Centipede and Bermuda grass are two popular perennial lawn grass types for warm climates, but they have some key differences. These two types of grass aren’t suitable for every location or care routine, so you’ll have to choose the best one for your lawn.
Centipede grass is a slow-growing grass best suited for sandy soil with shallow roots and high requirements for water. Bermuda grass is incredibly resilient under traffic, and it grows in almost any type of dirt. Neither of these grasses is suited for cold temperatures or shade.
So, let’s discuss the pros and cons of centipede and Bermuda grass and talk about where each type grows best. I’ll also tell you how to care for and plant these grasses so you can get an idea of what each one will require from you.
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What’s the Difference Between Centipede and Bermuda Grass?
Although both centipede and Bermuda grass have many things in common, they have some essential differences that may make one a better choice for your lawn than the other.
Centipede and Bermuda grass are both warm-season grasses, but they have different tolerances for heat, drought, traffic, cold, and shade. Centipede grass requires less maintenance and grows in sandy soil, while Bermuda grass grows quickly, which may mean more mowing for you.
So, let’s weigh out the pros and cons:
Centipede Grass Pros
- Tolerates hot climates
- Grows well in sandy soils
- Doesn’t go dormant in the winter
- Moderately shade tolerant
- Grows slowly, requiring less mowing
- Easy to grow from seed
- Has a stunning bright apple-green color
Centipede Grass Cons
- Has a low drought tolerance, so you may have to water it often
- Not very tolerant of traffic
- Has shallow roots that don’t fight erosion well
- Does not grow well in cold climates
Bermuda Grass Pros
- Tolerates traffic and withstands walking very well
- Tolerates high heat very well
- Tolerates drought very well and seldom requires watering
- Hard to kill
- Grows well from seed
- Spreads with deep roots and stolons, fighting erosion
Bermuda Grass Cons
- Grows quickly and requires a lot of maintenance
- Doesn’t grow in shady areas
- Doesn’t tolerate cold temperatures
Where Does Centipede Grass Grow Best?
Centipede grass grows best in sandy soils with a pH level between 4.5 and 6.0 (source). Additionally, it isn’t very tolerant of cold weather, so it’s best grown in a warmer climate. That said, centipede grass will likely stay green all winter in warmer climates because it doesn’t have a winter dormancy.
Centipede grass grows best in southeastern coastal areas in America, where the soil has a sandy texture and acidic pH. It flourishes in places where the winters don’t get colder than 5º F (-15º C) and in areas that get at least 40 inches (101.6 cm) of rainfall annually.
So, centipede grass flourishes in humid coastal states like South Carolina, Florida, Texas, Alabama, Louisiana, and other areas near the coast (source).
Centipede grass is also significantly less drought tolerant than most other grasses, so you may have to pay extra attention to it in dry weather.
That’s because centipede grass grows on a stolon. Stolons are like shoots or ground-covering vines that branch out, sending short roots down along the way – which is why it’s called centipede grass. These shallow, climbing roots rarely grow deep enough to get water from the lower layers of soil on your lawn. So, keeping the topsoil moist is critical for growing centipede grass.
These short, stubby roots are also not ideal for hilly lawns since they won’t fight soil erosion.
Since centipede grass stolons sit above the ground, it’s not as cold tolerant as most grasses. It can tolerate freezing temperatures, but it’ll slow down its growth in temps around 50º F (10º C). If the stolons stay frozen for a prolonged period, your grass will die. So, if you regularly get snow and frost in your area, centipede grass is probably not the best option for you.
In addition, centipedegrass can handle partial shade but still needs plenty of sun exposure daily to flourish. For the best growth, it needs at least 6 hours of full, direct sunlight every day, so make sure to consider how much sunlight your area gets.
Where Does Bermuda Grass Grow Best?
Bermuda grass is a perennial warm-season grass that grows well in soils with a pH of between 5.8 to 7.0, and it isn’t too picky about the makeup of the dirt.
