Centipede grass is a low-maintenance grass with many great qualities but being a fast spreader isn’t one of them.
So, it can feel frustrating to homeowners when they’re having trouble making their current lawn thicker or encouraging new growth to spread.
If you’re nodding your head as you’re reading this, I’ve been in your shoes. Luckily, there are some best practices you can implement to alleviate this issue. So, I’ll teach you how to make centipede grass spread based on my personal trials and errors.
- Understanding How Centipede Grass Grows
- How Does Centipede Turf Spread?
- Making Centipede Lawn Thicker and Spread
- How Long for Centipede Grass to Spread?
- Fixing Patches in Centipede Lawn
- FAQs Centipede Grass
- Final Thoughts On Growing Thick Centipede Grass
Understanding How Centipede Grass Grows
Centipede turf is an excellent option for lawns in warm climates with acidic soil. Furthermore, people love this grass for its low-maintenance qualities. Nevertheless, it’s crucial to offer this grass the right growing conditions to help it spread and stay green.
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Since centipede grass thrives in warm climates, it mostly grows in the Southeastern United States. That’s because it originates from China and Southeast Asia. In fact, it wasn’t until 1916 that Frank N. Meyer brought this grass to the U.S. from South China.
The reason that this grass doesn’t grow well in the Central and Western U.S. is that the region is arid and the soil contains more alkaline and less iron.
Although centipede turf can tolerate cold spells below zero degrees Celsius, if you plant it in a place where the sustained temperature is 5°F or less, it’ll soon die.
Ideal Soil Conditions
Centipede grass has a unique set of growing conditions that might not feel intuitive if you’re familiar with the soil requirements of other grasses.
Centipede grass thrives in sandy soil, which is why you often see it in coastal regions of the southeastern U.S. It doesn’t require nutrient-rich earth, with the exception of iron.
Without enough iron, your grass will start to turn yellow. But don’t worry if you encounter this issue—mixing two ounces of iron sulfate or chelated iron in water per 1,000 square feet of lawn and applying it to your grass should solve the problem.
A pH of 4.5 – 6 is ideal. If you’ve worked with other types of grasses in the past, you might think I mistyped, but I assure you I didn’t.
Unlike many kinds of grass, centipede thrives in acidic soil. Much of this has to do with the iron deficiencies that occur in neutral to alkaline soil types.
Centipede doesn’t undergo a dormant state like some grasses during the winter months. That’s because it needs such a warm climate to grow that it shouldn’t encounter cold weather, which causes other grasses to go dormant.
So, if you plant your grass in a climate that undergoes many cold spells, your grass will likely die. Furthermore, a hard frost will kill centipede leaves and young stolons.
That said, the benefit of centipede turf’s non-dormant qualities is that it stays green during the winter.
Growing centipede grass requires patience, given that it’s a slow grower. You can expect its seeds to germinate after two to four weeks. At that point, it’ll gradually begin reproducing and spreading without a rush, given that it can grow year-round.
It is especially slow-growing in its first year or two of life as it gets established. So, if you have a large lawn, it could take a couple of years to fill in.
If you’re waiting for an upside to this situation, here it is: Centipede requires less frequent mowing than many other types of grass.
How Does Centipede Turf Spread?
Centipede grass has stolons, which are stems that grow horizontally with the ground. These stolons stretch out on top of the surface of the soil before eventually cloning themselves into a new plant at the end of the stolon’s stems.
Stolons aren’t part of a grass’ main stem, nor do they produce roots, except at the tip where they give way to adventitious roots and nodes. Needless to say, the stolon system is the reason it takes so long for this grass to fill in.
Rhizomes Vs Stolons
At this point, you can probably picture the difference between the stolon growth of centipede compared to grasses in the northern U.S. But it might get you wondering—how do non-stolon grasses propagate?
These non-stolon grasses use rhizomes, which are part of the grass’ main above-ground or underground stem. They then grow lateral shoots and roots, making way for new growth.
Although rhizomes and stolons have many differences, they share the similarity of serving as nutrient storage reserves for their respective plants.
Making Centipede Lawn Thicker and Spread
Now that you have a foundation for how centipede grass grows and its ideal growing conditions, I’ll share some strategies for helping your grass spread and grow into a beautiful, thick lawn.
Removing Thatch Build Up
Thatch is one of the most common issues that impede centipede’s ability to spread and become thick since it creates a layer of decomposed grass on top of the soil. As a result, air circulation, water, and any fertilizers you may offer your grass have a harder time reaching the soil.
Vertically mowing your lawn in the early spring is an excellent way to remove thatch. If you don’t want to invest in this equipment, you may be able to borrow it from a local plant nursery. Another option for removing thatch and sparking new root growth is using a power rake.
