Zoysia vs. Red Fescue



By Cassy Aoyagi.  Angelinos attending Dwell on Design expressed enthusiastic interest in replacing thirsty, traditional lawns with more drought tolerant alternatives. While there is literally no end to the list of lawn alternatives, only a few grasses and grass alternatives earn our stamp of approval as IdealMow™ Lawns.

The contrast between Zoysia and Red Fescue is illustrative. While both are popular lawn substitutes, only Red Fescue will be lush and lovely year round without toxic chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Read on for the full scoop on their trade-offs.


Emerald green Red fescue makes a beautiful, velvety lawn or wavy meadow.

Festuca Rubra (Native)

Native to moister climates throughout California and Europe, this Idealmow™ Lawn alternative occurs naturally below 9000 feet elevation.

Adapts to a variety of aesthetics. This fine, bright-green grass can be used to produce a variety of aesthetics from waving meadow to velvety carpet. As a meadow, Red fescue partners beautifully with Ceanothus, Artemisia and Mimulus.

Instantaneous lushness. Red fescue can provide an instant effect if purchased in sod form or can be germinated by seed for full coverage with in a few weeks.

Nearly no maintenance. While no mowing is needed for its handsome long and natural meadow-like look, light cuts in November and February with a light over seed will ensure this lawn’s vibrancy.

Retains slopes. With short bursts of water, instead of longer, deeper watering, Red fescue will establish quickly, retaining and beautifying any slope or flat area, including in shadier exposures.

Pest and chemical-free. Red Fescue, like most other fescues is disease and pest free. Once in, other than making sure it gets established properly, it requires only minimal water – no chemical fertilizers or pesticides – to thrive.

Ready to rollout the Red (fescue) carpet? One little caveat: Other IdealMow™ Lawn alternatives make for better Zoyziaplay spaces. Red fescue doesn’t enjoy heavy play or traffic.


Zoysia Tenuifolia

Native to Asia, Zoysia grass is typically used as a ground cover or grass substitute in Japanese or Zen style gardens. While Zoysia’s water needs are similar to a Red Fescue, a quality that earns it a place on many a lawn-alternative list, it fails to free its owners from intense lawn maintenance schedules and nasty chemicals. Zoysia:

Needs constant attention. As beautiful as it can be at certain times of the year, for a lawn substitute it requires extensive and intensive maintenance, even once established.

Loses its lush. Because of its frost tenderness, Zoysia typically has a dormant period for about 2 or 3 months, even in Southern California’s milder climates.

Invites interlopers. Zoysia’s dormant period opens opportunities for other plants, especially clovers, to take control of the area where the Korean grass lacks the strength to prevail.

Requires toxic, chemical herbicides to thrive. A combination of selective herbicides and hand pulling of undesired weeds and volunteers will be an ongoing and tiring prospect.

Fails on steep surfaces. Despite its deeper rooting habit, Zoysia needs milder or flatter surfaces to thrive and provide the billowy look it is often used to achieve. As its natural tendency is to grow like fluffy pillows, it fails to root through the soil, resulting in areas where there is no contact with the soil at all.

For more guidance on where to plant big dry ones, see our past Wet-to-Dry Exchange articles.