Can Zoysiagrass Really Spring Back?

By Ty McClellan, Agronomist
May 14, 2010

During a recent week of course visits in the St. Louis area, the obvious signs of cart traffic were evident on zoysiagrass fairways, especially when comparing those that receive moderate to heavy golf cart traffic throughout the winter to those that do not. In most cases, it is too early to determine the degree of winterkill or the square footage (and in some cases the acreage) that will require sodding, as the zoysiagrass has yet to fully emerge from winter dormancy. While zoysiagrass sod is not currently being purchased in large quantities, sod producers are fielding calls from turf managers ensuring its availability, if and when it is needed.

Winter cart traffic on zoysiagrass fairways is a growing concern among experienced turf managers who have witnessed severe winterkill and who are worried that a potential disaster looms in the future should the northern transition zone experience a severe winter in the coming years. Given the absence of significant turf loss in recent years, golfers and turf managers alike have forgotten the potential for winterkill damage on warm-season turfgrasses in this region. Additionally, the younger among us may simply not have experienced a winter in which severe winterkill damage has occurred. Even golf facilities have relaxed winter cart use restrictions over time. Despite this current trend, relaxing the standards on cart use when zoysiagrass is dormant is risky.

The abbreviated growing seasons for zoysiagrass during the last two years have actually further contributed to the potential for severe winterkill in the upper transition zone. More specifically, recent summers have been much cooler than normal and have combined with greater than average rainfall. The overcast skies, when added to the cool and wet soil conditions, have further hampered zoysiagrass growth and thus, there really has not been a full season of active growth or recovery.

With low mowing heights being maintained late into the golfing season, zoysiagrass also is not as durable. A lack of leaf tissue disrupts necessary carbohydrate storage and hardening off that are key plant functions during fall, thereby leaving the zoysiagrass in a vulnerable state, as it enters winter.

Below are some of the risks and side effects of winter cart traffic on zoysiagrass fairways. These may largely be applied to bermudagrass as well.

    • Slow spring greenup – Zoysiagrass exhibits excellent wear tolerance, but not when it is dormant and unable to recover through growth. As such, the effects of winter traffic accumulate, and this results in a less-than-durable stand of turf that is very slow to green-up in the spring.
    • Soil compaction – Oftentimes soils are not completely frozen during winter play, and wet soils are easily compacted. Root systems are sacrificed and poor turf health follows. Additional aeration is needed on fairways that receive winter cart traffic.
    • Weed contamination – Thin areas or wear patterns often develop in high traffic areas and voids in the zoysiagrass are quickly established with winter weeds or resident bermudagrass populations. Winter weeds are fairly easy to control, but bermudagrass contamination in zoysiagrass can be a major, if not expensive, problem.
    • Large patch (zoysia patch) – Damage from this turfgrass disease often lingers for weeks and months where zoysiagrass, weakened and stunted from winter cart traffic, is very slow to recover and unable to grow given the damage.
    • Weakened turf - The biggest pitfalls of winter cart traffic are the season-long weakened state of zoysiagrass and the increased potential for future turf loss.


As more golf facilities open up their fairways to winter cart traffic, those that do not face increasing pressure and criticism from golfers to do so. Unless this trend is reversed, it is just a matter of time before we learn the lesson…..once again…..the hard way, as basic plant physiology and agronomics have not conquered all that the environment can dish out.

If you would like more information about a Turf Advisory Service visit, contact either of the Mid-Continent Region offices: Bud White at budwhite@usga.org or (972) 662-1138 or Ty McClellan at tmcclellan@usga.org or (630) 340-5853.

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