Centipede grass is an incredibly heat-tolerant grass found across the Southeastern United States. It’s popular in residential lawns due to its low maintenance requirements. Centipede grass requires minimal upkeep, making it perfect for homeowners who don’t have the time or inclination to make lengthy efforts to keep their lawn in tip-top shape.
But it’s not for everyone. Centipede grass has highly specific growth requirements that make it suited only for a limited region.
Centipede Grass at a Glance (where to grow it, why it thrives there)
The Southeast U.S. is the perfect growing region for Centipede grass. It is readily found in the Coastal Plains, from the Carolinas to the Texas Gulf Coast.
While it has incredible heat tolerance, this type of grass does not have great drought tolerance. The heavy rainfall in that region, combined with the extreme heat found there, are what makes it such a prime area for Centipede grass.
Within the areas that support its growth, centipede grass grows like none other. It is almost fully self-sustaining. This makes it a wonderful choice for busy professionals, and those who aren’t interested in toiling over their lawn on the weekends.
If you don’t want to invest in regular fertilization and other maintenance routines, this could be the grass for you. Centipede grass requires very little fertilizer to grow properly.
One of the best selling points in that regard is its slow growth habit. It does not need to be mown often to maintain a clean lawn appearance. This is because it takes a long time to grow tall.
History of Centipede Grass
Centipede grass (Eremochloa ophiuroides) is native to China and Southeast Asia. It grows specifically in the warm, sub-tropical areas that also receive heavy rainfall in that part of the world.
It was brought to the United States in 1916 by Frank N. Meyer, who collected the seeds. Within the following decades, centipede grass was established as a home lawn and has since become widespread through the southeastern United States – from the Carolinas, across Florida, and into the Texas Gulf Coast.
Centipede grass is also found throughout other subtropical, coastal areas. You’ll see it used in lawns in Mexico, the West Indies, and in South and Central America. It has even been found in certain areas along the west coast of Africa.
Growing Centipede Grass in your Yard
Centipede grass is a coarse textured grass with a lighter green color. It grows and spreads slowly with above ground stolons.
I’m a big fan of grasses which spread laterally, because it allows your lawn to self-repair any damage or bare patches. Growing laterally by stolons (instead of rhizomes, which are underground runners) makes this grass easier to control and contain.
Centipede pH and Soil Requirements
Centipede grass prefers acidic soils with a pH level between 4.5 and 6.5. Its low fertilizer requirements also make it suited to infertile soils with a sandy composition instead of rich loam or heavy clay.
Centipede Light Requirements
It’s a full sun grass, though it can tolerate a moderate amount of shade.
Under the proper conditions, centipede grass can remain green throughout the year. However, since it does not go fully dormant during the winter, it is a grass that may be harmed by colder weather.
You can expect it to bounce back quickly when the weather warms up. At this time your Centipede grass lawn will repair itself to an extent. That said, since it grows slowly, consecutive years of extreme cold will kill it off with time. In its preferred growing zone (the Southeastern US), this is rarely a risk.
Centipede grass is a sod-forming grass that forms a thick carpet-like layer. It gets its name from the stolons, or runners, that help it grow.
This grass has a shallow root system due to its lateral habit, and does not have good drought tolerance as a result.
Centipede grass stolons are visible because of its slow growth pattern. As they grow, the stolons look like centipedes, so it was named after them.
Common Issues with Centipede Grass
With all of its attractive qualities, why wouldn’t you want to grow a Centipede grass lawn?
Below I’ll discuss some of the drawbacks of this type of grass, but to quickly summarize:
- Limited growing region,
- Light green coloration,
- Poor cold tolerance (easy damage in cold weather since it doesn’t go dormant),
- High thatch production,
- Requires a level lawn,
- Not suited for lawns near the ocean (salt can damage it),
- Performs poorly for high-traffic lawns and yards (kids/pets),
- Can be susceptible to pests.
