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Centipede Grass Guide: What It Is And How To Grow It

In Grass Guides, Lawn & Garden, Lawn Care by Jamie

Despite its somewhat cringy name, Centipede grass is renowned in the Southeast US as the best low-maintenance grass for the unused yard that just needs to look nice. It loves the acidic, sandy soil and the frequent rainfall, and doesn’t need much more than an occasional mowing and even less frequent fertilizer.

Giving this grass too much attention will only hurt it. So if you live in the Southeast US and are looking for a hands-off grass, take a closer look at Centipede grass.

What Is Centipede Grass(Eremochloa ophiuroides)?

Genus Eremochloa
USDA Zone 7 – 10
Sun Full to Part Sun (6 hours of full sun per day)
Ideal Soil Sandy
pH 4.8 – 6.5
Water Requirement Low but regular; Irrigate only when needed rather than on a schedule.
Nitrogen (lb/1,000 sq. ft.) 1 – 2 (depending on soil conditions, you may not need to fertilize every year)
Growth Habit Stolons
Height Mow to 2 to 3 inches
Maintenance Low
Wear Low
Tolerance Medium cold and shade tolerance. Medium insect and disease resistance.

Good heat tolerance.

Low salt tolerance.

Germination Time 14 – 21

Medium establishment rate

Appearance Apple-green color, coarse texture

What Is Centipede Grass

Brought over from Asia in the early 19th century by a USDA plant explorer Frank Meyer, Centipede grass adapted well to the climate and soil of the Southern US and was nicknamed the “Lazy Man’s Grass”, as it was used for low-maintenance cemeteries and Great Depression home lawns.

And Centipede sure lives up to its nickname. You barely need to fertilize, mow, or water this lawn. Overfertilizing gives it a dark green color instead of its iconic apple-green, but this causes severe disease and thatch problems, and iron chlorosis (yellowing), as well as adding work when its greatest advantage is its low maintenance.

Centipede does have its downsides, though.

It tolerates very little wear. If you need a lawn for heavy use, then look at Bahiagrass and Seashore Paspalum instead. It grows slowly (which is why you don’t need to mow often), so it’ll take longer than other grasses to fix heavy use damage.

While Centipede has low water needs and is more drought-tolerant than more popular warm-season grasses, its shallow roots need frequent and shallow waterings. So long as you get frequent rain, it won’t need irrigation, but you may need to water during dry periods.

This grass is also particularly prone to iron chlorosis (iron-deficiency), because either the pH level is too high (avoid this grass if you have alkaline soils) or from over-fertilization. While it’s not bothered by most pests, it is vulnerable to nematodes.

Centipede does best in the Southeastern US, where winters are very mild, soils are typically sandy and acidic, and rainfall is frequent.

Pros and Cons of Centipede Grass

Pros Cons
Very low-maintenance grass Doesn’t tolerate much wear or use
Grows thickly, creating a uniform lawn that outcompetes weeds Sensitive to pH; the more alkaline a soil is (even around neutral), the more problems it has with iron chlorosis. Some cultivars are better in higher pH soils.
Requires little fertilizer – in fact, too much nitrogen will cause disease, thatch, and iron-deficiency problems. Sensitive to cold, although some cultivars have some cold resistance
Infrequent mowing. While able to bounce back well from drought conditions, Centipede requires frequent watering.
Few pest problems, outside of nematodes Especially vulnerable to nematodes, but few other pest problems

How To Grow Centipede Grass

Seeding/Overseeding 

Seeding

You can start a new Centipede Grass lawn either by seed or by plugs, although availability of cultivars may differ. When starting with seed, make sure to prepare the soil well, breaking up any aggregates so the soil is fine. To help apply seed evenly, mix it with a gallon of fine sand.

When starting with plugs, plant each one 1 foot apart.

Both will require that you keep the soil moist until established (tapering off watering frequency as it gets established), and with proper care, both will become established and fully cover the lawn area in around 3 months. Centipede germinates and establishes itself slower than some other speedy grasses, but once it’s established and healthy, you’ll have little work otherwise.

Don’t overseed for winter color, as Centipede will suffer from the competition. If you’re in a mild climate where temperatures don’t drop below 50F, then Centipede will stay green year round. Otherwise, it’ll go dormant in colder weather.

Mowing

Centipede does best when mowed between 2 to 3 inches. Mow shorter in the spring and fall, and leave longer in the summer’s heat to help keep moisture from evaporating. Since Centipede grows slowly, you won’t need to mow often.

