How to Plant Centipede Grass for a Great Low-Maintenance Lawn

Choosing the best grass to plant can seem overwhelming at times because of all the choices. You need to determine if you need warm-season grass or cool-season grass, a grass that is shade tolerant or likes full sun, and whether it needs to be drought-tolerant or not. If you are looking for a beautiful lawn that can handle the heat yet doesn’t need a lot of maintenance, you should consider centipede grass. 

Centipede grass is a favorite of homeowners that want minimal upkeep but need a lawn with excellent heat tolerance. It requires far fewer inputs and attention than other warm-season grasses, but its climate and soil preferences limit its use in the Southeast United States. 

Whether you’ve already decided to plant centipede grass and need information on planting and growing a centipedegrass lawn or are trying to determine if it’s right for you, you’ve come to the right place!

How to Plant Centipede Grass?

Now that you’ve made the important decision to grow centipede grass in your yard, you need to make a second related choice. How do you want to grow your grass? Like most other grass types, you can grow centipede grass from seed, sod, or sod plugs.

The method you choose ultimately comes down to how much money you want to spend, how much labor you want to invest, and how quickly you want an established lawn.

  • Seed is the cheapest of the three methods but is labor-intensive and takes the longest to establish. 
  • Sod gives you an established lawn the quickest, but this method is the most expensive and requires a lot of labor to move heavy sod rolls.
  • Plugs fall between the other two methods in terms of cost, labor, and time until you see an established lawn. 

Regardless of your method, to grow a thriving centipede grass lawn, you must prepare the soil correctly and work under ideal conditions.

Planting Centipede Grass

Removing Old Turf Before Growing Centipede Grass

First things, first. If you already have grass growing in the area you want to plant, you need to remove it before you move on to establishing a centipede grass lawn. You don’t want the previous grass to fight to re-establish itself over your new turf.

To remove or kill the grass, you can:

  • Treat the entire area with a non-selective herbicide two weeks before you want to start the project.
  • Rent a sod cutter and cut the turf from the top of the soil.
  • Cover the area for a month with a barrier blocking sunlight, like a tarp or black plastic.

Step By Step Instructions for Planting Centipede Grass Seed

  1. Work the top two to three inches of ground where you will be planting grass seed. If your soil needs improvement, you can work in some organic matter, nitrogen-rich fertilizer, and lime if the soil pH needs to be adjusted.
  2. After tilling, use a rake to eliminate low spots and level the seed bed.
  3. Mix your centipede grass seed with sand (one pound of seed per three gallons of sand) to improve the distribution of seeds.
  4. Use a seed spreader to spread the seed/sand mix evenly over the seedbed, following the recommended spreader settings on the seed package. A drop spreader works well along walkways, driveways, and flowerbeds, and a broadcast spreader works well in the larger main lawn sections.
  5. Cover the seed with a little bit of soil or roll the entire area with a lawn roller to increase the contact between soil and seed.
  6. Water the seedbed thoroughly.
  7. Keep new seed consistently moist for three weeks after planting.
Planting a TifBlair Centipede Lawn from Seed

Step By Step Instructions for Laying Centipede Grass Sod

  1. Work the top two to three inches of ground where you will be laying sod. If your soil needs improvement, you can work in some organic matter, nitrogen-rich fertilizer, and lime if the soil pH needs to be adjusted.
  2. After tilling, use a rake to eliminate low spots and level the soil.
  3. Lay the sod strips on the soil, making sure the edges of the strips touch, but the ends are staggered across the lawn in a brick-like pattern.
  4. Use biodegradable staples to secure the centipede grass sod to the soil.
  5. Roll the sod down well using a lawn roller to improve the contact between the roots and the ground.
  6. Water the newly laid sod thoroughly.
  7. Keep the sod well-watered for three to four weeks after laying.
How To Install Sod, Small Front Yard - Green Valley Turf Co

Step By Step Instructions for Planting Centipede Grass Plugs

  1. Work the top two to three inches of ground where you will be planting grass seed. If your soil needs improvement, you can work in some organic matter, nitrogen-rich fertilizer, and lime if the soil pH needs to be adjusted.
  2. After tilling, use a rake to eliminate low spots and level the soil.
  3. Use a sod plug drill bit attached to a handheld drill to dig holes in a checkerboard pattern approximately 12 inches (31 cm.) apart across the lawn. The holes need to be the same depth as the sod plug roots.
  4. Insert a sod plug in each hole and tamp the soil around it to secure it.
  5. Water the area thoroughly.
  6. Keep the centipede sod plugs well-watered for three to four weeks after planting.
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When Is the Best Time to Plant Centipede Grass?