Aerating the Soil
As time passes, lawn soil naturally becomes packed. Situations like walking on the grass, mowing, and rain can cause your soil to become harder. Unfortunately, this can have devastating consequences for your centipede grass since it prevents oxygen and water from reaching its roots.
Therefore, try aerating your lawn on occasion by renting an aerator. The aerator will poke small holes in your ground, offering your grass the option to receive more oxygen and water. In turn, the roots will grow deeper, making them hold up better against disease and drought.
Centipede grass naturally grows in climates with a lot of rain. For this reason, they tend to grow shallow roots. Nevertheless, even rainy climates undergo less rain during certain periods; in the case of the southeast U.S., that’s winter.
So, encourage your grass to grow deep roots by doing occasional deep watering during dry periods. These deep waterings should cause the soil to be wet three to four inches beneath the soil. By doing so, you’ll encourage the roots to grow deeper, and they’ll better withstand droughts in the future without dying off.
High Phosphorus Fertilizing
High phosphorus fertilizing can have devastating consequences for the growth and spread of your centipede lawn. The reason being is that it causes a decrease in iron levels, which can turn your grass yellow and sickly. So, while the right centipede lawn fertilizer can help your lawn grow, applying the wrong fertilizer can in fact kill it.
When looking at fertilizers, you should find one containing moderate nitrogen and potassium levels and little to no phosphorus. In fact, applying a high-potassium fertilizer in the spring and fall can significantly improve your grass’s growth. Complete fertilizers with a 3-1-2 or 2-1-2 ratio are ideal.
During its peak growing season during the summer, centipede grass needs mowing every 5 – 7 days. However, this number significantly increases once dryer or drought weather comes along; by over-mowing your lawn, you could damage it beyond repair, especially if it’s brittle during a dry spell.
Furthermore, even if you take care not to over-mow your lawn, using an exceptionally heavy lawnmower can also damage your grass. Centipede grass doesn’t hold up well with regular foot traffic, let alone massive riding lawnmowers. Finally, when mowing, I recommend only cutting up to one-third of the blade at a time to prevent irreparable damage.
Putting your lawn on a weed maintenance schedule can help it grow and spread since it’ll reduce how often you have to mow. Managing weeds during the fall and winter is particularly important, as your lawn will reduce its growing speed, but weeds often don’t.
So, I recommend applying an herbicide to your grass in the fall or winter. Two of my favorite herbicides include 2,4-D and MCPP. In contrast, you can use a pre-emergent herbicide for centipede grass in the early spring for summer annuals that grow faster than your grass.
How Long for Centipede Grass to Spread?
The amount of time it takes for grass to spread throughout your yard depends on the size of the space you want to fill in.
It’s common not to see centipede sprouts until a month passes from seeding it in your soil. But once the first sprouts form, you’ll get to observe centipedes stolons as they move across your soil to start their spreading.
If you have a large yard, I recommend setting your mind on having to wait for one to two years before your centipede turf spreads the whole span of the space and grows into a thick, luscious lawn.
Fixing Patches in Centipede Lawn
I know the frustration that comes with encountering patches in your centipede grass. So, whether your dog went on a digging spree or your grass had another mishap, below are some strategies to fix it.
Keep in mind that regardless of the strategy you use, acting on it from March to July will have the greatest impact on regrowth.
Re-seeding centipede grass is a great option if you have a large patchy space needing re-seeding. Such situations often happen if your area has an uncharacteristically cold spell. In this case, calculate applying ¼ – ½ pound of seeds per 1,000 square feet of lawn.
Then, spread an even layer of seeds over the patches, making sure to press them into the soil. As you wait for the seeds to germinate, ensure you keep the soil moist but not soggy.
Centipede sod is basically squares or strips of full-grown centipede grass that comes with its entire root system and a layer of soil or other biodegradable material.
Using centipede sod is ideal if you’ll be hosting an outdoor wedding at your home or have another need to fix your patchy grass quickly. Once you lay down the sod, ensure that you keep the soil moist for two to three weeks. That way, you’ll encourage the roots to take hold.
Centipede grass plugs may sound fancy, but they’re simply a smaller version of centipede sod. To prepare centipede plugs, purchase a sheet of sod. Then, cut the sod into the sizes you need to “plug” spots of patchy grass.
These plugs are ideal for small, unsightly patches. As with sod, you should water them well during the first few weeks until you notice stolons forming.
FAQs Centipede Grass
Final Thoughts On Growing Thick Centipede Grass
Centipede grass is an excellent fit for people living in the southeast U.S. who want low-maintenance lawns. Although it grows slowly, you’ll get to enjoy green grass year-round if you offer it in the right conditions.
By following the suggestions here, including reducing foot traffic, ensuring your soil has plenty of iron, and avoiding phosphorus-rich fertilizers, you’ll be able to nourish a thick and well-spreading lawn.
So, whether you need to patch up some spots with plugs or you’ll be sowing new seeds, there’s no better time to start than now.