Let’s take a closer look at some of these, and the reasons Centipede grass may not be right for you:
Location, Location, Location
One of the key issues with centipede grass is its narrow growth region. Within its prime areas, it thrives, but it’s almost impossible to grow anywhere else, and homeowners who try to plant it outside of its ideal sub-climate will be disappointed.
Most cultivars have a light-green color, which can be unsightly for some people. Improved varieties which correct this trait are very costly to purchase.
Centipede grass does not have cold tolerance and does not go dormant in the winter. That makes it more susceptible to cold drops throughout the year. It will bounce back since it does repair itself. However, repeated sustained damage is usually fatal after a prolonged time.
Because it is sod-forming, centipede grass is prone to producing thatch. Thatch raking or dethatching your lawn with a power rake in the springtime is helpful to keep the lawn healthy and thriving.
Centipede grass also does not grow well on uneven yards, as they present a challenge to its stolons.
Not Great Near the Ocean
Another challenge with Centipede grass is its poor salt tolerance, which does not make it suited to lawns close to the ocean.
Bad With Foot Traffic
Centipede grass also lacks wear tolerance. It will not grow well in areas that have heavy foot traffic, like sports fields or lawns with children and pets. It can repair itself to an extent, but it will not recover quickly from extensive foot traffic since it grows so slowly.
Pests Can Move In
Furthermore, centipede grass is also susceptible to pests, like nematodes and ground pearls. When it’s in an extremely healthy condition, it can withstand and avoid pests. However, when the lawn is under stress, it is more vulnerable.
Types of Centipede Grass
Centipede grass grows in a very small region and has not had an extensive number of cultivars developed. The Common variety is the most widespread cultivar of centipede grass, and if you’re ordering sod then that’s probably what you’ll receive.
This strain has not been improved or further developed. Common variety grass has a coarse texture with a light green color. It grows and spreads slowly. It is available widely as seed and is also available as sod.
New varieties of Centipede grass are being cultivated, and several have already been evaluated and accepted. Others like Santee, are still being evaluated to be adapted into use as a turfgrass.
Covington Centipede grass is a newly developed sod variety. It has a darker green color with better color retention, both qualities that make it popular with homeowners.
Additionally, it has improved cold tolerance and stays green longer into the winter than the Common variety of Centipede grass.
The TifBlair variety was developed in 1997 by the University of Georgia. It has improved tolerance for cold and freezing temperatures.
TifBlair also has a slightly faster growth rate than the other cultivars. It can be grown from seed but is only licensed for sale as sod, so if you plan to install a new Centipede grass lawn by laying sod, this may be what you purchase.
The Best Time to Plant Centipede Grass
As a warm season grass, the best time to plant Centipede grass is in the late-spring and early summer.
The soil needs to be warm, above 70-degrees Fahrenheit, for seeds to germinate. It’s best to plant it during the period when the weather begins to get warm, but before the dry season sets in.
Centipede grass has a slow germination period and can take as few as 10 days or up to 28 days before you’ll notice your new grass starting to germinate.
This longer germination period can test the patience of most homeowners, and you really have to commit to daily watering and embrace waiting for your new lawn to grow.
This grass can be grown as seed, as plugs (Amazon link), or you can lay sod. These options differ by price point and the amount of effort or time required to achieve a full centipede grass lawn.
Personally, I recommend that you plant sod plugs or lay sod, as growing a centipede lawn from seed can be very frustrating.
After planting your centipede grass, you want to give your grass time to germinate prior to mowing it. Allow it 3 weeks post-germination, or until it reaches a height of 2 ½-inches before mowing your new lawn.
A Note on Overseeding
It’s not recommended to overseed other types of grass with centipede grass.
While it’s common to overseed ryegrass into warm-season lawns to maintain a green lawn through the colder months, centipede grass will be damaged by the competition because it’s vulnerable during the cold.
