18 Jun Turf Wars: Zoysia vs. Bermuda Grass
Turf Wars: Zoysia vs. Bermuda Grass
In previous editions of Turf Wars, Zoysia vs. St. Augustine resulted in a tie between the two grasses and St. Augustine vs. Bermuda Grass ended with bermuda grass taking the trophy. Our next installment of the war between turfs will be between zoysia vs. bermuda grass. Our series of Turf Wars articles pits two grass varieties against one another for the battle of the #1 turfgrass available in residential lawns. There are a few things to consider when choosing a type of grass for your home lawn including the amount of maintenance that goes into it, the climate you’re located in, physical appeal and your budget. When it comes to making a larger investment in a living product, it’s important to make the most informed, educated decision. It’s also important to note that there are a few big key differences between warm season and cool season varieties.
Today, we focus on the generic differences between zoysia and bermuda grasses. Although this article compares certain characteristics between zoysia and bermuda grass directly, the winners for each category below are determined solely off of generic comparisons. There are many types of zoysia and bermuda grass available to the homeowner, such as EMPIRE® Zoysia, InnovationTM Zoysia, Geo® Zoysia, Celebration® Bermudagrass and Latitude® 36 Bermudagrass, so a lot of these characteristics may vary depending on the cultivar of zoysia and bermuda grass selected for sod installation.
Different cultivars of zoysia and bermuda grass are bred with goals of having different and appealing colors. In other words, no two bermuda grass cultivars have the exact same color. For example, Celebration Bermudagrass has a deep blue-green color whereas Latitude 36 Bermudagrass has more of a dark green color. On the other hand with zoysia grass, EMPIRE Zoysia has a dark green color whereas Palisades Zoysia has a much lighter green color. When it comes to the battle of which grass has a better color, the results are clearly a tie because it all depends on what you’re looking for. The images below show a visual representation of what some of the popular bermuda grass and zoysia grasses look like.
- EMPIRE Zoysia: Dark Green
- Innovation Zoysia: Dark Green
- Geo Zoysia: Deep Green
- Zeon Zoysia: Deep Green
- Zorro Zoysia: Deep Green
- El Toro Zoysia: Dark Green
- Palisades Zoysia: Light Green
- Meyer Zoysia: Emerald Green
Pictured above from left to right: EMPIRE, Innovation, Geo and Zeon Zoysia.
Pictured above from left to right: Zorro, El Toro, Palisades and Meyer Zoysia.
Bermuda Grass Colors:
- Celebration Bermudagrass: Deep Blue-Green
- Latitude 36 Bermudagrass: Dark Green
- NorthBridge Bermudagrass: Bright Green
- Tifway 419 Bermudagrass: Blue-Green
- Discovery Bermudagrass: Dark Blue-Green
Pictured above from left to right: Celebration Bermudagrass, Latitude 36 Bermudagrass, NorthBridge Bermudagrass and Tifway 419 Bermudagrass.
Blade Width and Texture:
Zoysia grasses and bermuda grasses have completely different blade widths from one another. In fact, this is usually the easiest way to identify a bermuda grass and zoysia grass. A lot of zoysia grasses have a larger blade width, however, certain varieties like Innovation and Geo Zoysia were specifically bred for finer blade widths, which helps with increased shade tolerance. Bermuda grass can be spotted in a lot of sports fields and golf courses, but they are becoming more popular in residential lawns and parks. Bermuda grass has a very soft texture with really fine, hair-like grass blades.
Zoysia grass blades typically range from 5–7 mm in width with the finer-bladed zoysias that have a matrella background that have 2 mm blade width. Matrella is a breed of zoysia grass that has very fine grass blades. Bermuda grass blade widths can range from about 1.5–1.7 mm. The homeowner who favors bermuda grass over other grass looks is usually after the look that resembles a golf course or sports field look. Again, the winner for blade width and texture is a tie because it is left up to personal preference.
