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ground-level shot of mown turf grass in front of a Florida home

Master Gardener Volunteers on… turf dormancy in winter

By Judith Kendall
Master Gardener Volunteer Program team member

When I recently moved into a new neighborhood, I remember my first time scouting out the newly acquired landscaping around the home. What kind of turf had I gotten myself into?

It was definitely not the very common St. Augustine grass that I had been familiar with. Most shockingly, my lawn looked very brown, not too happy, and definitely not green and lush.

zoysia grass in a front lawn shows lack of color during winter dormancy
Zoysia in winter (Photo Credit: Judith Kendall)
st. augustine grass in a front yard is vibrant green despite winter chills
St. Augustine in winter (Photo Credit: Judith Kendall)

A few months went by and I was busy moving boxes when, all of a sudden, the sod come back to life and greened up nicely. Now that I had finally settled in and started getting back into a yard maintenance routine, I decided that I needed to get more familiar with my turf.

With the help of the UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County Plant Clinic help desk, I was able to determine that I had a Zoysia lawn, a grass species that has become more popular in our area. It has a finer leafblade and is mowed lower than St. Augustine. According to “The Florida Lawn Handbook,” Zoysia has good tolerance to shade, salt, and traffic.

But what happens to it in the cold/winter season?!

St. Augustine and Zoysia are both warm season turfgrasses, which means that the growth rate in the cold season is significantly reduced. However, there is a big difference between the two. While St. Augustine still shows some growth in roots and shoots, there is almost no active growth in Zoysia grass. Zoysia is also one the first turf species to go off-color in fall and the last to green up in spring. This is definitely very visible where the two species border each other.

The good news is that the brownish appearance of turfgrass in winter is normal, However, it occurs earlier and lasts longer with Zoysia lawns than with St Augustine. Since almost no growth occurs, much less irrigation is needed. And, fertilizing your dormant Zoysia lawn would cause more damage than good. For more information on lawn fertilizing recommendations, visit the UF/IFAS Extension resources below.

vibrant green zoysia grass in a yard in the summer
Zoysia in summer (Photo Credit: Judith Kendall)
vibrant green st. augustine grass in a yard in the summer
St. Augustine in summer [CREDIT: UF/IFAS EDIS]

For more information on characteristics of different turfgrasses in Sarasota, contact Marguerite Beckford, horticulture agent with UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County, at 941-861-5000 or mbeckford@ufl.edu, or search the topic at sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/sarasota.

RESOURCES
About the Author
Judith Kendall is a UF/IFAS Extension Master Gardener Volunteer in Sarasota County. A graduate of the MGV Class of 2014.

One Comment on “Master Gardener Volunteers on… turf dormancy in winter

  1. good advice
    SMR used to require builders to install Empire Zoysia East of Loraine Road, as they were the pioneering effort and major grower in this area. A few years they dropped the requirement for the reasons in the article.
    PS. as a sod grower of both St. Augustine and Zoysia SMR mows BOTH at the same height.
    Lee Gast, Chameleon Pest Control, Inc.