Alternatively, centipede grass is aggressive during its growth seasons, which makes it difficult for other types of grass to grow alongside it.
Planting Centipede Grass from Seed
Planting centipede grass from seed is the least expensive option to establish a lawn with this type of grass, but it takes the most amount of time before your lawn will be in full effect.
Be honest about how patient and committed you are when determining which approach (sod, seed, or plugs) will work best for you.
Preparing Your Lawn for Seed
The first thing you need to do to prepare your lawn for the new grass seed is to till it, or at least loosen the topsoil by raking it.
Either hire a professional or rent a machine to till your lawn. If you use an herbicide to kill off any previous grass or weeds, be sure to allow it to sit for several weeks for the herbicide to dissipate. That way it won’t interfere with the new seeds as they germinate.
Once the soil is prepared for your seed, use 1 pound of centipede grass seed to cover a 3,000 square foot area. Use my grass seed calculator to determine the perfect amount of seed to use for your project.
Since centipede grass prefers sandy soils, if your lawn is not already sandy, mix the seed with sand while spreading it. For every 1 pound of seed, mix it with 3 gallons of sand.
Spread the mixture over your lawn twice, using your broadcast spreader to make passes in opposite directions (i.e. spread half traveling north-to-south, then the second half east-to-west). This perpendicular pattern ensures even coverage.
Cover the seed, and water the grass seeds gently and thoroughly to keep them moist until they begin to germinate. Be careful not to wash away the new seed while watering your lawn.
As the grass germinates, water less frequently but with greater amounts of water each time. This will encourage root growth (the roots will try to reach the moisture deeper in the soil).
Spread a fertilizer over your lawn after your seeds are germinated. A lawn soil test is the best way to know which fertilizer will provide the nutrients your lawn is missing. This is the kit I buy from Amazon to use every spring on my lawn.
Important Note – Some standard fertilizers have properties that are harmful to centipede grass. Read the package carefully, but when in doubt, purchase a fertilizer specifically for southern soils and grasses.
Establishing Centipede Grass Lawn from Plugs
When planting centipede grass from plugs, you’re going to begin by prepping your soil the same way. Loosen the soil and remove previous grass and weeds.
Renting a sod cutter to kill or remove the previous lawn can be a good way to save time. This is also a good opportunity to aerate your lawn to increase air and waterflow into the soil.
Once your lawn is ready, apply a fertilizer to the soil, mixed with sand (if your soil is not already sandy). Use the back of a plastic leaf rake to work the fertilizer into the soil evenly, then using a sod plug drill bit (Amazon link), prepare holes in your lawn. You can use a garden trowel instead if that’s something you already own.
Insert the plugs into the holes about 1 foot apart from each. Begin to water thoroughly for the next few weeks.
You can water more thoroughly with plugs than with seed, as they won’t wash away. When choosing a fertilizer, make sure to choose one that replenishes the nutrients your lawn is lacking. Also, be sure to choose one that will benefit quick growth and establishment to help your grass grow quickly and vigorously.
I like to use Bio-Tone from Espoma (Amazon link) when planting plugs. It helps them get established quickly and you’ll find your plugs begin to spread more rapidly. Just scoop a little into the hole before planting your plug.
While planting centipede grass from plugs is more expensive than planting seed, it’s a good middle-ground option between seed and sod.
Planting from Sod
Planting centipede grass in your yard by laying sod is the quickest, most convenient, but also most expensive method to plant your new lawn.
Like planting with plugs, your first step should be prepping your yard and laying down fertilizer and compost to improve your soil and level the area. Aerating your lawn is also a good idea.
Once your lawn is prepared, use a rake to loosen the top layer of soil (this also allows the fertilizer to mix well into your lawn). After that, it’s time to lay out the sod.
Roll out the sod and press it lightly into the ground. Match the ends that are rolled out and blend the edges together using your hands.