Pictured above from left to right: EMPIRE Zoysia and Latitude 36 Bermudagrass.
St. Augustine is, for the most part, unbeatable in the battle for shade tolerance. Running second to St. Augustine, if not tying, is zoysia—especially the finer-bladed cultivars. Most finer-bladed zoysias like Innovation and Geo Zoysia are highly shade tolerant. Wider-bladed zoysias like EMPIRE are also highly shade tolerant, but come second to the finer-bladed varieties. Bermuda grass is not a very shade tolerant grass in comparison to St. Augustine or even zoysia. However, the most shade tolerant bermuda grass available is Celebration. To learn more, read Growing Grass in Shaded Landscapes.
Mowing Heights and Growth Habits
Similar to color differences among bermuda grass and zoysia cultivars, each variety of grass requires different mowing heights to perform and looks its best. These heights will also vary throughout the different seasons of the year. Take a look at our Bermudagrass and Zoysia Homeowner Maintenance Guides for more information. Bermuda grass, in general is kept at a height of 0.5–1.5 inches while wider-bladed zoysias are usually kept between 1–2 inches and finer-bladed zoysias are kept between 0.5–1.5 inches. Mowing heights matter because they usually dictate how frequently homeowners will need to mow. Different varieties grow at different speeds, so this isn’t always the case.
All bermuda grasses and zoysia grasses grow and spread with the use of rhizomes and stolons. A rhizome runs underground horizontally—often just underneath the surface of the soil. Rhizomes strike new roots downward into the soil and also shoot stems upwards. A stolon is an above-the-ground stem that creeps along the surface of the soil and subsequently grows a clone of the original plant on the end of it. They are probably both really good at choking out weeds for this reason. However, bermuda grass has a very aggressive spreading rate. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see bermuda grass completely choke out a centipede lawn or even grow over asphalt roads and concrete sidewalks.
Bermuda grasses usually rank higher in wear tolerance, injury recovery and drought tolerance, which is why they are frequently used on sports fields and golf courses. Zoysia grass can also be found in golf courses, but they are usually located in the collars and fairways to provide a textured look to the course whereas bermuda grasses can be found in the tees where the balls are striked. Bermuda grasses require more maintenance in terms of mowing or edging because they will encroach your driveways, side walks, roads or garden curbing.
Zoysia grasses, in comparison, generally require less water and have fewer pest concerns. Finer-bladed zoysias, like Innovation Zoysia, are more tolerant of cold temperatures and can thrive in the transition zone. However, Oklahoma State University’s Latitude 36 and NorthBridge® Bermudagrass were bred for superior cold tolerance so that they too can thrive up into the transition zone.
Pictured above: Growing maps for Innovation Zoysia, Latitude 36 and NorthBridge Bermudagrass—all of which demonstrate exceptional performance in the transition zone.
Because bermuda grasses require a little more maintenance with mowing and edging, zoysia grass wins the battle for mowing heights and growth habits. To learn more, check out our Lawn Mowing Guide.
Bermuda grasses typically rank higher in wear tolerance and injury recovery than zoysia grass. Zoysia grasses are considered “high” with wear tolerance and injury recovery, although the superior variety, EMPIRE, has a better wear tolerance than most other zoysia varieties. However, there’s a reason why bermuda grasses can be found in golf courses and sports fields instead of zoysia grasses—bermudas are generally more durable and can withstand a lot of heavy foot traffic with high recovery rates.
Winner: Bermuda Grass
Drought Tolerance vs. Drought Resistance
Drought tolerance and drought resistance are two different things. Drought tolerance is the ability to survive a drought. In comparison to drought tolerance, drought resistance is the ability to look good during drought up until a certain point where the grass can no longer survive without water. Both bermuda grass and zoysia grass require about one inch of water per week including rainfall as a part of normal maintenance, but in general, zoysia have a high drought tolerance and a moderate drought resistance.