This resilient, tough grass is the fastest-growing of all the warm-season grasses, making it perfect for lawn-care beginners or people who don’t enjoy maintaining their lawns.
Bermuda grass grows best in the warm southern United States that don’t get colder than 10º F (-12.2º C) in the winter from the Atlantic coast in North Carolina to the Pacific Coast in southern California. This drought-tolerant grass can grow in dry or humid states, making it very versatile.
Like centipede grass, Bermuda grass spreads via stolons or shoots. However, it also has long rooting rhizomes that help the grass tolerate drought better than centipede grass. These rhizomes can reach astounding heights of 6 ft (1.8 m) long, helping fight soil erosion and keeping the grass strong and spreading (source).
Keep in mind that Bermuda grass doesn’t tolerate shade. This means that if your lawn has plenty of trees and shady spots, your Bermuda grass will likely develop dead patches and bare spots.
Bermuda grass is tolerant of drought, and it only needs around one inch of water every week. This means that if you hate watering your lawn or live somewhere where the humidity is low, Bermuda grass is an ideal choice for your yard.
It is also a popular grass for turf on sports fields, golf courses, and public spaces like parks, cemeteries, and roadsides since it can withstand wear from traffic very well. With its solid rhizomes and stolons, this tough grass spreads and endures very well, which is why it is one of the most resilient grasses out there.
However, its resilience can make it hard to maintain. There’s a good chance you may have to mow more often and work harder to keep the grass from spreading beyond the boundaries of your lawn.
How To Grow and Care for Centipede Grass
Centipede grass is easy to grow and care for, and the most challenging part of the process is usually ensuring it has enough water.
To grow and care for centipede grass, you’ll need to plant it from seed, sod, or plugs, water it at least 1 inch (2.58 cm) per week, fertilize it once a year and adjust the pH as needed, and keep it short.
Let’s discuss how to plant and maintain a lawn planted with centipede grass.
Centipede grass is easy to plant from either seeds, sod, or plugs. That said, if you’re using it to replace your current lawn grass, you may need to take some extra steps to prepare the soil.
If you’re replacing another type of grass with centipede grass, be sure to kill all of the existing grass with weed killer or cover it with tarps for two to four weeks. Once all the grass is gone, it’s time to add your new plants.
When planting centipede grass, the soil should be light and well-aerated. So, you should till and rake your lawn before placing your seeds, sod, or plugs. Add actual nitrogen fertilizer to your soil during tilling for the best results. Doing so will help your centipedegrass sprout faster.
Then, you can start your centipede grass.
When using seeds, spread 1 lb (0.45 kg) of seeds over 3,000 square feet (915 square meters) of lawn.
When using sod, cover your lawn with it, ensuring that the strips’ sides meet and that the ends of the material are staggered. Then staple it down.
To plant plugs, place them in the ground 1 foot (0.3 m) apart, then water them.
Keep the soil moist as your centipede grass sprouts to ensure that your lawn grows evenly and beautifully.
Centipede grass needs plenty of water to thrive.
Usually, your centipede grass needs 1 inch (2.58 cm) of water every week once it’s healthy and green. If you’re unsure of how to determine when your grass needs water, there are several methods you can use.
A simple method for testing the rainfall levels is to use these Disunie Rain Guages (link to Amazon). These gauges are a real game-changer when it comes to monitoring the health of any outdoor plant, and they make measuring rainfall simple.
All you have to do is stake them in the ground and allow them to measure the rain. If they’re not full by watering day, I usually turn on the sprinklers until they fill up, then I dump them for the next week.
However, f you don’t want to use the gauges, you can always do a simple walk or sight test to determine if your grass is wilting. Centipede grass turns bluish when it’s dry, so keep an eye out for discoloration.
Additionally, centipede grass retains footprints when it needs more water. So, to test it, you can walk across the grass. If the blades perk back up after you walk on it, it isn’t dehydrated. However, if you can see your footprints, you need to water your lawn (source).
