Centipede grass (Eremochloa ophiuroids) is a match made in heaven for anyone who wants the look and feel of a turf lawn without never-ending maintenance. However, problems can quickly arise if you assume that centipede grass can thrive without any maintenance at all.
Rest assured, a low-maintenance lawn is still within reach! Below you’ll find everything you need to know about planting, maintaining, and troubleshooting centipede grass. With this expert advice at your disposal, you’ll have a lush, green lawn underfoot before you know it.
- Centipede Grass Overview
- Planting Centipede Grass
- How To Care For Centipede Grass
- Weed Control For Centipede Grass
- Centipede Lawn Care Through The Year
- Centipede Grass Problems
Centipede Grass Overview
Centipede grass is a popular warm-season turf species that thrives without the use of heavy fertilizers or frequent mowing. You can identify this grass by its bright green color and short, coarse blade shape.
Centipede grass is a wonderful choice for any lawn that receives plenty of sunlight and low-to-moderate foot traffic. It grows in many areas where more popular turf species would struggle to survive.
On the other hand, centipede grass is incredibly sensitive to overfertilization. It also won’t tolerate environmental stressors like poor soil quality, thatch buildup, or excess shade.
Planting Centipede Grass
Centipede grass is a great option when starting a lawn from scratch or replacing turfgrass that is optimally suited to your regional conditions. There are several ways to introduce centipede grass to your property. Broadcasting seeds, laying sod, or planting plugs of centipede are the most common methods for homeowners.
To help centipede grass establish quickly, the soil needs to be primed for its specific needs, which we will discuss in more detail shortly. Before you start any new planting program, I would always recommend taking a soil sample to get a good understanding of what you are working with and account for any soil amendments that will be required.
When sampling soil for lawns or similar high-cost projects then it is essential to get a high-quality analysis. What I mean is to use a specialist Lab testing service like Soil Kit’s Laboratory Soil Test Kit.
It’s a home kit that you buy from Amazon and take the sample yourself. Then you use the enclosed postage labels to send the soil sample off to the Lab.
Soil Kit will send you a set of results showing details of nutrient and mineral analysis with any remedial advice.
The results of this test will help you customize the soil composition, pH level, and nutrition in preparation for planting centipede grass.
Soil pH For Centipede Grass
Centipede grass thrives in acidic soil. So, soil with a pH between 5.0 and 6.0 is perfect.
If the soil is too alkaline, your centipede grass lawn will struggle to take in iron. The resultant nutritional deficiency will turn the grass into an unsightly shade of yellow.
Soil pH can be lowered with aluminum sulfate or sulfur. In the rare case when soil pH is too acidic for centipede grass, the pH can be raised with agricultural limestone.
Centipede Grass Seed
Starting centipede grass from seed is the most economical option. You can cover a very large area of land without much material cost.
The downside of using centipede grass seed is that it will take time for the grass to germinate and fill in. Since grass seed is vulnerable to things like wind, run-off, and wild animals, you should plan to keep a close eye on your new lawn for several weeks after seeding.
How And When To Plant Centipede Grass
Clear the area of weeds using a targeted herbicide or manual removal. Note that some herbicides will prevent centipede grass seeds from germinating. If you use a pre-emergent herbicide, you’ll need to wait several weeks before seeding.
Distribute the recommended amount of seed per square foot as prescribed by your specific seed’s packaging. Using a seed broadcaster or drop spreader will significantly cut down on time and labor spent, and give a more even distribution of seed. 1kg of centipede seed will cover approximately 25-50 square yards depending on how thin you sow it.
Once the seed is distributed, water the area thoroughly using an oscillating sprinkler with a soft shower spray pattern to avoid disturbing or moving the seeds. The soil should be kept consistently moist for at least 3 weeks. Aim to water early morning and check again in the evening.
Only start centipede grass seed when the soil temperature is above 70°F. However, planting too late into summer will leave the grass vulnerable to heat and drought and will require much more vigilance to keep the condition suitable.
Centipede Grass Sod
Laying sod is extremely popular because the results are practically instantaneous. But it’s also the most expensive way to plant centipede grass.
Take the time to prepare the soil by supplementing it with organic matter and a nitrogen-rich fertilizer. It’s essential to address any issues with pH or nutrient balance before laying down sod.
Sod Early Care
Adequate hydration is crucial to keeping fresh sod healthy as it develops a strong root system. Sod should never be soggy. Overwatering will suffocate the roots and prevent the sod from establishing in the native soil. My advice is to soak the ground soil the evening prior to laying your sod. This will give the ground a good soak and allow it to work into the soil leaving you a good soil surface to work on, not too wet.
Closely monitor the sod’s moisture levels for the first 3 or 4 weeks. Watch for yellowing around the sod’s edge, this is a common sign that the grass is drying out. Try to avoid walking on the new turf for the first two weeks.
You can mow new sod during this early stage but ideally, wait until the sod has taken root after the first 2 weeks.
Plugs are essentially extra-small sections of sod, almost like single plants. Planting centipede grass plugs requires a bit more time and labor than laying down full rolls of sod and the most common use for plug sods is for filling in bare or thin sections of lawns. Although it is possible to lay an entire lawn with plugs, it would be something of extraordinary achievement to attempt it.
The soil should be prepared as if you were laying down sod. The only difference is that you will need to make holes in the ground for each plug with an auger or daber.
Since plugs are planted approximately 1/2 to1 foot apart, you won’t have a lush carpet of grass overnight as you would with traditional sod. However, this method will still fill soon enough.
Overseeding Centipede Grass
Thinning turf is often unavoidable. Overseeding is a relatively foolproof way to add density to your centipede grass lawn with minimal labor.
Overseeding is no different than starting a lawn from scratch. Use a broadcast spreader for the evenest distribution.
The seeded lawn should be thoroughly watered for several weeks as the grass germinates. Try to minimize foot traffic in the area during this time as well.
Best Grass To Mix With Centipede
There’s no rule that lawns can only contain one species of grass. Mixing centipede grass with another variety is a great way to manage common problems like disease or patchy growth.
The two species I most often see mixed with centipede grass are St. Augustine and Bermuda grass. St. Augustine is a good pairing for shady lawns. Meanwhile, Bermuda grass offers excellent disease resistance.
For existing centipede grass, overseeding with Bermuda grass is the best option. St. Augustine grass cannot be started from seed. So, the only way to mix the two is by seeding centipede grass over St. Augustine sod.
How To Care For Centipede Grass
Centipede grass is almost exclusively grown for its drought resistance and ability to thrive in depleted soil. It’s an excellent choice for cultivating a lush, green lawn without excess irrigation or fertilization.
With that said, centipede grass is not invincible. You’ll need to meet a few basics if you want this grass to flourish:
Hours Of Sunlight
Centipede grass is a prime choice for areas that receive at least 6 hours of full sun per day. This is the bare minimum light required by centipede grass, so I wouldn’t push your luck by planting it in a heavily shaded area.
How Does Centipede Grass Spread
Turfgrass often spreads via rhizomes or stolons. Centipede grass spreads via stolons.
Stolons are above-ground stems that sprout new grass blades and roots of their own. Using these stems, centipede grass will grow thicker and fill in bare sections of the lawn if the lawn’s basic needs of light, water, air, and nutrients are met.
Encourage Thicker Centipede Growth
Thin growth is one of the most common complaints about centipede grass. Centipede grass that never completely fills out is often a sign that one or more of the lawn’s needs are not being met. You may also like How To Make Centipede Grass Thicker and Spread
Here’s how to troubleshoot your centipede care routine before reseeding or starting over:
Aerate The Soil
Aeration is an often-overlooked aspect of lawn care that can solve a number of common turf woes. Ideally, aerating should be a part of your annual maintenance routine.
Aerating involves poking many small holes in the turf. The most effective aerators, called core aerators — actually pull out “plugs” instead of just displacing the soil. These holes allow oxygen, water, and nutrients to better penetrate the soil.
Aerate your centipede grass in early summer for the best results. To treat serious compaction, you may want to aerate again at the end of the growing season.
Thatch is a naturally occurring layer of mostly dead grass stems that collects on the soil’s surface. Centipede grass is notorious for producing thatch because it has woodier stems than other turf species.
Dethatch your lawn using a vertical mower or sturdy rake. Do not remove the entire thatch layer. Doing so will damage the grass’s stolons and overexpose the soil below.
Dethatching at the wrong time can wreak havoc on your lawn. Dethatch centipede grass in late spring or early summer before temperatures have peaked.
Centipede grass requires less irrigation than other species. You can actually wait until the grass wilts slightly before watering (in summer, this usually works out to watering once per week). Irrigate with at least an inch of water at a time to saturate the entire root system.
