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DALY: Centipedegrass is not the lazy man's grass

Timothy Daly

Timothy Daly

Since it requires lower maintenance, centipedegrass is sometimes referred to as "the lazy man's grass." However, the grass is not to be planted and then neglected. Like other turfgrasses, it has specific growth requirements that need to be managed in order to keep it healthy and attractive. When given appropriate care, centipedegrass will provide a beautiful, lush lawn.

Centipedegrass has a creeping growth habit that spreads by thick above ground runners known as stolons. It has a light green color and a medium texture with leaf blades that are wider than those of Bermuda and Zoysia. It thrives in full sunlight, and although it can handle light shade, the grass starts declining in deeper shade.

The plant is adaptable to infertile soils. Because it has a slower growth rate, it requires minimal mowing and fertilization. Centipedegrass does best in soils that are somewhat acidic, in the pH range of 5.0 to 6.0. If the pH is higher, the grass may start developing a yellow color. Do not apply lime unless recommended by a soil test.

Centipedegrass needs one light application of an all-purpose fertilizer in the early summer. It should be mowed to a height of one to one and a half inches with a sharp mower blade. Maintaining it at this height will promote the development of a deeper root system that helps the grass tolerate periods of sparse rainfall. During dry spells, supplemental irrigation will help keep the grass healthy. Apply enough water for it to penetrate deeply into the root zone. Since the dead parts of the grass do not break down rapidly, thatch can develop. Excessive amounts of fertilizer can increase the problem. If needed, the lawn should be dethatched by the use of an aerator, vertical mower or a power rake.

Centipedegrass can be installed by both sod and seed with May and June being the best times to plant. Centipedegrass seed is somewhat expensive; however, the seeding rate of one quarter to one half of a pound per 1,000 square feet is relatively light, and a bag of seed can go a long way. Since the seeds are quite small, mix them with sand to improve distribution when sowing. The grass can also be established by sod. This method is more expensive; however, it has the advantage of providing an instant lawn.

Common centipedegrass is the one most frequently planted. Several hybrid varieties are also available. The most popular is "TiftBlair." It can handle cold temperatures better than the common type. It also produces a stronger root system that can penetrate deeper into the soil, thus making it less susceptible to hot temperature and dry conditions. 'Oaklawn' and 'Tennessee Hardy' are varieties with improved tolerance to cold, drought and shade. The hybrids must be established through vegetative means, such as sod or sprigs, and cannot be seeded.

A common affliction of centipedegrass is centipede decline. The condition results from poor cultural practices that interfere with the growth of the turfgrass and is not caused by any diseases or insects. A combination of excessive amounts of fertilizer, a pH above 6.0, compact soils, too much or lack of water, improper mowing and the lack of sunlight lead to this disorder. Make sure the centipedegrass receives the appropriate maintenance to reduce the likelihood of the occurrence of this condition. When applying herbicides to control weeds, always read the label carefully because some herbicides can cause damage to centipedegrass.

Even though centipedegrass is a relatively easy grass to manage, it does need appropriate maintenance for it to be healthy and attractive. If given the necessary care, it will provide you with an attractive lawn.

Timothy Daly, MS, Agricultural and Natural Resource Extension Agent, Gwinnett County Extension. Tim may be contacted by phone at 678-377-4010 or by email at timothy.daly@gwinnettcounty.com.