Do you have a St Augustine lawn? Or maybe it’s Centipede? These two grasses look very similar with many of the same needs, but one is a high maintenance grass that’s good with alkaline soil, while the other is a low maintenance option that prefers acidic soil. Which is better for your lawn? Read on to find out.
What Are St Augustine And Centipede Grass?
|9 – 10
|7 – 10
|Full Sun to Part Shade (at least 4 hours of sun)
|Full to Part Sun (6 hours of full sun per day)
|Ideal is sand-silt.
|Ideal is sandy.
|5.5 to 7.5. Able to handle acidic to slightly alkaline soils.
|4.8 – 6.5. Prefers acidic soils; suffers from iron chlorosis in alkaline soil.
|Medium. Not drought tolerant and not suitable for a non-irrigated lawn or for areas with low rainfall or extended dry periods.
|Low but regular; Irrigate only when needed rather than on a schedule.
|Yearly nitrogen (lb/1,000 sq ft)
|3 to 4; High.
High amounts of fertilizer cost more money and take more time, while causing more thatch and worsening its insect and disease resistance.
|1 – 2; Low.
Depending on soil conditions, you may not need to fertilize every year. Suffers when overfertilized.
|Stolons. Spreads through above ground roots called stolons. Causes more thatch problems, especially when the grass grows faster. Able to self-repair. May look weedy if the lawn is thin.
|Stolons. Spreads through above ground roots called stolons. Spreads too slow to cause thatch problems. Able to self-repair. May look weedy if the lawn is thin.
|2 to 3 inches.
|2 to 3 inches.
|High. Requires a LOT of work and money to keep healthy.
|Low. Requires little work when grown in ideal soils with little to no additional fertilizer.
|Medium. Tolerates the frequent use that covers most yards.
|Low. Tolerates occasional use, but frequent use may damage the lawn faster than the grass can self-repair.
|Tolerances & Resistances
|Good tolerance of heat and salt.
Low tolerance of cold and drought.
|Medium cold and shade tolerance.
Good heat tolerance.
Low salt tolerance.
|Insects & Diseases
|Low resistance to insects and disease, many of which have no effective treatments.
|Medium insect and disease resistance.
|Only available as plugs and sod.
Medium establishment rate.
|14 – 21 days.
Medium establishment rate.
|Rough/coarse texture that’s prickly underfoot.
|Rough/coarse texture that’s prickly underfoot.
What Is St Augustine?
If you’ve grown up in Florida, then you know this grass. You’ll find St Augustine everywhere as it’s the grass of choice for many landscapers since it can handle the heat, sandy soil, humidity, salt, and even part shade.
But those advantages also come with hefty drawbacks, as it’s the highest maintenance and most disease and insect prone of the warm-season grasses. Several of these diseases have no effective treatments. It requires high amounts of fertilizer, needs twice as much water as Bermuda, and offers no drought resistance.
In South Africa and Australia, St Augustine is also known as Buffalo Grass or Buffalo Turf, not to be confused with the low-maintenance, native North American Buffalo Grass (Buchloe dactyloides).
What Is Centipede Grass?
During the Great Depression, Centipede grass was known as the “Lazy Man’s Grass” because it adapted so well to the soil and climate of the Southern US and needed very little care. As such, it was used for low-maintenance cemeteries and home lawns.
You barely need to fertilize, mow, or water this lawn. Some people try to force a dark green color instead of its more iconic apple-green by giving it too much nitrogen, but this results in severe disease and thatch problems as well as iron chlorosis (yellowing). Not exactly what you want for a low maintenance lawn.
While Centipede has low water needs, its shallow roots need water frequently. During extended dry weather, you will need to water it. It also grows slowly, so you don’t have to mow it often but any damage takes longer to self-repair.
Grown in its ideal acidic, sandy soils with frequent rainfall, it’s very low maintenance.
Which Is Better: St Augustine Or Centipede?
Appearance And Texture
Both St Augustine and Centipede grow via stolons and have a rough texture that wouldn’t be your first choice if you love to walk barefoot. When healthy, both grasses will grow into a thick lawn. If suffering, they’ll thin out and reveal the stolons, giving both lawns a weedy look.
The difference between the two comes down to color. St Augustine has the green coloration seen as more desirable in a lawn. Centipede has a lighter, apple-green color that’s not as desirable, but still perfectly attractive. Some people overfertilize Centipede to get a deeper green, but too much fertilizer causes disease and thatch problems, as well as iron chlorosis which turns it yellow.
Establishment & Growth Rate
You only have a choice between plugs or sod when establishing a St Augustine lawn, as seed germination is so spotty that you wouldn’t want to try seed anyway. Once installed, it establishes itself at a medium rate. It quickly self-repairs gaps.
You can start Centipede Grass either by seed or by plugs, but the cultivar you select may limit you. It establishes itself at the same rate as St Augustine, fully covering a lawn within 3 months. Once established, it grows more slowly and takes a while to repair damage from heavy use.
St Augustine tolerates more wear and tear than Centipede.
Both St Augustine and Centipede prefer sandy soil, but St Augustine can handle more alkaline soils than Centipede can.