Fertilizing Centipede Grass
Centipede grass doesn’t need heavy fertilizers to thrive. Also, during the average year, you shouldn’t need to fertilize your lawn more than two or three times.
For general feeding, opt for a phosphorus-free formula with balanced nitrogen and potassium. Granular fertilizer is my preferred choice for centipede grass because it provides a slow release of nutrients for between 4 weeks to 3 months depending on the brand you choose.
Like other warm-season grasses, centipede grass should be maintained between 1½ and 2 inches tall. Do not mow greater than one-third of the grass’s height at one time.
Weed Control For Centipede Grass
Maintaining a healthy lawn is one of the most effective ways to prevent unwanted weeds. The thicker and more robust your centipede grass is, the less space there will be for weeds to push through.
Excess weeds can also be a side effect of overfeeding or fertilizing your lawn too early in the season. By tailoring fertilization to meet but not exceed your centipede grass’s needs, you’ll eliminate leftover nutrients that would otherwise be lapped up by weeds.
Centipede grass is not particularly prone to any one type of weed. Instead, the weeds that invade your yard will be determined by your area and the soil composition.
You can safely use herbicides to control weeds in your centipede grass. But herbicides are far from one-size-fits-all, and you’ll need to know a little bit about how they work to get the best results:
Using a pre-emergent herbicide for centipede grass is a great way to prevent weed seeds from germinating. This means it will not affect perennial grass or landscape plants that are already established. Pre-emergents can work in a number of ways depending on what their active ingredient is. But generally, they work by preventing cell division in weeds that attempt to germinate, putting a stop to the development of vegetation and root growth.
Applying pre-emergent herbicide in late fall or over winter prevents weeds from sprouting the following spring. I like using this schedule for centipede grass because it eliminates competition when the grass is coming out of winter dormancy.
If you find that weeds are germinating later in the summer, you may want to add a spring application of pre-emergent herbicide as well.
The one thing to consider before using a pre-emergent herbicide is that you will not be able to spread grass seed across the area until the herbicide has depleted which can take 4-6 months depending on the time of year.
Summer Post-Emergent Herbicide
Post-emergent herbicides are the weed killers we use on actively growing plants.
Different herbicidal chemicals target different plant species. Avoiding herbicides that will harm centipede grass is just as important as using ones that will affect the weeds in your lawn. You may find this article useful in selecting the best post-emergent herbicide.
You may need to use several formulas to address all of your lawn’s weeds. Always check for potential interactions before applying multiple herbicides at one time.
Weed And Feed For Centipede Grass
Using a weed and feed on your lawn is a convenient way of combining both fertilizer and herbicide in a single application. These formulas are super attractive to homeowners since they take care of two chores in one step.
There are absolutely times when applying a weed and feed to centipede grass makes sense. However, I caution against relying on it for all of your feeding and weed-killing needs. I recommend replacing one fertilization per year with an appropriate weed and feed if you are struggling with weed control.
Centipede Lawn Care Through The Year
Even in warmer climates, centipede grass typically cycles through summer growth and winter dormancy. As a result, your lawn requires customized care based on the time of year.
Spring maintenance for centipede grass is almost entirely at the whim of when your lawn exits winter dormancy.
Regardless of timing, your spring lawn care should prioritize weed prevention and soil health for a strong summer and fall.
Weeds can overtake your centipede grass if they get a head start in the spring. While there are ways to tackle weeds as they appear, applying a pre-emergent herbicide in late winter or the previous fall is the preferred strategy.
Centipede grass is more sensitive to some herbicides when recovering from winter dormancy. Post-emergent herbicides can be used to manage winter weeds but should then be ceased until summer.
Spring is ideal for testing and amending the soil to support future growth. Centipede grass should not be fed with nitrogen fertilizer at this time. Instead, focus on things like soil pH and micronutrient deficiencies.
When to start mowing centipede grass in the spring completely depends on your local weather. Do not mow until the grass has left dormancy and is actively growing once again.
It’s okay to preserve some height when first mowing your centipede grass in spring. Aim for a height of about 2.5 inches before shortening the grass later into the season.
Centipede grass can dehydrate even during dormancy, so irrigation should continue as needed in winter and spring. However, most areas receive enough rainfall to support centipede grass during these months.
Summertime maintenance should prioritize growth! While centipede grass requires much less fertilizer than other turf species, adequate nutrition is still a must during this time of year.
Proper irrigation, mowing techniques, and pest control will keep your centipede grass looking its best and protect against seasonal stressors like heat and drought.