Centipede grass doesn’t thrive in well-fertilized soil, and it needs acidic soil to thrive. So, you should only apply nitrogen fertilizers once yearly, and you should be careful not to over-fertilize your grass.
When it comes to nitrogen fertilizers, you should only apply a yearly treatment of 0.5 to 1 lb (226.8 to 454 g) of actual nitrogen in the early summer once your lawn turns green. Err towards the higher measurement if your soil is mainly sandy and loose.
For the best results, monitor the pH of your lawn and adjust it as necessary. You can purchase an inexpensive soil test kit (link to Amazon) to ensure the pH levels are appropriate. If the pH is too high, as is usually the case in the areas where this grass grows best, you can apply 5 lbs (2.27 kg) of pelletized sulfur per 1,000 square feet (92 square meters) to lower it.
If your grass turns yellow at any time, this is a sign of an iron deficiency in your soil. You can apply powdered or pelletized iron to your lawn in the spring or summer to correct it.
Don’t fertilize your centipede grass in winter unless a soil test indicates that you should do so. Even then, it’s crucial not to add actual nitrogen to your grass in the winter since it could kill your grass completely (source).
To keep your centipede grass from getting patchy or leggy, you should keep it short. Generally, to keep things growing nicely, you should mow your grass to 1.5 to 2 inches (3.81 to 5.08 cm) tall in the warm spring, summer, and early fall months. If your lawn is partially shaded, try to cut your grass closer to 2 inches (5.08 cm) tall.
In the winter, you can cut your grass a bit shorter, especially if your grass is turning brown. From January to April, mowing your centipede grass to about 1 inch (2.58 cm) tall will help new growth push up from the ground in springtime.
How To Grow and Care for Bermuda Grass
Bermuda grass is resilient, which means that it doesn’t have too many pressing needs other than mowing and keeping it trimmed back.
When planting Bermuda grass, tilling your lawn is usually considered the best practice. This will ensure that the roots can easily creep down into your soil.
Sod is simple to plant, and all you have to do is place your strips over tilled, fertilized soil.
If you use seeds, make sure to cover them with about ¼ inch (0.64 cm) of soil. It can take one to two weeks for Bermuda grass seeds to germinate, so you will have to be patient. However, once the grass grows, it takes over your lawn quite quickly.
Bermuda grass is drought resistant, but it grows best when you water it twice a week, aiming for 1 inch (2.54 cm) of water a week (source). However, if you live in an area with high humidity and plenty of rainfall, you can water slightly less. Either way, you’ll have to ensure that the grass gets at least 1 inch (2.54 cm) of moisture every week.
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It’s best to fertilize your Bermuda grass with actual nitrogen twice a year in the growing season during spring and late summer. For this type of grass, apply 0.5 to 1 lb (226.8 to 454 g) of actual nitrogen per 1,00 square feet (92 square meters) of lawn once in May and once in August.
If a soil test indicates that the pH is beyond the limits for Bermuda grass (5.8 to 7.0), you can use phosphorus to raise the pH or sulfur to lower it.
The best length for Bermuda grass is 1 to 2 inches (2.54 to 5.08 cm). If your grass gets full sun evenly across your lawn, you can aim for the shorter side of the spectrum, but grass that grows in the shade should be closer to 2 inches (5.08 cm) tall.
In the winter, keep your grass at only 1 inch (2.54 cm) tall to help encourage new growth and keep the grass from getting too dense.
For a helpful care calendar to help you keep track of your Bermuda grass’s needs, check out this fantastic Youtube tutorial from The Lawn Tools:
Centipede grass is best for people who live in warm, humid, rainy areas with sandy soil in the Southeastern United States. Bermuda grass, known for its resistance to traffic, grows well in many soil types and drier locations across the southern USA. Neither of these grasses is suitable for cold climates, but centipede grass is more tolerant of the cold. In addition, these grasses do best in sunny spots with little shade.