How to Grow Centipede Grass

A Warm-Season Turfgrass for Low-Traffic Areas

Centipede grass
Centipede grass

James Becwar / Wikipedia / Public domain

Centipede grass is one of the most popular warm-season grasses for home lawns from South Carolina to Florida and along the Gulf Coast up to Texas. The grass gets its name from the way the short, upright stems grow from the stolons, giving them a centipede appearance.

The grass grows slowly—it takes it about two years to form a solid turf—but it is low-maintenance, hence its nickname, “the lazy man’s grass”. The color is lighter than other warm-season turfgrasses.

Centipede grass is not the best choice for backyards with lots of activity because it does not withstand high foot traffic well.

Botanical Name Eremochloa ophiuroides
Common Name Centipede grass
Plant Type Perennial grass
Mature Size Five inches height
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Sandy, silt, loam
Soil pH 5 to 6
Bloom Time Summer to fall
Flower Color Inconspicuous
Hardiness Zones 7-10
Native Area South and central China

Centipede Grass Care

Centipede grass grows slowly, therefore it is important to keep the weeds under control. If you intend to apply a herbicide, carefully read the label to make sure that it can be used on centipede grass, as it is sensitive to certain herbicides.

For the mowing height of established centipede grass, it is recommended to start at two inches in the spring and gradually reduce the mowing height in small increments each time you mow to a final mowing height of 1.5 to 1 inch. After reducing the mowing height, inspect the grass. If it looks bare or scalped, reset it to the previous height.

During the hot summer months, and when it is getting cooler in the fall, increase the mowing height by 1/4 to 1/2 inch, which helps to protect the grass.

Dethatch your centipede lawn when the thatch is thicker than ¼ inch.

Light

Centipede grass needs full sunlight to form a healthy turf. It does not grow well in the shade.

Soil

Sandy, slightly acidic soil is ideal. The grass does not grow well in a high pH so before you plant centipede grass, test the pH of your soil and acidify it if needed.

While centipede grass is undemanding in terms of soil fertility, it needs a minimum of six inches of topsoil to support turf growth.

Saline soils are not suitable for centipede grass.

The reason why it is not grown in the southwestern part of the US is that the arid soils in that part of the country tend to be more alkaline and lack iron, both of which are not suitable conditions for centipede grass.

Water

There is no unanimity as to how drought-tolerant centipede grass really is. It is suited for areas with less than 40 inches of rainfall per year but in drought conditions, it can show signs of moisture stress, including wilting and discoloration. When irrigated, it should be watered to a depth of four to six inches. Light, superficial watering will only result in undesirable shallow root growth. If your soil is sandy, you will need to water more frequently.

Temperature and Humidity

Centipede grass needs a warm, humid climate. It is not cold-tolerant.

It is normal for the grass to turn brown when the temperatures drop in the fall. Once the temperatures warm up in the spring, or if there is an extended warm spell during the winter, it bounces back to green. Hard freezes, however, especially if they occur repeatedly, can lead to injury, which manifests itself as patches of dead turf in the spring.

Fertilizer

Centipede grass needs less fertilizer than most other turfgrasses. Giving it more fertilizer than it needs can have an adverse effect—the turf becomes more prone to cold injury. One telltale sign of over-fertilization is when the grass is dark green and not its naturally medium to light green color.

Generally, one pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square foot annually is sufficient. Ideally, this amount is distributed equally over two to three fertilizations: the first one in the spring, and the second and third in the summer. 

Growing Centipede Grass from Seed

Centipede grass can be grown from seed or planted as sod, plugs, or sprigs.

The best time to seed centipede grass is in May or June—the later you seed it, the more watering it will need during the summer, and the more susceptible it will be to cold injury. This is because the grass is not yet well established when the temperatures drop in the fall.

Seed one-quarter to one-third of a pound per 1,000 square feet. If possible, roll the soil with a lawn roller. Water it lightly, keep it moist, and follow the instructions for starting a lawn from seed. Germination will occur 14 to 28 days after seeding.

Brown patch or large patch of centipede grass
Brown patch or large patch of centipede grass Scot Nelson / Flickr / Public domain

Common Pests/Diseases

The most common issue is large patch, also called brown patch. It is a fungal disease that starts slowly but can kill areas of grass up to 20 feet. It is caused by a wide variety of factors, including too much nitrogen fertilizer or too much water, cool weather in the fall, winter or spring with soil temperatures between 40 and 70 degrees F, a thatch layer of more than ½ inch, and poor drainage. There are special fungicides available to treat large patch, but it is crucial to apply them in the fall when temperatures are below 70 degrees F.

Established older turf can be affected by centipede grass decline. Its symptom is patches of grass that won’t turn green in the spring and eventually die. The disease is caused by a soil pH above 6.0, too much nitrogen fertilizer, lack of dethatching, and drought stress.

Proper lawn care is important for the prevention and management of both diseases.