Zoysia vs Fescue Grass – Which is Best for Your Yard?


Grasses are fascinating!

For such a small plant it sure offers a great deal of variety.

And who knows where to start and how to choose one?

Well, if you’re wondering which is better between Zoysia vs Fescue grass, then you’ve come to the right place.

I’ve put together a detailed description and comparison guide of Zoysia vs Fescue grass, and at the end, you should know exactly which grass will work the best for your yard.

Here it goes…

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What is the Difference Between Zoysia and Fescue Grass?

This is a popular debate between many gardeners today:

Zoysia vs Fescue. Which is better and why?

So before we decide, let’s take a glance at some of the key differences:

  • Zoysia grass has a medium to fine texture, while Fescue grass has a medium to coarse texture.
  • Zoysia grass is a summer-loving grass and goes dormant in cooler seasons, whereas Fescue grass loves cooler weather, with it sometimes going dormant in warmer weather.
  • Zoysia grass requires more maintenance than Fescue grass.

If wondering about other grasses, check out these articles on the differences between Zoysia and Bermuda Grass or St Augustine.

I bet you’ll be a grass-wizard in no time!

Now, let’s look closer at the main differences between Zoysia and Fescue grass. Starting with…

Zoysia Grass

This is your well-loved, wonder grass.

Zoysia grass
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Zoysia_Tenuifoli_foliage.JPG

Zoysia is a cultivated grass that grows naturally in Australia and Asia and has been in the United States since the early 1900s. It was cultivated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Professional Golfer’s Association (PGA) in the 1950s.

No surprise then that it’s a popular grass for creating fairways and teeing areas in golf courses.

There are three main Zoysia species, which have been created into several unique varieties.

Zoysia is generally a darker shade of green than Fescue grass.

Known for its thick, drought-resistant, and low maintenance characteristics, Zoysia has always been a favorite among many gardeners.

Zoysia grass is a warm-season grass that starts to grow in the warmth of late spring and then peaks during the heat of summer. It is a perennial grass- meaning that it will grow and then die back each year, depending on the climate.

Zoysia loves the full sun and can tolerate some light shade.

It’s great at enduring high traffic and doesn’t require much mowing, watering, and fertilizing.

Sounds awesome right?

Pros of Zoysia Grass

  • Dense growing, therefore, keeps the weeds out.
  • Stays green in heat and dry weather.
  • Self-repairing and self-patches.
  • Tolerates rough conditions.
  • Strong aesthetic appeal.

Cons of Zoysia Grass

  • Can invade garden beds.
  • Struggles to grow in shade.
  • Cannot tolerate cold conditions- turns brown from late October through April.
  • Higher maintenance than Fescue grass.
  • Thatch can be an issue.

Growing Conditions and Characteristics

So what makes Zoysia grass so unique?

Well if you’re looking for a hardy, low-maintenance grass, then Zoysia is your guy!

This grass typically grows in climates with warm, wet, and dry seasons and is ideal for growing in the Southern parts of the United States.

Zoysia resembles a soft, thick, green carpet, and can form dense mats or mounds over low-lying features.

backyard lawn in sunset

It is a deep-rooted grass that grows through above-ground stolons and below-ground rhizomes. Due to its thick underground runner system, Zoysia is great at choking out weeds and covering bare areas of soil.

Its leaves and stems are thick, which provides it with an incredible ‘self-healing’ characteristic. This means Zoysia can tolerate and recover quickly from heavy foot traffic.

Zoysia is also perfect for areas prone to drought, as it can withstand conditions of very low rainfall. It can grow in a wide range of soil types, from sandy to clay soils.

On the downside, Zoysia will not tolerate cold conditions. As soon as it experiences a cold spell, Zoysia grass will start turning brown and will remain dormant in fall and winter.

This is fine if you’re happy with a brown lawn once a year, as it will start growing again as the weather warms up.

While it might not look that appealing, it sure will give you a good break from mowing!

Worth pondering over, right?

If you’re in an area that experiences occasional dry conditions, Zoysia grass will survive and remain green. If the drought persists, it will go dormant, but will then pick up again after a good watering.

Treatment and Planting Care

How do you grow Zoysia grass?

If you’re starting a lawn from scratch, you can grow Zoysia from sods, sprigs, or seeds. Zoysia is a slow-growing grass, so it’s common to grow it from sods. However, some Zoysia varieties are faster-growing than others.