Grown in neutral or slightly alkaline soils, Centipede is prone to iron chlorosis as the pH level prevents it from absorbing enough iron from the soil. If you suspect iron chlorosis, check your soil for nutrients (are you fertilizing too much?) and your pH level (is your soil too alkaline?) with a soil test before adding iron.
If you have neutral or slightly alkaline soil, St Augustine may be the better choice for you. If you have acidic soil, Centipede will have fewer problems than St Augustine.
Climate & Sun
St Augustine has very little cold tolerance, and should only be grown in subtropical regions without winters like USDA Zones 9 and 10. It prefers full sun, but can handle more shade than Centipede, needing only 4 hours of sun per day.
Centipede has a bit more cold tolerance and can be grown up to USDA Zone 7. It prefers Full Sun but can handle shade so long as it gets 6 hours of sun per day. This grass has fully adapted to the Southeastern Region of the US, and grows well there.
Pests & Disease
There’s a big difference between St Augustine and Centipede when it comes to pests and disease. St Augustine has little resistance to insects and disease, and is plagued by a number of fungal diseases that have few effective treatments. Centipede has pretty good resistance to both, so long as it receives very little fertilizer. Overfertilizing Centipede makes it prone to both.
Both St Augustine and Centipede have conditions named after them. St Augustine Decline (SAD) is caused by a virus and only affects these two grasses. Centipedegrass Decline is caused by factors like poor plant nutrition, excessive thatch buildup, and poor root development. Good lawn care and acidic soil will help prevent Centipedegrass Decline.
Both St Augustine and Centipede have short roots, and in sandy soil, that means they need water frequently. They both have little drought tolerance.
St Augustine requires twice the amount of water that the thirsty Bermuda needs. Even in an area with frequent light rain showers, you may need to irrigate your lawn and set up a watering schedule.
Centipede has low water requirements, but it needs to be watered frequently in small amounts. If you’re in an area with frequent light rain showers, you’ll be fine. In extended dry periods, you will need to water it. Don’t set up a schedule, though. Watch your grass (and the weather report) and only water it when it takes on a blue-gray tinge or the top few inches of soil is dry. Let it dry out in between watering. Centipede suffers in soggy soils.
The best defense against weeds is always a healthy lawn. A healthy lawn grows thick, and it’s no different whether you’re growing a St Augustine or Centipede lawn. The thicker a lawn, the less room and less light that weed seeds need to germinate.
Centipede has another defense against weeds – low fertilizer needs. So long as you only add as much fertilizer as strictly necessary (natural amendments like compost are fantastic for this!), there won’t be excess nutrients for weeds to take advantage of.
If weeds do poke through, don’t rush to apply herbicide. Both grasses are sensitive to herbicides. St Augustine is sensitive to 2,4-D herbicides, and Centipede is vulnerable to many different kinds, especially those found in weed and feed products. Always check labels before use.
Hand-pulling is preferable, especially for weeds that have deep tap roots as herbicides may only kill the leaves and not the whole plant.
St Augustine has high fertilizer needs, while Centipede has very low needs. St Augustine requires 3 to 4 applications of nitrogen per year. More fertilizer means more money spent on your lawn, more time spent, and more pest, disease, and thatch problems.
Centipede only needs 1 application of nitrogen per year, if that. You may not need to fertilize Centipede at all for some years. Centipede is prone to iron chlorosis, and too much phosphorus can block the uptake of iron. High levels of phosphorus are difficult to resolve, and the only thing you can really do is not apply more. Less is more with this grass, and getting regular soil tests done will prevent tricky problems before they begin.
St Augustine is prone to thatch problems as it grows quickly only through stolons. Stolons take longer than other plant matter to break down, so they build up and form a mat that doesn’t allow air or water through. Applying high levels of nitrogen (even the recommended amount) exacerbates this problem as the grass grows more stolons. You will need to dethatch annually.
Centipede would have the same problem, but so long as you keep nitrogen applications low, Centipede won’t grow as fast, and so won’t put out stolons as quickly.
Both grasses may struggle with compaction when grown in loam- or clay-based soils.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Can You Tell St Augustine And Centipede Apart?
St Augustine and Centipede grass can look very similar, as they both creep above the ground via stolons and their leaves both turn at right angles. To tell them apart, look at the leaves: Centipede leaves are smaller and more pointed than St Augustine leaves.
Is Centipede And St Augustine The Same?
While Centipede and St Augustine have a similar appearance and growth behavior, they are two different grass species. St Augustine (Stenotaphrum secundatum) has much higher nitrogen needs, lower pest and disease resistance, and more thatch problems than Centipede (Eremochloa ophiuroides). They both prefer sandy soil, but St Augustine can thrive in neutral pH soil while Centipede will struggle with iron deficiency outside of acidic pH levels.
Can I Mix Centipede And St Augustine?
You can mix Centipede and St Augustine grasses, and the resulting lawn will look uniform as they look similar. As with all grass mixes, if conditions favor one, that one may take over. If you fertilize as much as St Augustine grass needs and/or your soil is neutral or alkaline, then St Augustine will take over. If you only barely fertilize Centipede grass, your soil lacks nutrients (get a soil test to find out), and the soil is acidic, then Centipede will take over.
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.