Centipede grass seed is best planted mid to late spring before the hot summer temperatures arrive.

Therefore, it’s ideal to plant in April or May. According to Pennington, the seeds germinate best when soil temperatures are between 65°F and 70°F or the air temperature is above 80°F during the day.

The goal with planting is to time it just before the grass’ natural period where it is most actively growing. This allows new sprouts and roots to grow quickly and be well-established before the cooler fall temperatures when growth slows.

A warm-season grass like centipede grass does most of its active growth and puts on most of its biomass during the hottest part of the year when average temperatures are 75°F to 90°F. For Southern areas, this is typically July to September.

The Best Centipede Grass Seed for Your Lawn

TifBlair Centipede is the only certified centipede grass seed cultivar available. It was developed by a geneticist at the University of Georgia and has a greater cold tolerance than previously developed cultivars. Tifblair centipede also rebounds faster in the spring and can tolerate waterlogged soil better.

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  • Coated Seed (no mulch) - the seed is coated to improve germination
  • A turfgrass for full sun to partial shade. It's also drought tolerant.

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Other cultivars used across the Southeastern United States are Oaklawn, Centennial, Covington, Santee, and TennTurf (previously known as Tennessee Hardy. These types must be vegetatively propagated, so they are only available as sod or centipede grass plugs.  

Coated grass seed is recommended over uncoated seed. The coating helps to increase seed germination by improving soil contact, staying in place one sown, and increasing absorption of water. This improved germination allows you to use less seed than if you go with an uncoated product.

How Much Seed is Required to Plant Centipede Grass?

The amount of seed you need for planting centipede grass depends on if you are seeding a new lawn or overseeding existing turf.

The general recommendations are:

Maintaining and Caring for a Centipede Grass Lawn

When it comes to maintaining and caring for centipede turf, you want to focus on watering and mowing.

  • Centipede grass does best when it receives approximately an inch of water weekly through irrigation or rainfall. To encourage improved drought tolerance, water deeply once or twice a week instead of giving the grass smaller amounts of water daily. 
  • Mow centipede grass frequently, keeping it 1.5 to 2″ tall, making sure never to remove more than one-third of the blade when mowing. Taller grass may lead to an excessive thatch layer. Keep your mower blade(s) sharp, so they cut the grass blades cleanly, and leave the grass clippings on the lawn. When the clippings decompose, they add nutrients back into the soil.
Maintaining and Caring for Centipede Grass Lawn

What Are the Pros and Cons of Centipede Grass?

Pros of Growing Centipede Grass

  • Has some of the lowest maintenance requirements and lowest fertility requirements of warm-season grasses.
  • Doesn’t go dormant during the winter like many other types of grass.
  • Typically stays green year-round.
  • Tolerates partial shade or moderate shade.
  • Grows in poor soils where other grasses can’t or don’t thrive.
  • Prefers acidic soils.

Cons of Growing Centipede Grass

  • Needs to grow in a climate with mild winters.
  • Doesn’t grow in alkaline soils.
  • Not drought tolerant.
  • Easily damaged by cold temperatures.
  • It can’t withstand heavy foot traffic.
  • Not ideal for hilly lawns.
  • Offers poor erosion control.

Centipede Lawn Care Calendar

One of the benefits of growing centipede grass is having a green lawn year-round because it doesn’t go dormant during the winter months. However, to keep the attractive color in your centipede yard, you must perform routine lawn care all year.

Clemson Cooperative Extension recommends breaking yearly maintenance into three periods. These different timeframes correspond to different growth stages, and in turn, periods where the grass has different needs. 

January through April

During this time, your grass is gearing up for the warm summer months, where it grows the most. Growth is slower early in the year but begins picking up as spring temperatures start climbing.

  • Mow your grass slightly shorter, especially in March and April. Cut it down to about 1″ tall, and remove the grass clippings. 
  • Rake the lawn to remove leaves and other debris.
  • Apply a pre-emergent herbicide from mid-February to mid-March to prevent spring weeds.
  • Collect a soil sample to analyze soil pH and nutrient concentrations.
  • Monitor for mole cricket activity as temperatures start to warm. Apply insecticide if the problem is severe and damage is excessive. 
  • Watch for signs of drought stress and give your turf 1″ of water if no appreciable rain has fallen in 3-4 weeks.

