Caring for Bermuda and Zoysia Grasses

Growing Season and Conditions

Bermuda and Zoysia grasses are the most common warm season grasses for lawns in the Metro Atlanta area. The prime growing season is in warm weather. These grasses are dormant and brown in the winter and begin growing and greening up in the spring when soil temperatures reach about 60 to 65 degrees. Bermuda grass is relatively tolerant of heat and drought conditions. 

Bermuda grass loves sunlight and needs lots of it. Though there are some varieties that are somewhat shade tolerant, typically, Bermuda is happiest with at least 6 to 8 hours of sun each day. Zoysia grass also enjoys sun, but some Zoysia varieties can grow well with a bit less sun than Bermuda grass needs. Zoysia grass does best with direct sun for 3 to 4 hours each day or 8 hours of filtered sun (through tree foliage for instance).

Mowing

The ideal height for Bermuda grass during the growing season is between 1 and 2 inches. Golf courses with Bermuda grass may keep their grass cut a bit shorter, and Bermuda grass does well when cut short, but unless you have a reel mower, keeping the grass between 1 and 2 inches is acceptable.

To prevent damage, you should never remove more than one-third of the height of the grass when mowing. Because the green leaf blade of Bermuda grass is at the top of the plant where it’s getting sunlight, and the bottom section of the plant is a tan or brown color, if you mow too much of the grass height at any one time, you will see “mower damage,” or brown areas where the Bermuda grass has been cut too short with the green leaf blades removed. Because you’re mowing the top and greenest part of the Bermuda grass blades, Bermuda lawns often look best a few days after they’re mowed rather than immediately after mowing.

For most homeowners, we recommend bagging all clippings from Bermuda and Zoysia grass when you mow to prevent the buildup of thatch and debris in the lawn. If you mow frequently, though, you don’t need to bag the clippings as they’ll be short enough not to create a layer of thatch. Mowing frequency to avoid having to bag clippings would be 2 to 3 times per week during the peak growing season.

At the end of the growing season as the grass begins to go dormant, you can leave the grass a little longer to provide a layer of insulation for the roots during the cooler weather. In the spring, once there is no chance of frost, you can “scalp” the lawn by cutting it shorter than usual. Scalping removes the dead layer and allows more sunlight and oxygen to reach the plant as it starts to revive for the growing season. Be careful not to scalp too soon, though, as exposure to frost or ice can hamper growth as the plant has to recover.

Other Maintenance

In addition to mowing, maintaining healthy Bermuda and Zoysia grass lawns includes making sure the lawn is getting enough nutrients and water and keeping unwanted weeds away.

The best way to prevent weed growth is applying a pre-emergent product at the right time of the year. Pre-emergent products keep most types of weeds from germinating. Winter pre-emergent products are best applied before the soil temperatures are at or below 55 degrees. In the spring, pre-emergent products are best applied before the soil temperatures reach that same 55-degree mark. Pre-emergent products are designed to break down over time and must be applied at the right time of the year to stop weeds from growing in a particular season. Pre-emergent products may also break down and be less effective over time if an area receives heavier than normal rainfall over a period of time or in lawn areas that get a lot of foot traffic.

Fertilizer

Fertilizer provides needed nutrients that promote grass growth, and warm season grasses do best with nitrogen fertilizer products applied during the growing season. As the grass grows dormant, a different type of fertilizer is recommended to feed the root system only.  

An aeration of warm season grasses is recommended if the soil is hard and compacted. Aeration for warm season grasses is recommended between May and the end of July. An aeration will break up compacted soils to allow better absorption of water and nutrients and to allow roots to expand.

A Note on Zoysia Grasses

New Zoysia varieties are now on the market that may have slightly different care recommendations, so always check on your specific type of grass.