Bermuda grass tends to perform a little bit better in both drought tolerance and drought resistance, which is why it can perform so well in hot, dry climates. Celebration Bermudagrass, for example, was bred and developed in Australia, so it is more accustomed to drought tolerance and resistance.
Winner: Bermuda Grass
Soil Preferences and Salt Tolerance
Each grass performs best in certain types of soils. In our Soil Management for Lawns and Gardens blog, we discuss a variety of soil types such as sandy soils, clay soils, loamy soils, their pH ranges and how this plays into your grass’s performance and health.
Both zoysia grass and bermuda grass have the ability to grow in a wide range of soil types, however, zoysia really thrives in sandy or loamy soils. It can grow well in clay soils, but prefers other soil types. Bermuda grass also tends to have a higher salt tolerance than zoysias, so you will typically see more bermuda grasses along the coasts or around areas high in salt content. Zoysias, in comparison, only have a moderate salt tolerance, but can still be found performing really well on coastline landscapes.
Fertility and pH
No matter which type of turfgrass variety you choose for installation, every one of them is going to need some form of nutrition. They are living products, so they require nourishment just as we do. This is more than just water and sunlight. Both bermuda grass and zoysia require a certain amount of macro and micronutrients including nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, iron, manganese and sulfur.
Zoysias tend to perform best in soils with a pH between 5.8–7.0. Bermuda grass, like St. Augustine, can perform well in a wide range of soil types, but thrives when the pH range falls between 6.5–8.0.
Lastly, be sure to check out the LawnifiTM fertilizer program—the perfect fertilizer program for both zoysia and bermuda grass. While the nutritional needs for both grasses slightly vary, Lawnifi meets their main requirements. Be sure to take a look at a few related Sod University blogs on Collecting and Submitting a Soil Analysis and Why Use Lawnifi Fertilizer?.
Both zoysia and bermuda grass have a wide variety of insects and pests that can plague them. Insects that really love chowing down on zoysia grasses are chinch bugs and billbugs, however, chinch bugs are much more commonly found in St. Augustine grass. EMPIRE is a chinch bug resistant type of zoysia. Many Florida homeowners convert from St. Augustines to EMPIRE Zoysia for this reason. Innovation Zoysia was also bred to include bluegrass billbug resistant properties. Bermuda grass is usually invaded by bermuda grass mites, billbugs, grub worms, sod webworms and fall armyworms. A few insect control products for these variety of pests are listed below. Learn more about these insects in our Insect Identification article. For either type of grass, it is a good idea to apply a systemic insecticide that is labeled to treat such insects preventatively before problems become out of hand. Take a look at some of our most popular insecticides below. Be sure to read each label thoroughly before application.
Similarly to insects, both zoysia and bermuda grass, along with every other grass type, are prone to more diseases or fungus outbreaks than others. Knowing which types of diseases these two grasses are more susceptible to will really help in preventing and treating any future outbreaks that may occur. Although both grasses can encounter many different fungus outbreaks, the ones zoysias most frequently experience are brown spot, rust and leaf spot. Bermuda grass is more prone to dollar spot, spring dead spot, leaf spot, brown patch and pythium. Take a look at some of our top recommended products for these lawn diseases. Each product is labeled with application instructions to treat certain turfgrass diseases. Be sure to read each label thoroughly before application. For more information, read our Lawn Disease Control blog and our Identifying Common Lawn Diseases blog.
Although zoysia is stronger than bermuda grass in certain characteristics, bermuda grass also has stronger traits than zoysia in some areas. As previously stated, this blog discusses zoysia and bermuda grass comparisons from a generic perspective. Each cultivar of zoysia and bermuda performs differently as they were bred at different times with varying goals in mind. In our third edition of our Turf Wars series, bermuda scores an overall 7/10 including the ties, zoysia finishes with a score of 8/10, and zoysia grass wins the war between turfs.
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