Zoysiagrass – for Shade

Q: We had new zoysiagrass sod laid in our backyard this summer. We chose zoysiagrass as we were told that it will grow in the shade. In the worst shady spots, the grass has completely died and our landscaper recommends changing the areas to flower beds. This is not at all what we had planned. Is there not a type of zoysiagrass that can be used in the shade?

A: It is true that zoysia is more shade tolerant than bermudagrass — but it needs at least four hours of direct sunshine or eight hours of very bright reflected light to thrive. Let me try to specify the light levels needed, in declining order, for the different turfgrasses.

Bermudagrass: full sunshine
Centipedegrass: partial shade
‘Meyer’ zoysiagrass: partial shade
‘Emerald’ zoysia grass: shade
St. Augustine grass: shade
Tall fescue: shade

Since light levels are hard to define, use these examples

Full sunshine: eight hours of unfiltered sunshine sometime between sunrise and sunset

Partial shade: eight hours of sunshine filtered through high pine foliage OR four hours of direct sunshine between sunrise and sunset

Shade: all day sunshine filtered through scattered hardwood trees OR direct sunshine at least three hours per day

Dense shade: No direct sunshine touches the grass all day, such as the shade under a southern magnolia or the shade between two houses whose shadows prevent sunshine from hitting the earth at all.

No grass will grow in dense shade. If the zoysiagrass died in your shady areas I’d trust the advice of your landscaper.

Q: I have heard there is a new zoysiagrass that handles shade better than ‘Emerald’.We want to replace existing bermudagrass under an oak. Any suggestions?

A: Dr. Clint Waltz, my turf guru, says he has no research data, just his personal observations. He says that ‘Emerald’ does not do well in heavy shade. It eventually thins and becomes unthrifty. ‘Zeon’ does better. Mark Banta, manager of centennial Olympic Park, has good things to say about the ‘Zeon’ they installed under shade cloth in their Southern Company Amphitheater.

According to Clint, “The grass I’ve been most impressed with under heavy shade is ‘El Toro’. Texture-wise, it is vastly different from ‘Emerald’ or ‘Zeon’, but often you have to give a little to get a little. Do you want a good turfgrass stand in shade or finely textured grass…. and weeds?”

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