UltimateFlora Zoysia holds promise for producers, consumers

Using a product yourself is the best endorsement possible, so it’s worth considering that George Woerner, CEO of one of the largest sod producers in the country, chose UltimateFlora Zoysia for the lawn surrounding a new home he built in Alabama three years ago. Woerner Turf (www.woerner.com) grows numerous varieties of bermuda, St. Augustine, centipede and other grasses, so Woerner literally had his choice of just about every top turfgrass on the market. But, he says UltimateFlora Zoysia stood out.


UltimateFlora Zoysia is a grass that promises lower maintenance and needs less water than St. Augustine and other grasses traditionally used in home lawn settings.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF ENVIRONMENTAL TURF.

“We have been growing it in Florida at our Vero Beach farm for three or four years, and I really liked it. It’s a very beautiful green under normal growing conditions. If you put a little extra fertilizer on it, it will give you almost a bluegrass color – a very deep, almost blue-green,” says Woerner. “So I brought it to Alabama and put it in the yard right on the water. There’s a lot of salt in the air, and actually salt waves will come up on the yard from time to time,” he explains. “It’s really doing very well in a very harsh environment.”

The grass was developed at the University of Florida, and has been grown in that state by a number of sod farms, including Woerner Turf, for several years. Now, Woerner Turf has signed an agreement with Environmental Turf, Inc., (www.environmentalturf.com) to be the exclusive producer of UltimateFlora Zoysia in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana – another indication of how promising the grass is. “I’ve been in the sod business for 35 years, and it’s rare that a variety comes along that has real significance for the producer and the homeowner. We see that with this grass,” says Woerner.

There are several reasons for his confidence in how favorably the market will come to view UltimateFlora Zoysia. First, the grass has a finer blade than that of St. Augustine, he notes. That’s one of the many reasons that some homeowners are opting for it in place of the more traditional choice of St. Augustine. “That’s also happening because of all the disease and insect issues that St. Augustine is having,” Woerner explains. “There’s chinch bugs, brown patch and St. Augustine decline. St. Augustine is a high-maintenance grass. If you take good care of it, it’ll be very good, but we’re finding that more people are looking for a finer blade grass, and one that requires fewer fungicides and chemicals.” Being more resistant to disease allows UltimateFlora Zoysia to perform with fewer chemical inputs, and its ability to handle salty seaside environments makes it a rival to Seashore Paspalum.

Another advantage the grass offers is drought resistance – an important consideration in areas lacking proper irrigation coverage or where watering restrictions are common. “All grasses need water. This grass isn’t any different,” cautions Woerner. He waters his lawn every other day, and that’s growing right on the beach in almost pure sand. “If it gets dry, it shows it a little with a slightly different color, but it doesn’t die on you just because it got a little dry,” he explains. “When you give it some water, it comes right back.”


Woerner Turf has been growing UltimateFlora Zoysia in Florida for several years and will begin producing it in Alabama (where it has been installed on this home lawn) and Louisiana.

For those interested in meaningful water savings, Woerner says it takes more than selecting the right turfgrass. “The biggest water savings an individual can do is to monitor his irrigation system. When it’s raining, you just need to shut it down,” he says. “I think that across the Southeast we could probably cut 20 percent of our water usage just by shutting down irrigation systems when they’re not needed.”

Even with the sandy soil beneath his lawn, Woerner says that light spring and fall fertilizer applications are all that’s required to keep the grass healthy and looking good throughout the year. “Every grass requires a little bit, but I don’t think this grass requires quite as much fertilizer as some other grasses. Plus, there’s a lot of organic fertilizers you can use today, and it stays in the soil much longer,” he observes.

After having grown the grass on the production end and seeing it perform after installation, Woerner notes, “It’s a very aggressive grass. After watching it in my yard, it doesn’t really encroach on other areas, but it stays very aggressive in its growth. When you mow it, it gives you a very pretty top. It’s a beautiful grass.”

Because of the aggressive nature of UltimateFlora Zoysia, it also provides good wear tolerance and is able to “fill in” damaged areas relatively quickly. While the demand for the grass at the moment is coming predominantly from the residential home lawn market, Woerner says, “As we introduce it to the [landscape] architects, they’re beginning to use it more and more in and around sports complexes, as well as at civic centers and municipal buildings. It’s a very hearty grass; it doesn’t decline like so many other grasses do. The more architects we introduce it to, the more it gets spec’d into various different types of projects.”

In particular, Woerner sees the grass being used a lot more in commercial developments, such as apartment complexes. “I think it’s going to have far-reaching effects. In areas where you have a lot of people walking around, it’s more aggressive, it’s a finer blade, it’s just a better grass,” says Woerner.

UltimateFlora Zoysia also holds promise in shady areas, which have traditionally been problematic for many grasses. “I have it in heavy shade and in heavy sun. I’m particularly pleased with its shade tolerance,” says Woerner. “We have a variety called Classic St. Augustine that we’ve developed over the last 30 years, which is very shade-tolerant, and this zoysia is every bit as tolerant of the shade.”


Much of the appeal of UltimateFlora Zoysia relates to its low water and chemical requirements. George Woerner, CEO of Woerner Turf, says the durability of the grass is also attracting attention, and it will become more widely used in high-traffic commercial installations, such as this playground, because it has terrific wear tolerance.

It also adapts well in a wide range of climates. Woerner says the grass has potential all the way west to California. “I don’t know what its cold tolerance is, so I don’t know how far north it could go, but I think it would probably be pretty similar to traditional warm-season grasses,” he explains.

Woerner says UltimateFlora Zoysia also offers some advantages from a production standpoint. “The new harvesters that make mini-rolls don’t work very well with St. Augustine – that needs a slab harvester – but this zoysia can be used in a mini-roll harvester, like our centipede and bermuda, we’re able to use an automatic harvester,” he explains. This also speeds installation, and like these other grasses UltimateFlora Zoysia can be installed year-round in the extreme South.

At his house, Woerner mows the grass at 1.5 to 2 inches. On the farm, it’s mowed at 1 to 1.5 inches. “I let it grow a little taller, and it mows very well with any traditional mower. Like any other grass, you have to mow the grass when it’s dry, and you have to use sharp blades,” he advises.

Woerner Turf has already added the grass to its Clarksville farm (north of Panama City) and plans its next planting in Alabama, followed by Louisiana. By the end of 2011, Woerner expects 75 to 80 acres of UltimateFlora Zoysia growing in the panhandle of Florida alone – just the first part of a five-year plan to really expand the reach of the grass.

To help educate homeowners, architects and others in these areas about the relatively new grass, the company has added sample demonstration plots at each of its retail centers so customers can see the grass growing side-by-side with St. Augustine, centipede and bermudagrass. “What we’re finding is that consumers are doing a lot of research on the Internet, so when they come in they’re very educated about what they’re looking for,” says Woerner. Educated consumers, he believes, are just the type who will see value in this durable, high-quality, low- maintenance grass.

Woerner says that while UltimateFlora Zoysia is selling for a premium in Central and South Florida, Woerner Turf is pricing it at the same level as St. Augustine in the Florida panhandle and Alabama. “It will give customers a premium lawn that’s more affordable at the same time,” he explains.

Patrick White is a freelance writer and editor who has covered every aspect of the green industry in the past 15 years. He is based in Middlesex, Vt., and is always on the lookout for unusual stories.