How to Grow and Care for Centipede Grass

Centipede grass is a popular turfgrass in the Southeast United States due to its low maintenance requirements and tolerance of heat and humidity. This perennial warm season grass spreads by stolons and forms a dense, weed-resistant turf. With proper care and maintenance, centipede grass can provide an attractive lawn covering for home lawns, parks, and roadsides. This guide will provide tips and best practices for successfully growing and caring for centipede grass.

Choosing the Right Centipede Grass Variety

There are several varieties of centipede grass to choose from when establishing a new lawn or overseeding an existing one:

Common Centipede Grass

This variety of centipede grass has a medium green color and a medium blade width. It has good overall disease resistance and cold tolerance. Common centipede grows well in full sun to partial shade and in acidic, infertile soils. It has a moderate growth rate and tolerates mowing heights from 1-2 inches. Common centipede grass is available as sod or seed.

Oklawn Centipede

Oklawn centipede was developed by Oklahoma State University as an improved cold-hardy variety. It has a wider leaf blade and darker green color than common centipede. Oklawn has better drought tolerance and faster growth rate but is susceptible to centipede decline disease. It does best when mowed between 1.5-2.5 inches in height. Oklawn is available as certified sod and seed.

TifBlair Centipede

TifBlair is a cold-hardy centipede variety developed by the University of Georgia. It has a fine leaf texture and tolerates mowing as short as 0.5 inches, making it suitable for golf course fairways. TifBlair has high shoot density and recovers quickly from damage. It is resistant to common centipede diseases but has only moderate drought tolerance. Certified TifBlair sod is available.

Preparing the Soil for Planting

Centipede grass grows best in soils with a pH between 5.0-6.0. Test the soil a few months before planting centipede grass and add amendments as needed to adjust the pH. Centipede prefers poor, acidic soils and does not do well in rich soils or soils with abundant organic matter.

Improve drainage before planting by adding organic matter like compost or tilling to break up compacted soils. Eliminate any low or wet spots where water puddles.

Till calcium and magnesium supplements into the top 2-3 inches of soil if soil tests indicate deficiencies. Also apply any needed phosphorus, potassium, and micronutrients based on soil test results.

When to Plant Centipede Grass

Centipede grass should be planted during the warm season when daytime temperatures are consistently above 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Seeding or laying sod can be done from late spring through early summer. In warmer southern zones, planting can extend into early fall.

Avoid planting centipede grass in the cooler months, as germination and establishment will be poor. Dormant sodding is possible with centipede grass, but the success rate is lower than with warm season planting.

Planting Centipede Grass from Seed

Centipede grass is slow growing from seed, taking 14-21 days to germinate and up to 2-3 months to establish a full stand. Follow these tips for planting centipede grass seed:

  • Till the soil to a depth of 4-6 inches. Break up clumps and remove any debris. Rake smooth.
  • Apply starter fertilizer or phosphorus-containing balanced fertilizer at the recommended rate to promote seedling growth.
  • Sow centipede seed at a rate of 0.5-1 lb per 1000 square feet. Seed heavily in bare spots.
  • Rake lightly to incorporate the seed into the top 1/4 inch of soil. Roll lightly.
  • Keep the seeded area constantly moist for 2-3 weeks until germination. Mist or irrigate gently 2-3 times per day to prevent drying out.
  • Reduce watering frequency gradually once the grass reaches 1 inch tall. Allow the top inch of soil to dry between watering.
  • Mow once the grass is 3 inches tall, cutting no more than 1/3 of the blade height. Set at 1.5-2 inches high.

Laying Centipede Grass Sod

Centipede grass establishes quickly when planted as sod. Prepare the area thoroughly before laying the sod:

  • Till soil 4-6 inches deep and rake smooth. Grade and slope for proper drainage.
  • Water the soil 2-3 days before laying the sod so it is moist but firm.
  • Lay the sod as soon as possible after delivery. Keep it shaded and moistened.
  • Stagger sod strips tightly together without gaps. Butt seams without overlapping.
  • Roll sod with a water-filled lawn roller to adhere it to the soil.
  • Water sod thoroughly until the top 2 inches of soil are wet.
  • Water daily for 2 weeks, keeping soil moist but not saturated.
  • Mow 2 weeks after laying or once sod is rooted, cutting no more than 1/3 of blade height.

