Native to Southeast Asia and first introduced into North American landscapes in the 19th century, zoysia grasses today make exceptional lawns as well as durable turfs on golf courses and athletic fields. One species of zoysia grass is also known as "Japanese lawn grass" (Zoysia japonica), and includes two varieties named "Companion" and "Zenith." These grasses need a well-drained soil and excel with long warm summers and mild winters, such as in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 6 and warmer. Extended seasonal cool weather causes the leaf blades to turn straw-brown.
The variety "Companion" is also marketed and sold under the name "Compadre." Originally developed by Seed Research of Oregon, it had an experimental name of "ZMB-2." Dr. Jack Murray of the USDA Research Station in Maryland supplied Patten Seed Company seeds of a cultivar that become known as "Zenith." While being developed it was labeled as "ZNW-1."
Both "Companion" and "Zenith" grasses develop a somewhat coarser texture of green leaf blades compared to the long-standing standard cultivar of zoysia grasses in the United States named "Meyer." According to the OutsidePride website, "Companion" holds green color longer into the fall months, has better turf density in both spring and fall, and is better resistant to dollar spot disease. Conversely, "Zenith" overall has a better natural leaf color, is densest in the middle of summer, has greater tolerance to cold weather and is more resilient to brown patch disease and infestations of mole crickets.
According to results from zoysia grass test trials at Purdue University, "Companion" establishes and grows much faster than "Zenith." The university's measurements revealed that in stolon (horizontal stems across the soil surface) length and daily stolon growth "Companion" plants were two to three times longer or faster than those of "Zenith." After 90 days of growth in the landscape, "Companion" zoysia grass plants displayed a three-fold larger area of coverage. According to the OutsidePride website, "Zenith" greened up faster in spring and retained green color in foliage better into fall than "Companion." Moreover, "Zenith" tended to still show green color even into the mildest parts of early winter. "Companion" is still often seeded in other warm-season lawns to provide winter green color according to BioFuels Journal.
When mowed weekly during the growing season, both "Companion" and "Zenith" can be maintained at a height of 1/2 to 2-1/2 inches. Both varieties are well-suited for use as a home lawn, for golf course greens and athletic fields. Often sport fields maintain these grasses at a shorter length than homeowners. Thatch builds up on zoysia grass lawns when more than one-third the total blade height is cut at any one time. Allowing these turfgrasses to grow tall with ill-timed, prolonged mowing causes "balding" since all green foliage is often cut away to expose only the tan sheaths on the stolons.
Both "Companion" and "Zenith" zoysia grasses are sold as seed, springs or as sod. The least expensive but longest time frame for creation of a lawn is by sowing seed; more expense but faster lawn establishment occurs with installation of sod. For example, Patten Seed Company states that sod for a 1,000 square foot area may cost $400 while seeding the same area costs around $60.