My warm-season lawn vs. the HOA

We live in a Traditional Neighborhood Development in the heart of the triangle in Morrisville, NC. Our house was built in 2006 and sodded with cool-season Fescue grass like every yard and green space in the development. That lawn looked unsightly for years and died. Now we have a beautiful lawn of Zoysia, and we love our healthy, climate-appropriate grass.

When we received notice that we were in violation of the architectural guidelines for our neighborhood,  I went to the board of directors meeting of the HOA to defend our lawn. I walked them through the following information… which I told them I hoped would shed some light on why we decided to plant Zoysia and why we want to make it an approved grass for our lawn. (By the way… it’s not documented in the architectural guidelines or other HOA documents that the grass has to be Fescue anyway.)

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Zoysia is a warm-season grass

Zoysia is a warm-season grass that is drought-tolerant and thrives in hot summer months. It is green in the summer and grows a blade very similar to Fescue. It does not require extra water. Neither does it require annual over-seeeding and aeration. It grows as a thick lawn, durable to traffic, and hardy against weeds. Zoysia goes dormant in the winter and greens up in late spring, summer, and fall.

Fescue is a cool-season grass

On the other hand, Fescue is a cool-season grass which is green in the cooler months and goes semi-dormant in hot weather. In our area it is recommended to re-seed the lawn in fall. The few successful Fescue lawns on my full-sun, south-facing side of the street are watered two to three times a week in the summer (or as much as allowed by Cary water restrictions) and require vigilant guard against weeds and dead spots.

Climate of the North Carolina piedmont

The Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area of North Carolina experienced serious drought in 2007 and 2008, and the area was under strict water conservation measures. (Remember when we weren’t allowed to wash cars or water lawns, had to specifically ask for water at restaurants, watched the controversy over Duke and UNC watering fake turf hockey fields, and Falls Lake looked like a desert?!) We had another moderate drought in 2011. As for heat in the summer, each of the last eleven years (2001-2011) was one of the twelve warmest years of global temperatures on record. USDA just released a new plant hardiness zone map in which much of the country has shifted toward a warmer zone than the previous map.

Our lawn in trouble

Our original lawn (which was sodded right on top of clay) did not last long. It became pretty unsightly with brown dead spots, bald spots, and weeds. It was time to do more than reseed, aerate, fertilize, water and hope for the best. We needed to plant a new lawn. Jim did the research to make sure our new lawn would have a better chance of success.

Town of Cary landscaping recommendations

Although we live in  Morrisville, our water is provided by Cary and we are subject to Town of Cary water restrictions. Town of Cary has nationally recognized water conservation programs and provides great online resources for “water efficient landscaping” like natural areas and warm-season grasses.

Choosing the Right Grass
… You need to choose the appropriate grass for your yard. Using drought tolerant grasses is the key. These are hearty, wear-resistant grasses that stay green with less water – even in the heat of summer. … Your lawn has more plants per square foot than any garden space on your property. Think about your grass as millions of individual plants.

Town of Cary goes on to recommend warm-season grasses, specifically naming Zoysia, and warns against the use of cool-season grass, specifically naming Fescue.

Warm season grasses such as Bermuda, Centipede, St. Augustine, and Zoysia are extremely drought and wear tolerant, and require little to no watering. They grow in the summer and go dormant in cooler weather, turning tan-colored from November through March. 

If you must have grass, Town of Cary gives the following positive recommendation for Zoysia:

Zoysia Grass- If you’re looking for the perfect summer lawn – a lush green carpet under your feet – this warm-season grass is for you. Zoysia grass is very drought resistant, grows low, and is so thick weeds don’t stand a chance. This grass is cold hardy, wear resistant, and drought tolerant. It is slow to establish but has tremendous utility. Zoysia likes hot, sunny areas and should be planted in the spring about two weeks after the spring greenup or in early summer.


Town of Cary is committed to water conservation. In fact they conducted a “Turf Buy Back” program to promote water wise irrigation habits by paying:

  $500 incentive per property for the replacement of irrigated turf with one of two waterwise landscape options:

  • Option 1: Conversion of turf to natural area
  • Option 2: Conversion of turf to warm season grass

Wow! The town will pay you to switch to warm-season grass. That’s a solid endorsement.

Our lawn today

Based on landscaping recommendations from the Town of Cary, we replaced our dying Fescue lawn with Zenith Zoysia sod last spring (2011). After the initial period of about six weeks of watering to establish the grass, our lawn has not required additional watering and has continued to thrive. In the summer it was thick, green, and lush. Right now it is thick, dormant, and about to green-up along with the other plants and trees in our yard. It’s been a pleasant experience to transition to owning a Zoysia lawn. The lawn is easier to maintain and looks great. We don’t waste money on expensive Town of Cary water, throwing it away on grass. Most importantly we help conserve a natural resource and are able to “act locally” to contribute to our global responsibility.

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Above is a similar recount of what I said to defend our Zoysia lawn to the board of directors in control of our HOA. At the moment they have declined our request to have Zoysia. They did not give me much hope but said they would consider our position and get back to me. I did not get a clear answer about the consequences of being in violation of their decision. They acknowledged that Zoysia is likely a better grass for this area than Fescue and that it is not documented in the architectural guidelines that the grass must be Fescue.

The HOA is governed by the development company (not the homeowners) until the neighborhood is complete. The original builder of our development, who decided all grass should be Fescue, is no longer involved. The HOA has maintained the Fescue-only vision and has even forced current builders in two separate cases to pull up newly-sodded, warm-season lawns.

The HOA strives to maintain consistent appearance throughout the development. I predict that my request to have Zoysia grass will again be declined because it looks different than Fescue in the winter. Even if it is not identical to every other house, I uphold that a healthy-looking (not to mention environmentally-friendly) lawn is preferable to a compliant, dead lawn.

I’ll keep you posted.

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One Response to My warm-season lawn vs. the HOA

  1. Ken says:

    While I see your point, what you do not discuss is the fact that zoysia is extremely invasive and if allowed will eventually take over your neighbor’s yards. So you are, in effect, making the decision for everybody.
    Once zoysia has been installed, it is practically impossible to get rid of.
    Also, you don’t mention that your lawn will take on the color of straw from October to May, which will affect the overall appearance of the neighborhood.
    While you are to be commended for your concern about water usage, I wonder if perhaps you are not considering the impact your decision has on your neighbors.
    Like it or not, buying into a community with an HOA comes with it’s own set of issues, but typically their rules protect everybody.

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