Overseeding Centipede Grass Turf

An existing centipede lawn can be thickened up by overseeding in late spring or summer. This is done by scattering new seed over the lawn. Follow the same seeding rates and practices as establishing new seed. Time overseeding just before peak growing season.

Before overseeding, mow the lawn short and remove any dead material by dethatching. Mow frequently after seeding to prevent excessive growth from shading new seedlings. Irrigate lightly 2-3 times daily until seedlings are 1 inch tall.

Watering Requirements

Centipede grass has good drought tolerance once established. Here are its water requirements:

  • Water newly planted sod or seed at least 1 inch per week by rainfall or irrigation. This encourages deeper root growth.
  • Established centipede grass needs 1/2 to 3/4 inch of water weekly as rain or irrigation during the growing season.
  • Increase watering to 1 inch per week during hot, dry periods or drought stress.
  • Sandy soils require more frequent watering than clay soils. Prioritize watering if restrictions are in place.
  • Water early in the day to allow grass blades to dry before nightfall. This prevents fungal disease.
  • Avoid frequent shallow watering, which encourages thatch buildup and shallow rooting.
  • Do not overwater centipede grass. Saturated soil is detrimental and can cause disease.

Fertilizing Centipede Grass

Centipede grass requires less fertilization than other warm season turfgrasses. Excess nitrogen encourages thatch buildup and disease problems. Follow these guidelines:

  • Test soil yearly and apply lime if needed to maintain proper pH for centipede grass.
  • Apply 1 lb of nitrogen per 1000 sq ft each year when grass is greening up and actively growing. Divide into 2-3 applications from spring to mid-summer.
  • Use a complete fertilizer with potassium and slow-release forms of nitrogen to minimize foliar burn.
  • Increase nitrogen rate to max of 2 lbs per year if grass becomes thin or chlorotic.
  • Micronutrient deficiencies are rare but can be corrected by foliar sprays or soil application based on test results.
  • Moderate amounts of iron sulfate help green up centipede grass in spring and early summer if needed.
  • Do not fertilize after early fall to discourage disease and winter injury.

Mowing, Thatch Management, and Aeration

Follow proper mowing, thatch control, and aeration practices to keep centipede grass healthy:

  • Mow frequently, cutting no more than 1/3 of blade height. Optimal mowing height is 1-2 inches.
  • Sharpen mower blades regularly for clean cuts rather than frayed blades.
  • Leave grass clippings to decompose and return nutrients unless they cover more than 1/3 of lawn.
  • Prevent thatch buildup by mowing high, watering deeply, and avoiding excess nitrogen.
  • Use a dethatching rake in early summer if thatch exceeds 0.5 inches thick. Do not dethatch in fall.
  • Core aerate compacted areas in early summer using a machine that removes plugs 2-3 inches deep.

Common Diseases and Insect Problems

Some preventative practices will help avoid issues with diseases and lawn pests:

  • Improve airflow and dry conditions by not over-watering or over-fertilizing.
  • Pick up fallen leaves and debris to remove habitat for insects and disease organisms.
  • Use fans or netting for frost protection if cold injury is a problem.
  • Divide large plantings into smaller sections with turf barriers to limit spread of disease.
  • Spot-treat insect infestations rather than area-wide applications.
  • Consult local Cooperative Extension for fungicide or insecticide recommendations. Always follow product labels.

Here are some specific problems that affect centipede grass:

Centipede Decline – Causes thinning turf. Control by improving drainage and pH. Avoid heavy nitrogen in summer.

Dollar Spot– Treat promptly with fungicides containing maneb, thiophanate methyl, or propiconazole. Improve airflow.

Brown Patch – Promoted by excess nitrogen and thatch. Use fungicides with azoxystrobin, chlorothalonil, or propiconazole.

