The Blues Brothers: Warm-Season Lawns in NC

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Zoysiagrass rejoins with its brother centipedegrass after being released from winter dormancy, but the duo has just days to reunite their stolons and rhizomes and save the home lawn where the two were raised, outrunning the bugs and crud as they tear through suburban lawns.

All jokes aside, we have received numerous samples of poor looking warm-season grasses at the Turfgrass Diagnostic Lab here at NC State. Mostly we are seeing ugly zoysiagrass and centipedegrass and of course, diseases or insects are suspected as the primary cause of the unthrifty turf. It is true that we observed take-all root rot on zoysiagrass lawns and golf course fairways, but that is not the sole explanation for unsightly turf. We have seen some yards and images with symptoms that look like disease that developed in the fall. Disease such as large patch and take-all root rot develop in late summer and fall and those symptoms will persist until the warm-season grasses start actively growing again. But it has been warm and climate change is of course making warm-season grasses green up more quickly, right? I mean Dr. Yelverton has been on the bully pulpit of getting those preemergent herbicides out on time this year so it must also mean that warm-season grasses are chomping at the bit to grow alongside its best friends crabgrass and goosegrass. Wrong!

Example of zoysiagrass struggling to green-up with the rollercoaster temperatures experienced this spring.

Warm-season grasses, according to Turfgrass Ecology published in Turfgrass: Biology, Use and Management, grow best when nighttime temperatures remain above 69.8oF and day time temperatures are at or above 80.6oF. These are air temperatures would also promote average soil temperatures above 70oF consistently. Currently in NC, our 5-day average soil temperatures in Wilmington just recently eclipsed 70oF. However, preceding this increase, 56oF soil temperatures were reported in Wilmington on April 8th and 9th. Soil temperatures in Raleigh have followed a similar trend, yet we recorded lows of 52oF and 48oF on April 8th and March 20th. Needless to say, our warm-season grasses are totally clueless on what to do this year.

Average soil temperatures in Wilmington, NC from March 19th till April 18th, 2023. Note that we have not had a 5-day average above 70oF until recently

Average soil temperatures in Raleigh, NC from March 19th till April 18th, 2023. Note that we have not had a 5-day average of 70oF until recently.

A recent study examining the establishment of ‘Prism’ zoysiagrass (a variety intended for low cut turf such as athletic fields and putting greens) demonstrated that establishment was most rapid when soil temperatures were 89.6oF at a 2-inch depth. A little closer look at this study revealed that 92% coverage was achieved 44 days after planting! Understandably this is a little different than green-up in a yard, but it illustrates a good point, patience. Warm-season grasses will green up and start to fill in areas that struggled from late last summer and fall. However, it is going to take a little help from mother nature!

Don’t expect any turfgrass species to shine in areas with heavy shade, high traffic, and poor drainage. When a turfgrass species is shade tolerant, that doesn’t mean it’s shade proof!

Turfgrass diseases develop in localized areas and form stand symptoms of patches, rings, circles or even irregular areas. These can be large, but it is extremely rare for a disease to make an entire lawn look terrible. Mother Nature however, can make our lawns look terrible and a lot of what we are seeing in the Turfgrass Diagnostic Lab is Mother Nature disease 😊. Be patient my friends, these grasses will wake up from their winter slumbers and your blue face will disappear with your lush green lawns!

Typical stand symptom of large patch in the spring from fall infection. Notice the circular nature of the affected areas.


Stenike, K and Ervin, E.H. 2013. Turfgrass Ecology. In Turfgrass: Biology, Use and Management. Eds. J.C. Stier, B.P. Horgan, and S.A. Bonos. American Society of Agronomy, Soil Science Society of America, and Crop Science Society of America. Madison, WI.