May through August

During this time, your grass grows the fastest and has the highest requirements.   

  • Raise mowing height to 1.5-2″, leaving clippings on the lawn to decompose.
  • Apply a spring fertilizer at rates based on the soil test results. Some homeowners like to use 15-0-04 Centipede Weed & Feed Fertilizer at this time, to feed the lawn and tackle crabgrass, sedge, and spotted spurge.
  • Apply lime or sulfur if necessary to keep the soil pH in the appropriate range.
  • Watch your lawn for signs of being water-stressed—if it takes on a bluish tint or doesn’t rebound when you walk across it—and water as needed. 
  • Regularly monitor for pests and diseases, treating problems when they arise.
  • Apply post-emergent broadleaf weed herbicides if necessary (as long as you didn’t apply weed & feed already). Avoid applying herbicide when air temperatures are above 90°F. 

September through December

Fall temperatures are cooling down during this time, and grass growth is slowing.

  • Once nighttime temperatures drop below 70°F, raise the mowing height to 2″.
  • Continue scouting for insect pests and disease problems, treating issues immediately. If your turf is significantly weakened by disease at this time, it will struggle to rebound in the spring.
  • Apply pre-emergent herbicide for winter annual grassy and broadleaf weed control.
  • Treat active winter weeds with a post-emergent herbicide.

All You Need to Know About Centipede Grass

Centipede Grass Basics

Centipede grass (Eremochloa ophiuroides) was introduced to the United States in 1916. It is native to Southeast Asia and China.

Classified as warm-season grass, centipede grass grows best in climates where winter temperatures stay above 5ºF (-15ºC), and at least 40 inches (101.6 cm) of rain falls annually. It also prefers to grow in sandy soil with low fertility and acidity levels as low as 4.5 to 6.0 — this acidic pH level is much lower than most grasses tolerate. Because of this, it is most commonly found growing in the Southeastern United States.

Centipede grass spreads laterally across the soil via above-ground stems known as stolons. These above-ground shoots have small nodes along their length that root when they make contact with the ground. After rooting, they send up new shoots. 

The stolons look like centipedes “crawling” across the ground, hence the name centipedegrass.

Centipede Grass Characteristics to Consider

  • Centipede doesn’t typically need dethatching unless you over-fertilize with nitrogen or cut the grass too high. Since it grows solely by above-ground stolons, manual dethatching may actually cause damage.
Should you DETHATCH your Centipede or St. Augustine lawn? | Reasons for thatch issues
  • Since centipede grass typically grows in sandy soils, there isn’t much need for lawn aeration to break up compact soil.
  • Centipede usually stays green during the winter, which is good because it doesn’t tolerate being overseeded for winter color. When overseeded, the competing grass may weaken the centipede grass’ root system, causing it to fail. 
  • It has the slowest growth rate of any common warm-season lawn but eventually forms a dense cover.
  • Centipede grass doesn’t hold up well to heavy traffic in busy yards because of its slow growth and recovery. 
  • It doesn’t tolerate salt as well as bermudagrass or St. Augustine lawns.

Fertilizing Centipede Grass

Compared to most turfgrasses, a centipede grass lawn requires much less fertilizer. 

For optimum growth, feed your centipede grass in mid-spring and then again in late summer.

  • Spring application between April 20th and May 10th, once the soil temperature is above 55°F.
  • Late summer application between August 25th and September 10th.

Centipede grass needs very little nitrogen and can typically get all the phosphorus it needs from the soil. This is one situation where too much is not good—too much fertilizer will harm your lawn.

The best fertilizer for a centipede lawn is a 15-0-15 slow-release blend. This product doesn’t have any phosphorus and equal amounts (15%) of nitrogen and potassium. The slow-release formulation will make the nutrients available over a six to eight-week period.

After applying fertilizer, always make sure to water your lawn well. The water removes any fertilizer granules from the leaves, minimizing scorching, and helps put the product in contact with the soil, so it begins working quicker. 

man fertilizing centipede grass

Centipede Grass Problems

Even though a centipede grass lawn is low-maintenance, it doesn’t mean it is problem-free. The following are some of the biggest concerns.