When rolling out the next row, stagger the seams (lay it out in the same pattern seen in bricks). Cut the first roll in half so the gaps are not in a line with each other. This allows more strength in your lawn, and a better appearance as your new grass establishes itself.
Water daily until the roots establish themselves in your lawn.
Overseeding Centipede Grass
While it isn’t recommended to overseed different grass types into centipede grass lawns, overseeding new centipede grass seed into your lawn is a good method to replenish it if thin or damaged.
If you have specific patches that are bare, you can purchase a patch repair seed mix. However, if you want to repair the lawn as a whole, you want to spread seed evenly over your existing lawn. Use double the amount of seed as you would when planting a new lawn.
Mow your existing lawn low before overseeding, and if you can aerate and/or use a dethatcher ahead of time you’ll get better soil contact and improved germination with your new seed.
Spread your new seed across your lawn in two passes. The second pass should be perpendicular to the first. Then use the back of a leaf rake and go over the lawn to help the seed drop down and make contact with the soil. Apply a starter fertilizer, sand, and compost to improve your soil and cover the seed. Whatever you put on top should be about 1/4″ thick.
Water gently for several weeks, so as not to wash away the grass seed. As the grass germinates, water less often with increased amounts of water until it’s well established. After it reaches a height of up to 2 ½-inches, it’s safe to mow your newly replenished lawn. I like to bag the clippings the first few times I mow after overseeding (so there’s no chance of smothering your new grass seedlings).
How to Maintain a Centipede Grass Lawn
Centipede grass is an incredibly low maintenance option when grown in proper conditions.
Because it grows so slowly, it won’t need to be mown as frequently. It also does not require extensive fertilization. You can apply fertilizer as infrequently as 1 to 2 times per year (once in the spring and again in the fall) and enjoy a great looking yard.
Don’t be fooled by its light green color, or feel that you have to apply iron.
Most cultivars of centipede grass do not turn a dark green and will not benefit from extra nitrogen or iron applied every month the way some other turfgrass might. In fact, this can actually harm your lawn, causing it to burn out and make it more susceptible to disease.
Watering Centipede Grass
Throughout the season, centipede grass requires 1-inch of water per week. During the dry seasons, it requires more water to keep it healthy.
However, because it grows in rainy areas, you can get by only watering it when it starts to show issues with dehydration.
If it looks flat or faded in color, it’s time to water.
It’s best to water your lawn in the mornings for proper absorption. The afternoon heat will cause the water to dry up before it’s absorbed. Watering in the evening will cause water to pool and can cause fungal issues.
Mowing Centipede Grass
Centipede grass does not grow tall and performs best when kept at a mowing height between 1 ½-inches and 2 ½-inches.
Make sure your mower blades is kept sharp for a clean cut.
The rule of thumb is to mow often enough that you are only cutting 1/3 of the height of the grass at each mow. Cutting more of the grass leaf after it has grown longer puts the grass under significant stress than can harm your lawn over time.
Final Thoughts About Centipede Grass Lawns
Centipede grass is a fantastic lawn grass, but one that only grows within limited areas. It’s best suited to warm areas that have significant rainfall. Therefore, it’s found almost exclusively in the southeastern areas of the U.S., from the Carolinas to the Gulf Coast of Texas.
If you aren’t in the right region, don’t attempt to grow this in your lawn.
As a homeowner with a centipede grass lawn, you’ll find that your grass requires little to no work to keep it looking great. It’s almost fully self-sufficient, though there are some important caveats.
While it does not require extensive watering or fertilizer, and it doesn’t need to be mowed regularly as regularly as Fescue grass, it does have issues.
Centipede grass will not hold up under heavy foot traffic from kids or dogs, is not tolerant to salt, and it is not drought tolerant.
New cultivars with improved growth behaviors and coloration have been released and more are under review to provide a better quality lawn with the same low effort as traditional Centipede grass.
If you’re in the right location, a centipede grass lawn will make your life a lot easier while keeping your yard looking great year-round.
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