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Will Zoysia Choke Out Fescue? The 2 Key Factors Explained


Will zoysia choke out fescue grass? It depends on climate and shading.

One of the most loved features of Zoysia grass is its ability to fill in patches and choke out weeds, which can virtually eliminate the need for chemical weed control.

WIll Zoysia choke out Fescue? Zoysia will choke out fescue in sunny or lightly shaded areas of the lawn in regions with hot summers and mild winters. Zoysia will generally not choke out fescue in deep or moderate shade.

Zoysia is touted as a low-maintenance, all-purpose, wondergrass that may even eliminate the need to care for your lawn at all. However, while zoysia does have some great qualities, it is still subject to the climate, and it will become more high-maintenance and sensitive in colder regions.

Zoysia vs. Fescue

ZoysiaFescue
Warm Season GrassCool Season Grass
Spreads through above-ground stolons and below-ground rhizomes. This allows it to fill in bare spots and choke out weeds wellGrows in bunches, less effective at filling in bare spots and choking out weeds
Most active in summer monthsMost active in spring and fall
Thrives in sunny areasExcellent for shady lawns
Grows low to groundGrows tall

Zoysia and fescue have completely different growth habits. Zoysia is a yellow/green grass that creeps low to the ground, while fescue grows in tall, deep-green bunches. Zoysia is most active during the summer, while fescue tends to be more active during the spring and fall.

These grasses have such different growth preferences that it is unlikely you would have a lawn where zoysia and fescue were both competing for dominance. However, it is possible that in some regions, one may invade portions of the other.

Zoysia

Zoysia is a warm-season grass, which means it has a creeping growth habit that allows it to quickly fill in patches of bare soil. Zoysia thrives in hot weather, although it will go dormant before most other warm-season grasses during droughts.

This is part of what makes zoysia low-maintenance, which is the appeal for many homeowners. Buy Zoysia plugs that are guaranteed to grow or replaced free (link to Zoysia Farms).

Zoysia grows well throughout the southeast and the southernmost areas of California through Texas. This turf does not tolerate cold winter temperatures.

Fescue

There are four types of fescues: tall fescue, creeping red fescue, chewings fescue, and hard fescue (sourceOpens in a new tab.). Fescues are cool-season grasses, which means they tolerate cold winters, but may suffer during hot, dry summers. Fescues have a bunching growth habit, which makes it difficult for them to fill in and choke out weeds.

All fescues have slightly different growing regions, but they generally thrive from the northern U.S. border down to mid-Texas. Fescues are one of the top choices for shady lawns, so direct, southern sun can leave fescue looking washed out and patchy. Fescues are also susceptible to diseases in humid climates.

Zoysia vs. Fescue: Hot Summers

Zoysia and fescue can overlap in the middle part of the southeastern U.S.

Parts of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi can be too humid for fescues to thrive, although they may linger in shady portions of older lawns. Zoysia can tolerate light shade, but it cannot tolerate the deep shade where fescue thrives.

How To Encourage Zoysia To Choke Out Fescue

Hot Climates

  • Spray an herbicide early in the spring when the fescue comes out of dormancy. Zoysia will stay dormant until temperatures are warmer, which leaves a safe zone of a few weeks where you can spray for weeds and unwanted cool-season grasses without damaging the zoysia turf.
  • Cut back on irrigation during the summer. Fescues are not drought-tolerant, but zoysia will go dormant after a week of hot, dry weather. Zoysia will green up as soon as it receives moisture, but fescue won’t come back after a few weeks of drought.
  • Mow the Zoysia 1”-2”, which will damage the crowns of the fescue and prevent new growth.
  • Aerate annually. Core aeration removes sections of soil from the lawn, which encourages new growth in warm-season grasses. However, cool-season grasses, like fescue, are unable to fill in and may be too damaged to regrow after aggressive core aeration.

Cold Climates

  • Avoid dethatching unless the thatch layer is 1” or more. Thatch can insulate the growth points of zoysia during cold temperatures, and zoysia is aggressive enough to outgrow a moderately-thick thatch layer.
  • Spray in the spring as soon as the fescue breaks dormancy. This will allow you to kill any weeds that have germinated and the fescue before the zoysia begins active growth.
  • Aerate and topdress annually. Core aeration helps encourage healthy root growth, and adding organic matter into the soil can help insulate the roots during colder weather.
  • Mow zoysia a little taller in these regions to help insulate the growing points. Keep it around 2”-2.5” so the zoysia can thrive, but the fescue is too short to establish a good stand.

How To Encourage Fescue To Choke Out Zoysia

Hot Climates

  • Dig up zoysia from your lawn, removing as much of the root system as possible. Zoysia can regrow from small roots left in the soil, so pulling out the grass may compound the issue.
  • Mow at a taller height to help shade out zoysia. Fescues can be mowed from 3”-3.5”, while zoysia should be mowed at 1”-2”.
  • Irrigate 3-4 times per week during the summer to keep fescue healthy and encourage a deep root system. Healthy turf grasses are able to choke out weeds and unwanted grasses.
  • Fertilize with 2-4lbs of nitrogen each year. This will encourage healthy growth in the fescue and may encourage zoysia to break dormancy too soon, which can stress it out and lead to root death.

Cold Climates

  • Mow fescues tall to shade out zoysia, but end the season with a slightly shorter mowing to remove some insulation from colder winter temperatures. Fescue can handle a mowing height of 2”-2.5” as the growing season ends.
  • Irrigate 1”-2” per week, and fertilize 2lbs-4lbs of nitrogen each year. Zoysia prefers poor soils and dry summers, so consistent moisture and fertilizer applications can create a negative growing environment for zoysia.
  • Overseed each year to help fescue fill in bare patches where zoysia may take root.
  • Dig up zoysia from your lawn and remove as much of the root system as possible. Wait to do this until the ground thaws so you can easily remove the roots.

Conclusion

Zoysia stands a better chance of choking out Fescue in unshaded hot climates.

The Carolinas, Tennessee, West Virginia, and parts of Missouri can have cold winters, which can lead to freeze damage in zoysia lawns. While zoysia can thrive during the hot summers of this region, it may be too damaged from cold winter temperatures to fill in or choke out fescue during the growing season.

When you’re trying to prevent weeds and unwanted grasses in your lawn, the best offense is a good defense. Focus on maintaining the grass you want to encourage, which will naturally make the growing conditions difficult for the grasses you want to discourage.

Read our complete guide to establishing and maintaining a healthy zoysia lawn.

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Sydney Bosque

Sydney has over 15 years of experience in lawn maintenance, landscape design, and organic gardening. She has an A.A.S. in Landscape Design/Organic Produce Production from the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture.

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