Nitrogen Toxicity

Centipedegrass isn’t the deep dark green other grasses are known for. It has a much lighter green color when it’s healthy. It has lighter green foliage than most other turfgrasses. But it will darken if you give it too much nitrogen, which is problematic. Too much nitrogen can also cause thatch accumulation and centipedegrass decline.

To avoid nitrogen toxicity, only fertilize your centipede grass twice a year with a low-nitrogen fertilizer. 

Iron Deficiency

A lack of iron isn’t usually a problem with acid soils, as iron availability increases the lower the pH value. That doesn’t mean iron deficiencies never occur.

  • Manganese can compete with iron uptake, resulting in your grass getting too much manganese instead of iron.
  • Also, at low pH levels, phosphorus and iron bind together to create insoluble precipitates that cannot be taken into the roots.

In both cases, an iron deficiency produces chlorotic symptoms, where the blades turn yellow. 

One of the best ways to fix iron deficiency is to apply ferrous sulfate or a chelated iron product to your grass, following the label instructions.

Thatch Build-Up

While thatch doesn’t often accumulate with centipede grass, it can happen if the grass is overfertilized or mowed too high. When it does occur, it is problematic. Excess thatch—a layer of living and dead stems, roots, and grass blades on the soil surface—prevents water from moving into the soil, harbors pests and pathogens, and often results in a shallow root system. 

The shallow root system mainly occurs because new stolons grow on top of the thatch layer instead of deeply penetrating the soil. These stolons and roots are now exposed to cold temperatures and are subject to damage and desiccation. The shallow roots also make centipede grass susceptible to cold, heat, and drought. 

To prevent thatch buildup, make sure you aren’t overapplying fertilizer, especially nitrogen, and set your mower height at 1.5 to 2″. If you have more than a 1/2″ of thatch, you may want to remove as much as you can with a leaf rake or thatch rake. Using a power dethatcher can cause damage to the stolons, affecting your lawn. 

Centipede Grass Decline

Centipede grass decline appears as brown patches in the grass during early spring and is usually due to over-fertilization, especially too much nitrogen. An abundance of fertilizer prompts the grass to send out more new stolons that grow across the soil surface.

Stolons are good for a healthy lawn, but they are delicate structures. If too many are exposed to fluctuating winter temperatures, they suffer damage and die. You then see brown patches when the rest of the grass begins active growth in the spring.

The best way to prevent centipede grass decline is never to apply more fertilizer than is recommended for your lawn. Also, ensure you aren’t fertilizing too late in the fall, triggering new growth just before winter.

Drought Stress and Winter Injury

These two problems are paired together because winter injury is not cold damage per se but rather damage from lack of water and desiccation during the winter. Both drought stress and winter injury cause the centipede grass blades to appear crispy and brittle, and the grass may turn brown.

Always watch for water stress in your lawn, even during the winter when growth slows. If you see the grass isn’t rebounding when you walk on it, or it is turning crispy and brittle, immediately give it 3/4″ to 1″ of water.

Fertilizer Burn

Fertilizer burn results from too much fertilizer being applied or when fertilizer is applied directly to wet foliage and not rinsed off. Fertilizer damage happens because fertilizer salts pull moisture from the surrounding area. The damage appears as yellow or brownish, curled grass.

When soils are overfertilized, the fertilizer salts pull moisture from the roots back into the ground. When fertilizer is applied to wet foliage, it sticks to the leaf surface and draws water out of the leaves.

If you suspect your yard is suffering from fertilizer burn, immediately water it, and increase the irrigation frequency for a few days to flush the residual fertilizer salts down through the soil profile.

Pests and Diseases

Insect problems are not as common as other issues in centipede grass, but they do occur. Centipede grass is prone to mole crickets, grubs, spittlebugs, ground pearls, chinch bugs, and billbugs.

Common diseases you may see in your turf include:

  • Brown patch: Rhizoctonia solani causes patches of thin, brown grass to appear and spread through the lawn. The effect intensifies in hot and rainy conditions.
  • Dollar spot: The fungus Clarireedia jacksonii causes small light brown or straw-colored patches across your lawn that are about the size of sand dollars.
  • Fairy rings: Different fungi cause dark brown or deep green crescent shapes or arcs to appear on your lawn. They start small and enlarge over time, growing to huge patches. 