Here’s a video on how to prepare Zoysia as spring approaches:

It’s best to plant Zoysia in late spring to early summer, once the threat of frost is well out of the way. Daily temperatures should remain in the 70s. If necessary, you can try to plant in late fall, but just make sure it’s planted at least 60 days before the first fall frost.

Zoysia loves about 6 – 8 hours of sunlight a day, however, it can also grow in lightly shaded areas.

Zoysia will not require continual mowing, but when you do mow, make sure it is cut short, between 3/4 to 2 inches.

Zoysia is not a push-over.

It can withstand most grass diseases and is highly resistant to insect damage. However, Zoysia can be susceptible to Chinch Bugs and Bill Bugs.

Watering should be done deeply and infrequently to encourage deep, drought-resistant roots. Zoysia will only need 1 inch of water per week. If you have sandy soil, then it might need more water.

Zoysia has a low nitrogen requirement and prefers slightly acidic soils, growing in soils with a pH between 5.8 and 7.0.

Due to its dense growth habit, Zoysia is known for developing thatch each year. So you’ll need to aerate and dethatch the grass in early spring, just before it starts growing.

Then take a peek at these: Best Lawn Care Tools for Beginners and Best Dethatchers 2021 + Detailed Buying Guide

Aggressiveness and Invasiveness

Zoysia is not a push-over when it comes to grasses.

It’s called: survival of the fittest folks!

Zoysia is known for its ability to push other grasses out and to become invasive. You will need to make sure that it doesn’t encroach on your garden beds. Using lawn edging in areas might be helpful.

Levels of invasiveness will differ between different Zoysia varieties.

Price

Zoysia can cost between $180 and $270 per pallet or $0.40 to $0.60 per square foot. The price will depend on what type of variety you choose and whether you grow from seed or sod.

Zoysia can be a bit on the expensive side but can also be reasonably priced.

Now, let’s take a closer look at Zoysia’s friendly counterpart:

Fescue Grass

Fescue grass
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fescue_9029_2.jpg

Fescue grass is on a completely different spectrum compared to Zoysia grass.

For one thing:

While Zoysia thrives in the summer, Fescue is more active in the spring and fall. In most regions, you’re unlikely to find both Fescue and Zoysia competing with each other. However, it is possible in some areas for them to grow at the same time.

Fescue has a more upright growing pattern, while Zoysia grows much closer to the ground.

So where does Fescue come from?

Fescue is one of the most widely traveled of the grasses- being found in every continent except for Antarctica. It originally came from Europe.

Fescue also comes from a large family, consisting of 400 to 500 different species of grasses. Due to its complex DNA, scientists are still figuring out how many species of Fescue exist today.

Fescue grass can come in many different types and shades, depending on the subspecies. Blade types can range from both fine to very coarse textures.

Tall Fescue is commonly used as the ‘rough’ on golf courses. While the strong Creeping Red Fescue, Sheep Fescue, Chewings Fescue, and Hard Fescue are used for putting greens and fairways.

Some varieties are also ideal for pasture and as hay for livestock.

What a versatile grass!

Fescue can also establish easily in bare and poor quality soils, making it a perfect grass for soil erosion control programs.

During the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, the Fescue “Kentucky 31” cultivar was used to reclaim a very wide section of land.

Pros of Fescue Grass

  • Drought-tolerant as a cool-season grass.
  • Tolerates shade.
  • Grows in cold climates.
  • Lower maintenance than Zoysia grass.

Cons of Fescue Grass

  • Bunching and patchy growth, making it difficult to keep weeds out.
  • Requires regular watering in summer.
  • Doesn’t repair well after heavy traffic.

Growing Conditions and Characteristics

Fescue is a cool climate grass and can flourish in areas where Zoysia, Bermuda, and St Augustine generally struggle to grow.

This means that Fescue will stay green throughout the year in climates with mild winters and summers. It doesn’t enjoy living in warmer conditions, so during hot summers, it will likely go dormant.

Then how does it do in shade?

Well, give Fescue a shady section under a tree any day, and it will show you whose boss!

Now that makes Fescue grass a definite keeper.

Fescue grass is ideal for rehabilitating and covering soils under trees and next to buildings that don’t see much sunlight.

Fescue also comes with a different growing habit.

It tends to grow in bunches, making it challenging to choke out weeds and cover sections of soil effectively. Due to this growth habit, fescue is often grown with other grass varieties.