An adequate pre-emergent herbicide routine will greatly limit the need for summer weed control. Any weeds that do push through can be manually pulled (if they are few in number) or treated with a targeted post-emergent spray.
Monitor the daily temperature and avoid applying herbicide when the grass is stressed by heat or drought.
Divide your lawn’s annual recommended nitrogen into two separate applications. These applications should occur at the start of summer (be sure the grass has fully greened up) and at the very end of summer.
Using a high-potassium fertilizer for your lawn’s second summer feeding will help prepare the grass for winter.
Centipede grass performs best when kept between 1 and 2 inches tall. Mow turf in sunny areas closer to 1 inch. Centipede grass growing in the shade should be kept closer to 2 inches high.
Ideally, you should gradually shorten centipede grass from its spring height down to its summer height over the course of several mowing sessions. This gives the grass time to adjust and prevents the risk of shock.
As a warm-season species, centipede grass is built to tolerate occasional drought. During the summer, it should be left to dry out slightly between waterings.
A few tricks to determine when centipede grass needs watering include:
- Watching for grass blades to develop a bluish tint.
- Check to see if walked-on grass bounces back (well-hydrated) or stays depressed (in need of irrigation).
Always water so that the first several inches of soil become fully saturated — between ¾- and 1-inch of water is enough for most lawns.
There are several insects that can affect centipede grass in the summer. However, blanket treatments are a bit like taking a sledgehammer to a thumbtack.
I recommend monitoring your lawn and treating chemically or culturally only after specific insect damage is identified. My one exception to that is if your lawn (or a neighboring property) has a history of infestation. In such cases, preventative treatments that target the previous pests are appropriate.
Fall lawn care is all about winding down from summer and preparing for the impending winter temperatures. Although centipede grass is less likely to encounter harsh frost compared to turf grown in cooler climates, your actions now will set the stage for next spring’s growth.
Pre-emergent herbicides can be applied in the fall to treat weeds that would typically germinate in winter or spring.
Some homeowners choose to apply post-emergent herbicides at this time to manage persistent broadleaf weeds. I don’t personally recommend this strategy unless you have the guidance of a professional — applying herbicidal chemicals when your centipede grass is nearing dormancy can damage it.
Never apply nitrogen-containing fertilizer in the fall unless explicitly recommended by a recent soil test. Doing so can trigger a flush of growth and leave the grass unable to enter winter dormancy.
Potassium-rich fertilizers are safe to apply at this time and may improve centipede grass’s ability to survive winter.
The last fertilizer application of the year should be done at least one month before your area’s first frost date.
Keep centipede grass short until the nighttime temperatures fall below 70°F. Then, raise the mower blade height to at least 2 inches. This extra length insulates the grassroots and surrounding soil from cooler temperatures.
While you should continue watering centipede grass as needed in the fall, cooler weather will probably decrease the lawn’s moisture requirements. Keep an eye on the forecast and counter unseasonably warm days by irrigating the grass.
Mild winters are common in areas where centipede grass is typically grown. With that said, your lawn requires little maintenance during the cooler months.
Routine winter care involves monitoring the grass for signs of drought (watering as needed) and addressing weed problems.
Even in warmer climates, relatively cool winter temperatures will slow the growth of centipede grass. Unless your lawn grows unusually long throughout the season, there’s no need to mow centipede grass past late fall.
Winter is a great time to apply targeted herbicide to broadleaf weeds that remain active while the centipede grass goes dormant.
If weeds tend to take over your lawn in spring, you may want to apply a pre-emergent herbicide as early as late winter to prevent germination.
Centipede Grass Problems
The most infamous problem seen in centipede grass is simply known as “centipede grass decline.” This issue is commonly caused by the fungus Gaeumannomyces graminis var. graminis and manifests as grass that never recovers from winter dormancy or that dies shortly after greening up for the year.
There is no singular reason a lawn will succumb to centipede grass decline. Instead, most experts point to common maintenance issues — i.e., overuse of nitrogen fertilizer or unmanaged heat stress — as to why some centipede grass lawns fail to thrive.
Centipede grass can also fall victim to other lawn-borne fungal diseases like fairy rings, brown patches, and dollar spots.
These particular diseases are not particularly responsive to fungicides. The best course of action is prevention. Healthy, well-maintained centipede grass is far more resilient to fungal infection. And if it does become infected, it’s more likely to recover quickly and fully than grass that is already stressed or compromised.