In the warm-season South, centipedegrass is a popular option for low-maintenance turf. Its reputation as a “lazy man’s grass” is attractive for homeowners who want to get out their mower and bag of fertilizer less often. It also tolerates infertile, acidic soils and crowds out weeds with its dense, stoloniferous growth habit. If you’re interested in a little less work in your landscape, centipedegrass might be a contender for your warm-season lawn.
Centipedegrass at a glance
Classification: Warm-season grass
Spreads by: Stolons
Shade tolerance: Moderate — at least six hours of full sun per day
Drought resistance: Low to moderate
Foot traffic tolerance: Low
Maintenance needs: Low mowing frequency
Mowing height: 1.5-2 inches
Potential for disease: Good resistance to diseases and insects
Soil pH: 5-6
Soil type: Acidic, infertile, at least moderately good drainage (very dense, clay soils produce poor results)
Other notes: Low maintenance once established; greenish-yellow color (like a green apple) during the growing season; low fertilizer and mowing requirements; doesn’t tolerate heavy traffic; not a salt-tolerant grass
What is centipedegrass?
Also known as “poor man’s grass” or Chinese lawngrass, centipedegrass is a low-maintenance grass suited for the Southern, warm-season areas of the country and Hawaii. A native of China, the range for this heat-loving grass extends slightly above that for St. Augustine, into the cooler, more northern area of the warm-season grass zone. The good news for those in this hot Southern swath is that disease and insect pressure are relatively low compared with other grasses, which is another jewel in its low-maintenance crown.
As for fertilizer, centipedegrass needs relatively little. Use 0.5-2 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per year to keep this grass in fighting shape — any more and you may encourage disease. Its naturally dense and slow growth habit helps crowd out weeds and reduces how often you’ll mow. If you have poor soil, don’t worry. Centipedegrass tolerates infertile, acidic soils.
Pros and cons of centipedegrass
Wonder if centipedegrass is for you? Check out all of its strengths and weaknesses.
✓ Its slow, low growth habit means less frequent mowing
✓ Low fertilizer requirements
✓ Tolerates infertile soils
✓ Grow via seed, sod, plugs, or sprigs
✓ Dense, stoloniferous growth habit crowds out weeds
✓ Good resistance to insects and disease
✓ Won’t tunnel under flower beds since it spreads by stolons (above-ground stems) not rhizomes (below-ground stems)
✗ Not suited for areas with cold winters
✗ Not as good for partial shade as Zoysia or St. Augustine, but better than bermuda
✗ Not as many options for chemical weed control
✗ Accumulates thatch if it receives too much fertilizer
How to establish centipedegrass
It’s wise to get a soil test before you establish centipedegrass. Balanced levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium and an acidic pH are key to having a healthy centipedegrass lawn. If your soil is naturally alkaline, choose another grass type.
Centipedegrass allows a full range of planting options. Choose from sod, seed, sprigs, or plugs depending on your budget and the level of maintenance and watering you have time to do.
Sod gives an instant lawn, meaning you won’t have to contend with weeds while centipedegrass slowly grows in. As long as you prepare the site and water sufficiently, this will produce the highest-quality centipede lawn.
Seeding is best done in late spring or early summer so the grass has a complete growing season to become established. Cooler winter temps may damage grass that is too immature, so avoid planting this grass too late in the season. Another reason to seed early in the season is that centipede is slow to germinate, taking up to two or three weeks to sprout and as many as eight weeks to fully grow in. According to Clemson University, a seeded centipedegrass lawn may take up to three years to achieve a uniform look.
Water as you would with any new lawn, keeping the soil moist but not too wet or sodden. Set your sprinklers to run several times per day on sandy soils or less on loam or soils with more clay content. As the seeds germinate, decrease how often you water, and slightly increase how much water you apply during each watering session.
Sprigs and plugs are another option to establish a centipede lawn. Weeds will be an issue, though, so you must be willing to regularly scout and remove these weeds before they establish themselves. Consult your local Extension office for the best weed management plan for your climate and the time of year you’re establishing the lawn.
Plan to water two to three times per day for the first 7-10 days, once per day for the next 7-10 days, and water every other day the following week. After that, follow a standard watering schedule. Mow about two to three weeks after you plant.
How much does centipedegrass cost?
Centipede sod: From 35 to 90 cents per square foot
Centipede seed: A 5-pound bag of seed starts at around $43
Centipede plugs: 64 plugs cost around $110
Caring for centipedegrass
Unlike grasses with deep root systems, centipedegrass has naturally shallow roots. For this reason, it is critical not to water this turf frequently. The maxim, “deep but infrequent watering” is especially important for this grass. Only water when the turf shows signs of stress (changes color, wilts) and is completely dry. Then, irrigate deeply so the water reaches 6 inches into the soil profile. This forces the roots to reach a little deeper in search of water and strengthens it against dry conditions.
Centipedegrass is called the “lazy man’s grass” for a reason. One reason is that it requires little fertilizer. Plan to apply 0.5-2 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per year. Overfertilizing this grass will harm the grass and can invite disease, decrease cold tolerance, and increase the thatch layer. Less is more with this grass.
Dethatching and aeration
Centipedegrass will develop excess thatch if it has too much nitrogen fertilizer. The stolons also contain a naturally high level of lignin, which doesn’t decompose well and can contribute to this thatch layer. Rent a dethatching machine once thatch levels reach ½ inch.
While dethatching is specifically designed to reduce thatch, core aeration will remove some thatch as well as it removes plugs from the lawn. In addition, if you’re concerned about heavier-than-ideal soil for this grass, aeration is designed to reduce some of this heaviness and compaction in the soil, allowing more air and water to the roots for a healthier lawn.
Disease, insects, and weeds
Disease: If you’re around centipedegrass for any length of time, you may hear about centipedegrass decline. This disease is caused by one or more of the following: mowing too short, overfertilizing (nitrogen and phosphorus), alkaline soil, or an unhealthy root system.
Iron chlorosis is another issue. This yellowing of the grass may be a deficiency in iron or manganese caused by alkaline soils, too much phosphorus, or soil temps that haven’t warmed up to match air temps yet (common in early spring).
Iron chlorosis can be remedied by a foliar application of iron but usually self-corrects as temps warm into late spring. If the yellow leaves persist, this may be a sign of centipedegrass decline, and you’ll need to correct imbalances to revive the lawn.
Insects: Nematodes (ring nematodes in particular) and ground pearl insects (also called the scale insect) are centipede’s main nemeses. Grubs, mole crickets, sod webworms, lawn caterpillars, and spittlebugs are others that can cause problems.
Weeds: If you’re used to spraying weeds with weed killer, read the label before you spray. Centipedegrass won’t tolerate some post-emergent herbicides, including 2,4-D. Sethoxydim will work to kill existing grassy weeds, and products that contain atrazine are suitable for post-emergent control for small grassy and small broadleaf weeds. Hand-pulling and non-chemical sprays are also an option for chem-free weed control. And remember, the best defense against weeds is a full, healthy lawn.
Some information taken from Fundamentals of Turfgrass Management, 5th ed. by Christians, Patton, and Law
If you think a centipedegrass lawn may be right up your alley, contact one of our local lawn care professionals. They can help you select, install, and care for your grass so you can spend your free time doing what matters most.