By SHANNON HATHAWAY – Let’s be honest. Zeon and Zenith are so easily confused because the names are too similar. I wish I had the power to rename one of these varieties to make them less confusing, but I don’t. I can, however, compare the two types of zoysia grass to help clear things up.
Origin and Propagation
Common zoysia originated centuries ago in China and Korea. In the 1990s the University of Maryland developed Zenith from the Asian zoysia varieties to be better suited to the mid-Atlantic area. They were able to create this hybrid without losing its seed viability, and Zenith remains the best zoysia seed on the market today.
In 1996 Zeon Zoysia was developed by Bladerunner Farms in Texas and released to licensed growers. It is a sterile hybrid, so it cannot be grown from seed. It must be propagated by plugging or sodding.
Zenith is a wide-bladed zoysia that resembles fescue in its width but should be kept shorter than fescue for best performance. Its width is sometimes described as coarse. Color is subjective, but my eye sees Zenith as kelly green – the green of Ireland.
Zeon is a very fine-bladed zoysia that gives that golf course look. To my eye, the color is more lime green, and less shiny than Zenith.
Both grow very densely and create a thick lawn, but the root system of Zeon is somewhat denser. Both are quite good at choking out weeds if they are properly maintained.
No turf grass can grow in deep shade, so we talk about shade tolerance in terms of the number of hours of direct sun each variety requires to perform well. Think of turf grass as the athlete of plants. We demand a lot out of our lawns, and they grow quickly, so they need to eat a lot to keep performing. Plants require sunlight to do photosynthesis to eat. Deprive a turf grass of sunlight and it will thin out and starve.
Zenith needs a minimum of 6 or more hours of direct sun to perform its best, but in some conditions, it will tolerate 5 hours. The grass will struggle and thin out in less than 5 hours of direct sun per day.
Zeon is more shade-tolerant. It requires 4 or more hours of direct sun per day and will decline and thin out if it receives less than 4 hours.
When a lawn is used as a playspace, the grass can take a real beating. Running feet compact the soil. Repeated patterns of use, such as a playing field, or the track a dog takes each time it patrols its territory, create wear and tear on a lawn. Different sod varieties have varying levels of tolerance to traffic. A very small lawn (like a townhouse lawn) with lots of foot or dog traffic is likely to fail. Dog urine damages all turf grasses, but the faster-growing sod types (like Bermuda) can recover more quickly than the slower growers.
Zenith is the most traffic-tolerant zoysia, but it is not as traffic-tolerant as TifTuf Bermuda. My Zenith holds up very well to my two medium-sized dogs and the occasional visits from my grandsons.
Zeon is less traffic tolerant than Zenith because it grows more slowly and takes more time to recover.
Water Needs and Soil
Zoysias are far more drought tolerant than Fescue, but a little less so than Bermuda and Centipede. The factor that is too often ignored in this discussion is soil quality. Soil that is high in organic matter (humus compost) and is less compacted can hold on to water longer and provide roots easier access to water. Heavily compacted soil that is low in nutritional value (think post-construction clay) dries out quickly and does not allow root access to water and nutrients. An inch of rainfall on healthy soil is far more beneficial and is available longer, than an inch of rainfall on dense, compacted, low-nutrient soil. The better your soil, the more drought-tolerant your lawn! If you think of the lawn as an athlete again, the soil is the nutrition, water is life-giving, and proper physical maintenance is needed to perform its best. Zenith is slightly more drought-tolerants than Zeon.
Zenith performs best when maintained at a height of 1.5-2”. Zeon performs best when maintained at a height of 1-1.5”. When zoysia is allowed to get too tall, it shades out its own root system and things out. It also becomes very difficult to mow! Mow weekly at the recommended height during the growing season.
In general, zoysias are more disease-resistant than fescue, but there are diseases that can harm them. Rust disease can affect zoysias in the summer months, but it is easily recognized and treated. All zoysias can be damaged by large patch disease in the cool, wet winter months and the damage may not be noticed until spring green-up. Prevention is the key. Healthy lawns are more disease-resistant. Properly timed applications of fungicides can help prevent disease. Click to see the zoysia care schedule.
Zenith has greater cold tolerance than Zeon, and can be grown further north. Both have excellent heat tolerance.
All zoysias are somewhat repellent to geese because their dense root systems make it difficult to access worms and insects in the soil, and because geese don’t like the taste!
Zoysia grasses are relatively resistant to insect damage, but care and vigilance are still recommended. New sod is susceptible to armyworm damage in the late summer months. Grubs, billbugs, mole crickets, and other turf insects can damage zoysia.
Very simply, Zeon is quite a bit more expensive than Zenith. Zeon cannot be propagated by seed, and it is a hybrid that requires a grower to be licensed for propagation, so it costs the grower more than Zenith to produce.
So, which zoysia is best for you?
The Zenith customer may have kids, dogs, and a busy lifestyle. Fescue is too high maintenance, Bermuda needs to be mowed too often, and who has time to pull weeds? And with all those kids and/or dogs, a more economical grass has a certain financial appeal.
The Zeon customer may have more expendable income. They are more concerned with perfection, they love the look of a golf course, and their lawn receives minimal traffic. Their yard may receive a bit more shade, requiring more shade-tolerant grass. They may even be inclined to stripe their lawn like their favorite baseball park.
Both customers are environmentally conscious and love the fact that Zoysia requires less water and fewer chemical applications than Fescue or Bermuda. Both know that zoysia is a premium grass, which is a plus if they put their house on the market. Both like going barefoot on their lawn, and they understand that a golden lawn in the winter is better than a brown fescue lawn in our brutal summer heat.
Whichever zoysia you choose, you won’t be disappointed.
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