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Centipede Grass can be a very easy grass to care for, due to its slow growth and minimal requirements, it makes an excellent grass for the southern states in the US. What I’ve learned from growing centipede is that understanding the appropriate treatments and care by season is the key.
Centipede grass care by season. Caring for centipede grass is a bit different depending on the time of year:
Treat with herbicides if necessary
Mow to encourage new growth
Begin regular watering
|Maintain the grass through the heat
Fertilize as indicated
Use insecticides if needed
|Mow and water when needed
Enhance the soil
|Occasional watering or mowing, if necessary depending on your area.
Due to the low maintenance requirements of Centipede Grass, caring for it year-round is not really all that hard. While there are some things that are season-specific, which I will get into, just establishing an annual routine will make a huge difference. From spring through winter, just knowing when to do what can keep your grass healthy and thriving.
Caring for your Centipede Grass in the Spring
You’ll find that Centipede grass requires the most care in the spring, but this care is not all that intensive.
During the spring season, you will need to remove the thatch if it is getting too thick. The thatch is the layer of dead plant material that can create a barrier between the grass blades and the roots. If the thatch is getting to ½ an inch or more in thickness, you may need to remove it or break it up.
Removing the thatch is always the better option, but for thinner thatches, breaking it up would be sufficient. You can do this with a power rake or a verticle mower. I have a riding mower so I am a big fan of pull-behind accessories. Brinly makes a tow-behind dethatcher with rake prongs that can pull up the thatch without having to use a stand-alone dethatcher.
Dethatching can be done in combination with aeration to ensure that the needed water and nutrients can get down to the root layer as needed.
Weed Killers and Herbicides
If you plan to apply a pre-emergent weed killer or insecticide, make sure to do any thatch removal or aeration before the pre-emergent is applied. Otherwise, it will not be as effective as it should be. You would basically be laying down a barrier, then breaking the barrier. Always check the thickness of the thatch layer before you begin planning any pre-emergent treatments.
If you plan to lay down post-emergent herbicides to deal with things like crabgrass, then doing so after aeration and dethatching is also recommended although you can still dethatch or aerate your lawn after post-emergent treatments because you are not trying to create a barrier. Post-emergent is there to kill anything that survives pre-emergent treatments.
Note: If you have heavy clay soil under your lawn, be sure to read my 5 step approach to improving clay soil without digging. This is the same approach that I use in my yard every year and core aeration is a key component of that strategy.
Mowing in the Spring
In the spring, you may also want to mow your Centipede Grass down to about 1.5-2 inches in length to make room for new growth. Make sure you wait until the risk of frost is greatly diminished and make sure to use a sharp blade in your mower. Use a brand new blade or one that has been freshly sharpened. A dull blade could damage the grass and potentially lead to the risk of diseases as well.
I find that starting the season with a fresh mow is one of the best ways to wake up the grass and kickoff the growing activity.
Once the risk of frost has passed in the spring, you will want to begin more regular watering your Centipede Grass to encourage new growth. Try to plan to water around your local weather as well. If you’re expecting rain, you won’t need to water of course and don’t water unless it looks like your lawn is starting to dry out.
This is really dependant on your soil. Since I have clay soil, I have to really be careful to prevent it from drying out. At the same time, clay holds water so I’m careful not to overwater either. It’s a bit of a balancing act. Remember that your soil determines the amount and frequency of watering just as much as the type of grass you have.
Caring for your Centipede Grass in the Summer
In the summer your centipede grass may need more frequent mowing and watering depending on your climate, but this routine care is fairly easy for most of us to manage.
In both the early and late summer is when you will want to look at fertilizing your lawn. Be sure to have a soil test done before applying any fertilizer to be sure you know exactly what is needed for your lawn. You can have this done by a local company or do it yourself using a DIY soil test kit like this one on Amazon. These allow you to collect a soil sample and send in using a postage-paid envelope for professional testing.
Note: In the summer is when you would want to consider things like nitrogen fertilizer for your centipede grass as it will absorb it better and have less risk of nitrogen burn. You can reduce the amount of nitrogen fertilizer required by mulching your grass (source).