Weeding

A healthy Centipede lawn grows thick enough that most weeds won’t even have a chance against it. When possible, hand pull weeds instead of herbicide. Centipede is vulnerable to many herbicides like those found in weed-and-feed products, so it’s better to focus on a healthy lawn than killing weeds, but if you do need to resort to herbicides, always check the label before use.

Fertilizing

Centipede requires very little nitrogen, and if you over fertilize it or try to force a darker coloration, you’ll only create more problems that can be very difficult to solve. Depending on your soil conditions, you may not need to fertilize it all.

If you need to fertilize, use an organic/natural fertilizer with low concentrations of nitrogen. Organic fertilizers like compost or kelp meal will break down over time, providing nutrition for much longer than synthetic fertilizers. You can also apply a liquid fertilizer like compost tea or seaweed/kelp extract a few times a season.

If your grass shows signs of iron chlorosis, get a soil test done. If you have a more alkaline soil (closer to 6.0), then you may need to apply iron.

Watering

Centipede has low water needs, but its shallow roots need it more frequently. If you don’t get enough rainfall naturally, you may need to supplement it with irrigation.

But don’t jump in with a watering schedule. Instead, check the grass and soil conditions. Only water when the grass shows water stress (starts taking on a blue-gray tinge), or the top few inches of soil is dry. Water to a depth of 6 inches. Then wait until the soil dries out before watering again.

While it needs water frequently, it’ll suffer if the soil is soggy. It prefers the soil to dry out in between (like with sandy soil). Only watering when necessary is the best thing you can do for this grass, and it keeps money in your wallet too. This procedure will also encourage Centipede to spread its shorter roots further to access water, giving it better drought tolerance.

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Centipede prefers aerated soils, but you don’t have to worry about this if you’re growing in sandy soil. If necessary, core aerate in mid-spring to midsummer, when the grass is growing vigorously.

Dethatching

Centipede may or may not have consistent thatch problems, depending on your care. It grows via stolons, which is one of the primary culprits of thatch problems as stolons (like rhizomes) decompose slower than other plant matter.

But because Centipede grows slowly, it won’t put out more stolons than can decompose in a timely manner so thatch won’t build up too thick. But if you give Centipede too much nitrogen, it’ll force growth – and cause thatch buildup.

If you find thatch problems, cut back on fertilizer. Dethatch in mid-spring to midsummer, when the grass is growing vigorously. If you need to core aerate, do that first as it may eliminate your thatch problem.

Frequently Asked Questions

Will Centipede Grass Choke Out Weeds?

When healthy, Centipede grass grows thickly enough that weeds can’t really take hold. It can choke out light weed infestations by itself. If you’re starting a new lawn because your old one has been overtaken by weeds, then spend time destroying the current weeds and seeds first. Solarization will work the fastest without using herbicides (that could hurt your new Centipede lawn), especially in the intense Southeastern summer.

Apply a transparent plastic tarp over the area, weigh it down, and leave it. The heat from the sun through the plastic will scorch the weeds. When starting from bare dirt, moisten the soil to germinate any weed seeds left behind, then solarise.

What Type Of Soil Is Best For Centipede Grass?

Centipede Grass does best in acidic, sandy soils like those found in the Southeastern US. It prefers soil that’s between 4.5 to 6.0. Centipede suffers from iron chlorosis if the soil is neutral or alkaline. It prefers sandy soils as they’re quick draining, although this may mean that you will need to water during dry periods.

If you get frequent rain, this isn’t a problem. If you’ve had problems growing grass due to the acidity of your soil, Centipede is a fantastic alternative.

Can You Water Centipede Grass Too Much?

While Centipede likes frequent waterings, it also has low water requirements and suffers from sitting in water too long. Watering too much will stress your grass, and will eventually kill it. Instead of setting up an irrigation schedule, watch your grass and soil.

Once the soil is dry and the grass takes on a slight blue-gray cast, then water it. This will help encourage Centipede to spread its shallow roots a bit deeper and to become a bit more drought tolerant, which could save your lawn in the long run.

About the Author

Jamie

Jamie is the founder of The Backyard Pros. When he was 15 years old he started working at a garden centre helping people buy plants, gardening products, and lawn care products. He has real estate experience and he is a home owner. Jamie loves backyard projects, refinishing furniture, and enjoys sharing his knowledge online.