In turn, Fescue is more susceptible to heavy traffic and will therefore take a longer time to repair itself.

Some Fescue varieties, such as your Tall Fescue are both heat, drought, and shade tolerant. And so they can grow successfully in both the northern and transition zones of the United States.

Here’s a video on how to establish Tall Fescue from seed:

Most Fescues are easy to establish from seed, and so it is less common to grow from sods.

While each variety differs, most Fescues are known for spreading through short rhizomes and tillers. Root growth can be very deep, reaching 2-3 feet.

Related reading: How to Make Grass Thicker, Greener and Fuller.

Treatment and Planting Care

Fescue isn’t a fussy grass.

If given the proper nutrients and care, it should remain green all year round. Easily making your lawn the best in the neighborhood.

And fescue grass is a lower maintenance grass- perfect for the less ‘hand’s on’ gardener.

The best time to plant Fescue is during its peak growing season, in fall or spring.

It doesn’t require regular mowing and fertilizing. It will however need frequent, deep watering during the warmer summer months.

When rainfall drops to below 1 inch of water per week, then you’ll need to water the lawn with at least 1 inch of water (during a 6-7 hour session).

Fescue can grow in a wide variety of soil types. But if you want it to thrive, it prefers a soil pH between 5.5 to 6.5. It also does better in soils with good drainage.

How about mowing?

Fescue grass prefers a higher mowing cut at 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 inches. Due to its bunch-forming growth, Fescue rarely needs any dethatching.

Boy, do I like the sound of that!

However, it’s another story if your lawn often experiences higher traffic.

If this is the case, maintenance can be more. Due to its slow-growing and bunching growth habit, Fescue will take a longer period to recover.

When this happens, you’ll need to section these parts of the lawn off to prevent traffic and to reseed in areas where growth is prohibited.

Reseeding Fescue grass is common practice and should be done once a year in late summer or early fall.

lawn in garden

Aggressiveness and Invasiveness

If left to its own devices, Fescue grass can be invasive and aggressive.

Fescue grass is known for taking over natural areas and growing in fields, along roadsides and forest margins.

Fescue varieties are known for out-competing other grasses, particularly in colder regions.

Price

Fescue grass is mostly cheaper than Zoysia grass, however, this does depend on where and how you purchase it.

Fescue can cost between $160 to $295 per pallet or $0.35 to $0.65 per square foot.

Zoysia Grass or Fescue Grass- Which is better?

The moment of truth:

Zoysia vs Fescue grass – which do you think is best?

As you can see, there are plenty of benefits for both. While Zoysia will keep the weeds out and tolerate heavy traffic, it will require more maintenance when it goes dormant in colder weather.

Fescue will grow well in shady and cold conditions, requiring less maintenance in the long run, however you’ll need to help it along when it experiences heavy traffic.

The crucks of the matter:

You’ll have to weigh up the pros and cons of each grass and assess whether Fescue grass or Zoysia grass will be the best for your unique location and climate.

Every climate and every gardener is different. So be sure to choose a grass variety that works the best for you and your long-term gardening goals.

Over the years, I have found Zoysia grass to be the best for my yard. Zoysia has a stronger aesthetic appeal overall and requires less maintenance when it comes to patching the lawn and keeping the weeds out.

In some regions, you can get the best of both worlds, by purchasing a blend of Zoysia and Fescue grass for your lawn.

house in garden

Will Zoysia Take Over Fescue?

You could call Fescue grass more of a ‘gentleman’ when comparing it to Zoysia grass. While Fescue grass is not a pushover, it will often step aside for Zoysia grass to take over.

But there’s a catch:

It all comes down to the climate.

Fescue grass will be more aggressive in colder regions, and shadier sections of a yard. While Zoysia grass will be more aggressive in warmer regions, and areas with more sun in the yard.

Summary

By now, you should know everything necessary to choose between Zoysia vs Fescue grass for your lawn.

Either way, finding the best grass for your lawn will take some time, and will likely require a truckload of patience.

But be sure to enjoy the gardening journey along the way.

I’m sure you have some thoughts or experiences to share for Zoysia or Fescue grass? So leave your comments in the section below.

We look forward to hearing from you…

Andy Gibson

My name's Gibson. Andy Gibson. I like to think of myself as the Bond of the backyard, that is if yard work ever became sexy. I write about everything about indoor and outdoor gardening and the dread-it-but-still-need-to-do-it chores around the yard, like cleaning out the gutter guards.

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