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 1916.1 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.
Characteristics to Consider
Centipede grass excels on sandy soils with limited nutrients. It tolerates acidic soil with pH as low as 4.5 to 6.0 —much lower than most grasses prefer.2 At higher pH levels, Centipede is very sensitive to iron deficiencies, which can cause leaf blades to turn light yellow. Keeping Centipede healthy and attractive in high-pH soils may require frequent applications of lawn iron supplements and pH-lowering soil amendments — negating this grass's low-maintenance benefits. A soil test will reveal whether your soil suits Centipede's needs.
Centipede grass does not have a true period of winter dormancy, unlike Zoysia and other warm-season grasses. In very mild climates, it may remain green all winter. However, this lack of dormancy leaves it vulnerable to winter cold. When temperatures drop low, Centipede can sustain damage, but repeated injuries over winter can prove fatal.
Unlike Bermudagrass and other warm-season lawns, Centipede grass should not be overseeded in fall with ryegrasses for winter color. The resulting competition can weaken Centipede's root system and cause the grass to fail.1
Centipede has the slowest growth rate of warm-season grasses.2 It spreads by creeping, above-ground stems called stolons, eventually forming a dense lawn. But it doesn't hold up well to heavy traffic and recovers slowly. It is more shade-tolerant than Bermudagrass, but less tolerant of salt.1
Centipede Lawn Care
Schedule month-by-month tasks for Centipede lawns as you would other warm-season grasses. Seeding new lawns and overseeding thin lawns are best done in spring, as active growth kicks in. Proper preparation and conditions are important. Pennington Centipede Grass Seed & Mulch includes a natural mulch product that improves spreadability and encourages germination by retaining moisture. Pennington TifBlair Centipede & Mulch combines those benefits with TifBlair, a variety with superior cold tolerance.
Mow Centipede lawns as needed to maintain a recommended grass height of 1 1/2 to 2 inches. As with Bahiagrass, Centipede grass is sensitive to some ingredients commonly used in Weed & Feed products.1 Look for products labeled for Southern lawns and grasses, such as Pennington UltragreenSouthern Weed & Feed 34-0-4. Always read labels before applying any products to Centipede lawns.
Once established, Centipede grass requires very little fertilizer. Follow your soil test recommendations, and feed accordingly. A light application in spring and late summer may be all you need. Overfertilization can lead to lawn disease and other problems.2 Water Centipede lawns as needed to keep grass from becoming stressed. Encourage deeper roots by watering deeply and thoroughly. Shallow watering encourages shallow, stress-susceptible roots.
If your lawn grows in the acidic soils of the U.S. Southeast, Centipede grass may be the perfect option for a beautiful, low-maintenance lawn. Pennington is dedicated to producing the finest grass seed and premium lawn care products possible. With the Pennington email newsletter and online resources, you can learn, grow and enjoy an attractive, healthy lawn — wherever you live.
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1. Duble, R.L., “Centipedegrass," Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.
2. Patton, A. and Boyd, J., “Choosing a Grass for Arkansas Lawns," University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension.