerant and ideal as ground covers. Varieties of zoysia grasses include Japanese lawn grass, Manila grass and Korean velvetgrass. Gardens with subtropical to tropical temperatures can take advantage of the beauty and texture these low-maintenance, no-mow, zoysia grasses can provide.
Japanese Lawn Grass
Japanese lawn grass (Zoysia japonica), also known as Korean lawn grass, is a dense, low-growing, slow-growing perennial with stiff leaves. It is drought and heat tolerant but turns straw-colored when temperatures drop below 50 degrees F. Japanese lawn grass has good tolerance to shade, salinity and wear. It prefers well-drained soils with a pH between 6 and 7. Emerald and Meyer are popular selections of Japanese lawn grass. Japanese lawn grass can grow up to 6 to 12 inches if not mowed. It is hardy in zones 7 to 10.
If plugged, some older cultivars are slow to establish. They also suffer from nematode infestations. However, some of the newer cultivars (for example; Empire), don't appear to suffer from either of these pitfalls. Introduced in 2000, Empire performs better in the landscape; however, it cannot tolerate excessive shade and prefers six to eight hours of sunlight per day.
Manila grass (Zoysia matrella), also known as Mascarene grass, Siglap grass or Korean grass, occurs naturally along the coasts of the Indian Ocean, the China Sea and all Southeast Asian countries. This mat-forming perennial grows up to 13 inches high, and its leaf-sheath is hairy at the throat and characterized by long leaf blades.
The two distinguished varieties are var. matrella and var. pacifica. Manila grass can tolerate sandy soils such as those in coastal areas where other grasses cannot adapt. It is shade tolerant and often found covering the ground under coconut plantations on sandy coastal soils. It can also adapt to wet and saline soils.
Manila grass seedling is a slow grower, but after five to eight weeks new shoots send out tough stolons (shoots that grow horizontally above the ground), leading to the formation of a turf mat. It is less coarse in texture and less cold-hardy than Japanese lawn grass, but it may work well as a lawn grass along the Gulf Coast and Atlantic coast of Florida.
Korean velvetgrass (Zoysia tenuifolia) is an ornamental grass that is native to Asia and was introduced to the United States from the Mascarene Islands. Used in landscape as an effective groundcover in oriental gardens, it has a clumping or mounding appearance when not mowed. Korean velvetgrass is extremely slow growing, reaching up to 6 inches high with very fine texture and dark green color. It can tolerate shade well and spreads by its rhizomes (underground runners). It naturally blends well among rocks and water features.
It is typical to leave Korean velvetgrass unmowed; however, you can mow as low as 1/2 inch if desired. In the United States, you will find Korean velvetgrass as a low-growing ground cover. It is ideal for lawns and sloping banks as it requires no mowing. Korean velvetgrass is drought tolerant; however, it is not ideal for places that suffer freezing or extremely cold temperatures.