Mowing in the Summer
Regular mowing will be done throughout the summer at a height of around 1.5-2.5 inches. Longer is better for areas that get less than six hours of direct sunlight a day while areas that get more can be cut a bit shorter. Be sure when cutting your grass that you do not cut into the ground as centipede grass will damage quickly if its roots get damaged and the damage will spread before it heals.
For my yard, I find that cutting at 2.5 inches helps to reduce damage from drought and overall looks healthier. However, you need to take a season and test different cut heights with your mower to really determine what works best with your soil and climate.
Watering in the Summer
Your lawn will probably need to be watered about once a week, depending on your local weather patterns. Before watering, check to see if your lawn even needs to be watered. Centipede grass generally requires infrequent watering to ensure rich root growth. Since this type of grass has a large number of shallow roots it usually the moisture level of the top few inches of soil that are most important.
When your lawn is beginning to take on a yellowish tint, that is when it is best to water it. Watch for a grayish tone because that will mean it’s likely really starving for water (source).
In areas that get a decent amount of rainfall throughout the summer, you may not need to water it at all. It depends on if you have gone more than a week with high temperatures with little to no rain. Always check to see if your lawn needs to be watered beforehand. The blades will change in color, and if you step on it, the grass will not rebound as quickly.
If you have had issues with insects like mole crickets and grubs in previous years, you will want to apply an insecticide around mid-summer to ensure you do not have a recurrence. You want to try to lay the insecticide down when the eggs would be hatching, not before. Otherwise, the insecticide will lay on the outside of the egg and get washed away with the next rain.
You will find that you need to do very little in the fall with your Centipede Grass. You will still likely need to mow and water your lawn on occasion, but the frequency of this will depend largely on the area that you live and your weather.
You will want to make sure all areas of your lawn are now being mowed at two inches, regardless of sun exposure. Don’t cut the lawn short any more this season.
The main job in the fall is to enhance the soil.
In preparing your lawn for winter, you will want to take into account previous soil tests to see if you need to add additional nutrients at this time. While nitrogen should not be applied during the fall as it could damage the grass, potassium is often great to add.
You can use potash to add potassium to the soil and help make your grass more prepared and the blades more hardy for the coming winter. If your soil tests deemed necessary, you could also add things like lime or sulfur to help balance out the pH level of the soil as well.
I also make it point to infuse organic matter into my soil during the fall using an approach that I call Deep Soil Integration. Click here to read all about this approach. I started it because of the heavy red clay soil in my yard but it would be beneficial for virtually any soil type if you are fanatic like me.
I’ve also found that fall is an excellent time for additional aeration. The red clay soil that I have has benefited from having this done twice a year but you can judge whether or not it’s needed that often in your soil.
Mowing is probably not going to be much of an issue during winter unless you get a random heatwave for more than a week or you live in an area that your centipede grass will not stay dormant all winter. If the grass does manage to grow to more than four inches, mowing once or twice through the winter may be necessary.
You may want to apply herbicide pre-emergents to help prevent issues with different types of weeds that could start to spring up before your grass wakes in the spring. During the dormant phase of the grass growth, all of the nutrients in the soil could be going to feed some weeds rather than waiting for your grass in the spring.
In Texas, we’ve seen snow and we’ve been wearing shorts at Christmas. Every year is different but overall we tend to have milder winters so weed growth can be an issue. Depending on your climate, this may not be a concern at all.
Caring for centipede grass throughout the seasons isn’t difficult. I’ve had St. Augustine and Bermuda lawns and by comparison, this grass requires much less maintenance. In fact, I have seeded and sodded the yards for the last three homes that I’ve lived in with centipede grass. The next time I build a house, I’ll use it again. Seriously, I’m that sold on it.
The red clay soil in my current yard has posed quite a few challenges but I have found that centipede will grow and thrive even in a clay soil yard if the proper care and maintenance is taken. We have a ton of articles on improving soil on this website if you are needing guidance with this.
Depending on the season you are in when reading this, take the time to do the steps outlined. It’s pretty intuitive and common sense but the fact is, growing centipede grass isn’t that difficult. What is hard is not following these basic principles and then having to revive a grass that has not been cared for.