What is Centipede Grass?
Centipede grass is known for its excellent heat tolerance and extremely low maintenance requirements. A favorite of lawn owners interested in minimal upkeep, Centipede grass requires far less attention and input than other grasses in its growing region. However, Centipede has very specific climate and soil requirements that limit its use in the United States, primarily in the Southeast. If you reside in that region, this low maintenance grass may be a top lawn choice for you.
CENTIPEDE AT A GLANCE
warm-season, heat-tolerant grass
suitable for Southeast lawns
low maintenance and nutrient requirements
moderate shade tolerance
sensitive to alkaline soil
relatively shallow root system
CENTIPEDE GRASS BASICS
Centipede grass is native to China and Southeast Asia, but it's been in the U.S. since seeds were first brought here in 1916. Centipede is what's known as a warm-season grass, meaning its most productive growth period comes during warm weather, from late spring through the hot summer months. Centipede grass is more sensitive to cold than many other warm-season grasses, but when grown in mild climates, this perennial can withstand winters year after year.
Centipede's use as a lawn grass is largely restricted by climate and soil requirements. In the sandy, acidic soils of the Southeast, from the Carolinas across the Southern Coastal Plains to the Texas Gulf Coast, warm winters accommodate Centipede's needs. North of this area, winters are too cold for its survival. Similarly, the soils of the American Southwest are too alkaline for healthy Centipede grass growth.
Centipede's outstanding tolerance to heat doesn't equate to drought tolerance, another plus for the Southeast and its high annual rainfall. Compared to other warm-season grasses, Centipede's root system is relatively shallow. This means extra vigilance and watering during times of low rainfall. Once normal conditions return, Centipede recovers from stress rapidly.
Tips for caring for your Centipede!
Centipede requires routine maintenance. Read below for tips on how to keep your grass healthy and vibrant.
JANUARY THROUGH APRIL
Mow the lawn slightly lower than the regular summer mowing height. The mower setting should be around 1-inch high. Be careful not to set the mower too low, as it might scalp the lawn. This height reduction should be done just before the time of lawn green-up, which usually occurs during late April or early May. Be sure to use a sharpened mower blade.
A sharp mower blade will cleanly cut the grass blades as opposed to tearing the leaves. Dull mower blades rip rather than cut the grass and make the grass more susceptible to diseases.
The date of initial turf green-up can be quite variable. In the coastal regions this generally will occur sometime during April, but further inland, this may be as late as mid-May. It is not unusual for centipede grass to green up and be burnt back several times during the late winter or early spring due to late season frosts.
MAY THROUGH AUGUST
The ideal mowing height for centipede grass is from 1 to 2 inches, depending on the specific site and management regime and is best determined by the conditions in the lawn. Lawns in partial shade are better mowed at 2 inches high.
Start the season by mowing the lawn at a height of 2 inches based on a bench mark setting. This is the measured distance from the mower blade to a hard surface and can easily be determined by using a small ruler.
Over the next several mows, gradually reduce the mowing height in as small an increment as possible. Monitor the lawn after each mowing. Once a height is reached where the grass does not look good anymore, it looks too thin or scalped, raise the mowing height back to the previous setting.
During periods of environmental stress due to high temperatures or a lack of rainfall, raise the mowing height ½ to 1 inch until the stress is eliminated.
Always mow with a sharp blade using a mulching type mower, which leaves the clippings to decompose on the turf.
The mower blade needs to be sharpened on a regular basis.
SEPTEMBER THROUGH DECEMBER
Continue to mow the centipede grass lawn at the normal mowing height until the weather starts to cool in the fall. Once nighttime temperatures fall below 70 °F, raise the mower blade height to approximately 2 inches to allow for more leaf surface. This will allow the turf to become acclimated by the time the first frost occurs.
JANUARY THROUGH APRIL
During dormancy, water the lawn to prevent excessive dehydration. Winter desiccation can be a problem during dry winters. Watering to prevent drought stress can help eliminate turf loss during winter.
Most areas of North Carolina receive enough rainfall during the winter to avoid winter desiccation of lawns. However, this is not always the case. Monitor the winter rainfall on a regular basis and apply water to the turf if no measurable rain occurs over a 3 to 4 week period. This is especially important if warm, bright days precede days forecasted to be in the low 20’s or colder. The added moisture in the soil will help keep the growing points of the turf warmer, preventing crown death.
To manage a lawn, it is important to know the soil texture in the top foot of soil. Sandy soils do not hold moisture well since they drain freely and dry out quicker.
MAY THROUGH AUGUST
Water to prevent drought stress. Monitor the lawn on a regular basis to assess the need for irrigation. When the entire lawn appears dry, apply ¾ to 1 inch of water the next morning. Wait to irrigate again when the lawn shows moisture stress. There are several ways to determine when the lawn needs watering. One way is to monitor the lawn daily. When the turf begins to dry, it will appear to have a bluish color. Another method is to walk across the lawn late in the evening. If the grass blades in the footprints rebound, there is plenty of moisture in the turf. If the grass in the footprints do not rebound, then water the next morning.
The irrigation interval will vary from site to site depending on the environmental conditions at that site and soil type. The general rule for turf grass irrigation is to water “deeply and infrequently”. Localized dry spots or hot spots can be watered by hand as needed.
SEPTEMBER THROUGH DECEMBER
In the absence of rainfall, continue to water the lawn to prevent drought stress. After the lawn has become dormant, water as needed to prevent excessive dehydration. This is especially important if warm, bright days preceed days forecasted to be in the low 20’s or lower.