How you treat these problems varies.

If you want a more natural approach to controlling insect pests, you can spray your grass with insecticidal soap or an organic compound like neem oil. If those don’t work, you may need to resort to chemical herbicides.

With diseases, the best prevention is ensuring your grass isn’t overwater or overfertilized, as both make the lawn more susceptible. You can treat the different conditions with a fungicide labeled for that fungal problem.

How to Revive Centipede Grass

The good news is you can revive lackluster or struggling centipede grass as long as 50% of the lawn is healthy and there isn’t a significant thatch accumulation. The first step in restoring it is determining why your lawn is struggling.

  1. Run a soil test to check the pH level. Centipede grass prefers acidic soils between 5.0 and 6.0—if it’s too acidic or not acidic enough, the pH needs to be adjusted.
  2. After ruling out soil pH problems, figure out if you’re dealing with centipede grass decline or not.
    • If it is cold damage, the brown patches that appeared in the spring stay the same size throughout the season. 
    • Brown patches that grow in size indicate you have a pest or disease problem.

Once you determine the problem, you can address it to help prevent it from getting worse. Then move on to reviving the grass. As talked about earlier, it’s best to plant (or lay sod) in the late spring or early summer when temperatures are moderate.

  • To fix a lawn with pH problems, you must top-dress it with the appropriate amendments. Aluminum sulfate and elemental sulfur are commonly top-dressed on existing lawns to acidify the soil. Ground agricultural limestone is frequently used to raise pH levels and make the soil less acidic. After adjusting the pH, you can overseed the lawn.
  • To fix a lawn with dead, brown patches, start by raking and removing all the dead grass. Use a rake to work the top inch of soil or more, working in some finished compost or other organic matter. Then sow seeds, lay sod, or plant centipede plugs following the step-by-step instructions.
Reviving Centipede Grass

FAQs

Q: Will centipede grass choke out other grass?

A: No, not usually. Its short root system doesn’t give it the robustness to choke out other turfgrasses with deeper, extensive roots. And since it’s a slow-growing lawn, it doesn’t grow quick enough to shade out quicker-growing grasses. Under certain circumstances, centipede grass may be able to choke out crabgrass.

Q: How long does it take centipede grass to grow?

A: Centipede grass has the slowest grass growth rate of the common warm-season grasses. It takes 2 to 4 weeks to germinate and may take about two years from planting to form a dense, solid turf covering.

Q: How should I mow centipede grass?

A: Mow centipede grass at 1½ to 2 inches tall, removing no more than one-third of the blade when mowing. If you cut it higher, you may see an excessive thatch layer accumulation. 

Q: How can you make centipede grass thicker?

A: When you are edging or trimming your lawn, collect the stolons you remove. Lay the pieces over the sparse areas and cover them with a bit of soil, letting the blades peek through so they can absorb sunlight.

Q: Does centipede grass reseed itself?

A: Yes, centipede grass reseeds itself very well. To let it reseed, quit mowing in the fall. When the grass gets about 4″ tall, it produces flower spikes with seeds.

Q: Is Bermuda or centipede grass better?

A: It depends on the situation. Both are great for sandy soils. Centipede grass is best for a low-traffic and ultra-low-maintenance lawn. Bermuda grass is incredibly resilient under traffic and grows in almost any type of dirt, but it doesn’t tolerate shade.

Q: Is St. Augustine or centipede grass better?

A: St. Augustine grass is better where winters are cooler because it goes dormant, while centipede grass doesn’t and is intolerant to cold. St. Augustine grass also has a deeper green color than centipede grass, which has a crab apple-like color.

Q: Is centipede grass good for dogs?

A: Centipede grass isn’t one of the best choices for a lawn if you have dogs, especially large ones. This is partly due to its shallow root system and slow root growth—it doesn’t recover quickly when torn up. It also doesn’t tolerate high doses of nitrogen in pet urine very well.


Final Thoughts on Centipede Grass

By now, you should know much more about centipede grass than when you first started reading. Maybe you have decided to try growing it as your lawn grass, or you’ve gained the knowledge you need to plant and care for centipede grass.

Without a doubt, centipede grass is an excellent option for homeowners in the Southeastern US for a beautiful, low-maintenance lawn. It makes an attractive lawn cover that doesn’t take as much of your time as other higher-maintenance turfs.


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