Ground Pearls/Billbugs – Spot treat larvae in soil with insecticides containing imidacloprid or carbaryl.

Mole Crickets – Apply insecticide baits or use beneficial steinernematid nematodes.

Armyworms – Control young larvae with Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) products. Older larvae require chemical insecticides.

Winterizing Centipede Grass

Centipede grass goes dormant and loses color after first fall frost. To prepare for winter:

  • Continue mowing until growth stops in late fall. Cut grass slightly lower (1-1.5 inches) for winter.
  • Make last fertilizer application no later than 6 weeks before first expected frost.
  • Reduce irrigation but water if drought conditions persist going into winter.
  • Treat any disease or insect issues prior to dormancy.
  • Remove fallen leaves and other debris.
  • Dormant sod or plugs can be planted during winter months if weather allows.

Spring Transition for Centipede Grass

Follow proper spring practices to green up dormant centipede grass:

  • Lightly rake or vertical mow to remove dead material and debris.
  • Core aerate compacted areas. Overseed bare spots.
  • Apply pre-emergent crabgrass preventer once soil temperature reaches 55°F.
  • Gradually increase irrigation as weather warms.
  • Begin fertilizing after green-up when grass resumes growth.
  • Make first mowing at 1 inch height when turf reaches 2 inches tall. Raise height back up for summer.
  • Control any emerging broadleaf or grassy weeds when plants are small.

Maintaining Optimal Growing Conditions

Centipede grass thrives when provided its favored growing conditions:

  • Sunlight – Full sun to partial shade. At least 5-6 hours of direct sun daily. Avoid dense shade.
  • Soil – Moist, acidic, low fertility. Loams to sandy soils. pH between 5.0-6.0.
  • Temperature – Prefers highs of 80-95°F. Goes dormant after frost. Slow growth below 65°F.
  • Water – Moderate usage. 1/2-1 inch per week. Avoid over-watering.
  • Mowing Height – 1-2 inches optimal range. Mow often at same height.

How to Grow and Care for Centipede Grass: FAQs

Growing a healthy centipede grass lawn involves following proper practices. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

Does centipede grass spread quickly?

Yes, centipede grass spreads laterally by aboveground stolons. It slowly forms a dense cover. Growth from seed is slower but will fill in over one to two growing seasons.

How do you get rid of weeds in centipede grass?

Hand remove any occasional weeds. Use pre-emergent herbicides like prodiamine to prevent most grassy weeds. Control broadleaf weeds with selective post-emergent herbicides containing 2,4-D, mecoprop, or dicamba. Always follow product instructions carefully.

When should you fertilize centipede grass?

Apply fertilizer to actively growing centipede in the spring, early summer, and possibly mid-summer. Avoid late summer applications that stimulate growth going into winter. Use a complete fertilizer with controlled-release nitrogen to prevent surge growth.

Does centipede grass go dormant in winter?

Yes. Centipede grass will turn brown and go dormant after the first fall frost. It may stay partially green in very mild winter areas. The grass will green back up in spring as temperatures rise.

Should centipede grass be cut low or high?

Maintain centipede grass mowing height between 1-2 inches for optimal health and appearance. Cutting too short increases water needs and stress. Mowing too high allows the turf to become stemmy and thinner.

Is centipede grass hard to grow?

Centipede grass is easier to grow than many other turfgrasses. It has low fertility requirements and good heat/drought tolerance once established. Consistently following proper care practices for planting, watering, mowing, and fertilization is key to success.


Centipede grass provides a low-maintenance turf option for lawns and utility areas in warm southern climates. By choosing an appropriate variety, planting properly, and providing adequate ongoing care, centipede grass will establish a dense, weed-resistant lawn cover. Pay close attention to irrigation, fertilization, and cultivation practices that favor centipede’s growth needs for the best results. Address any issues with insects or disease promptly as they occur. Renew centipede grass stands every 3-5 years if they become thin or damaged. Following the recommendations in this guide will lead to successfully growing and maintaining a healthy centipede grass lawn that stays attractive through the warm season year after year.