Centipede Grass Lawns
Centipede grass is a slow-growing, warm-season grass, native to China and southeast Asia. It spreads aggressively by above-ground stolons and can be an attractive, dense, low-maintenance grass if managed well under the right conditions. It is somewhat drought-resistant, but will develop a shallow root system if it doesn’t receive adequate water.
Centipede grass grows best in zones 7b and up (warmer.) We do not recommend centipede grass in our service area (zones 6b-7b,) although we do see it occasionally in a few of our lawns. (If you don’t know what zone you live in, enter your zip code on the National Gardening Assoc. website.) In the United States, you can find it mostly on the east coast, from South Carolina south, and west along the Gulf coast. It is not a cold-tolerant grass, and 5 degrees or lower for an extended period of time will kill it. Likewise, it cannot grow in the alkaline soils of the west because it develops severe iron deficiencies – a moderately acid soil with a pH of 5 to 6 is the best for it.
Centipede grass turns brown in the winter, except for southernmost areas where it will remain green year-round. Centipede grass doesn’t have a true dormant state, so it will resume growing with warm temperatures and rain. However, the lack of a dormant state makes it very susceptible to winterkill.
Centipede grass is shallow-rooted and must have sufficient water so it doesn’t turn brown.
Centipede grass needs less fertilizer than most lawns. Too much fertilizer will actually weaken the grass, causing it to thin out and inviting weed invasions. When properly maintained, centipede grass is dense enough to keep weeds out.
Centipede grass is best established from sod, but can also be seeded or sprigged. It is slower growing than bermuda and will take longer to fill in from sprigs.
Centipede grass is mildly shade tolerant, but grows best in full sun.
Centipede grass is tolerant of nutrient-poor soils, and will decline in soil that is too moist or too nutrient-rich. A sunny location and well-drained soil is imperative.
Centipede grass is naturally a light green. Some make the mistake of over-fertilizing to try to get it dark green, but this will result in problems, and a decline in the health of the grass.
Centipede grass should not be scalped in the spring, and should not be mowed low until it is actively growing. Do not aerate while it is greening-up in the spring, or in drought conditions.
Centipede grass is resistant to most insects and diseases, but can be susceptible to chinch bugs and nematodes, brown patch, and something called “centipede decline” which is a general deterioration of the health of the grass in lawns older than 3 years. Usually, good maintenance practices seem to prevent centipede decline, such as mowing at less than 2 inches. If centipede grass becomes yellow, it could have an iron deficiency rather than a disease or insect problem.
If centipede grass is damaged by insects or diseases, recovery is very slow, due to its slow growth.
Good things about Centipede grass:
- Low maintenance – doesn’t require frequent mowing
- Drought resistant
- Can grow in poor soils or sandy soils
- Requires less fertilizer than bermuda, St. Augustine or zoysia
- Seldom has serious pest problems
- Forms a dense mat that will choke out weeds
- Somewhat shade tolerant
Bad things about Centipede grass:
- Marginally cold-tolerant – very susceptible to winterkill
- Needs moderately acid soils or may need supplemental iron applications.
- Can’t take heavy traffic
- Can’t take too much fertilizer
- Can be susceptible to chinch bugs and nematodes
- Can be susceptible to centipede decline if not managed properly
- Is a lighter green than most turf grasses
- Not suited to transition zone locations (like our service area)
- Not as fine-textured as other turf grasses
Centipede grass trivia:
Frank N. Meyer was the first to bring centipede grass seed to the U.S. from China in1916, just 2 years before his mysterious death while sailing down the Yangtze River to Shanghai. As a boy, Meyer studied under the famous botanist Hugo de Vries while working for him as the Amsterdam Botanical Gardens. Meyer traveled extensively, working in nurseries and learning about plants all over the world, ending up in Washington D.C, where he found work in the greenhouses of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. The USDA sent him on an expedition to East Asia to find plants of economical value.
Centipedegrass is also called “lazy man’s grass” since is requires little maintenance.