Taking care of your centipede grass during the warm months

Published 4:54 pm Friday, June 17, 2016

By Ty Torrance

I have received multiple calls lately regarding centipede grass die back. Centipede is a warm season turfgrass that is very popular in the southern half of Georgia. The popularity of centipede is related to its tolerance of low soil fertility, which results in slower growth and less frequent mowing than other lawn grasses.

Centipede is a creeping grass (above ground runners or stolons) that has leaves wider than most bermuda grasses and zoysia grasses, but narrower than St. Augustine grass. It grows well in full sun and is more shade tolerant than bermuda but generally less shade tolerant than zoysia and St. Augustine. It normally needs more frequent irrigation than bermuda but less than zoysiagrass, particularly when grown on hard, compact soils.

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Centipede has a natural light green color and is more suited to acid soils (pH 5.0 to 6.0) than most turf grasses. However, recent research suggests that centipede grass actually grows better when the soil pH is 6.0 to 6.5. High rates of fertilizer (especially nitrogen) produce an unnatural dark green color and often result in iron chlorosis, reduced cold and drought tolerance, thatch accumulation and turf loss.

Problems with centipede lawns often develop three to five years after establishment. These problems can generally be related to mowing heights more than 2 inches high, annual nitrogen applications of more than 2 pounds per 1,000 square feet, or irrigation over 1 inch/week.

Centipede grass will become as dark green as most turf grasses with high nitrogen rates. However, these nitrogen rates and high mowing heights encourage thatch development. This generally results in stolons (above ground runners) growing over the thatch instead of on the soil surface. The plant then becomes more susceptible to low temperature and moisture stress. The results all too often are areas that green up and die back or don’t green up at all in the spring.

The moral of this story is centipede is a low maintenance grass, so don’t overdo it. It is only when we overdo it that we run into problems. Cut back on fertilizing, keep the mowing height between 1-2” and give good deep irrigation when we get dry, and you will save yourself many headaches down the road.

If you would like more information on centipede or any other of our turf grass species, please feel free to call or stop by The Extension Office and we will get it for you. (229-248-3033).