Mulching can be part of any lawn care program. It breaks down into organic matter and provides nutrients to the soil. Some grasses, such as centipede grass, may need special care when it comes to mulching due to their characteristics and growing requirements. It is important to know the lawn care needed for specific grasses.
Can you mulch centipede grass? Centipede grass will benefit from mulching of lawn clippings, often reducing the need for fertilizing while improving soil quality. However, care must be taken to retain the acidic levels in the soil that could be impacted by mulching organic material.
Centipede grass is a favorite for lawn owners in Southern areas of the United States due to being low maintenance and having minimal upkeep. I’ve chosen to grown centipede lawns for my last three homes.
Mulching can be a vital part of lawn care and centipede can definitely benefit from it. I’ve recently added mulching to my 5 step strategy for improving clay soil in my centipede lawn. However, centipede grass does have specific climate and soil conditions required for growing. It is important that lawn owners give it proper care and maintenance to have a healthy and thriving yard.
Characteristics of Centipede Grass
Centipede grass does well in soils that are often too acidic and/or too low in nutrients for other grasses. It is a warm-season heat-tolerant grass. It does not go completely dormant in the winter, so it is not cold hardy. Also, it can tolerate some shade but generally prefers at least six hours of full sun. Centipede grass grows best in zones 9-10.
Because of its slow growth and low nutrient requirement, centipede grass is often considered low maintenance. It does have a very shallow root system that can be damaged by frequent light watering and is sensitive to alkaline soil.
It’s growing characteristics make centipede grass very suitable for lawns in the Southeast United States.
The main cause for maintenance is often that the soil is too alkaline (having a high pH level). Centipede grass will not tolerate this. It needs a soil pH level of 5 to 6 (source). Higher pH levels will cause the grass to be yellow due to iron deficiency, requiring increased maintenance and possible lawn death. It is important to remember that when mulching, dead leaves that are mulched along with the grass could potentially raise the soil’s pH.
I bring this up because it is often pointed out. However, I’ve researched this and based on information that I found from the Oregon State Extension, dead leaves that are mulched when mowing should have very little if any impact on soil pH (source).
Still, it is a concern for a lot of people so we will consider it in determining whether or not to mulch you should your centipede lawn.
Reasons to Mulch
Mulching can be a great way to reduce lawn maintenance, cost, and time. Both leaves and grass clippings can be great soil additions, potentially reducing the need for fertilizer. Mulching can reduce or even eliminate the need for bagging, raking, and hauling away the grass clippings and leaves. It saves time and money while adding nutrients back to the lawn.
Previously, I was gathering my grass clippings and composting them but the switch the mulching has made this part of my Saturday morning yard routine a little less labor-intensive.
Mulching centipede grass can result in a pound of nitrogen being applied back into the lawn through the clippings. Consider this:
- Centipede grass has a low need for nitrogen. Only one to two pounds need to be applied per year, spread out in two feedings.
- By mulching, the need to apply nitrogen can be potentially eliminated. Soil testing will need to be done to verify nitrogen is not needed.
The benefit of fertilizing less, while increasing the amount of organic matter in your soil (more on that below) makes mulching very enticing option for centipede grass owners.
Having 5% organic matter in the soil is a key goal in a natural lawn care program. Most soils have only a 2-3% organic matter. This problem can be addressed in several ways, including topdressing with compost.
It can take years to increase the percent but mulching your grass is a quick, easy, and readily available method of doing this. Best of all, it’s an effortless way to do it!
Mulching Your Centipede Grass
We’ve established the benefits of mulching our lawn. The clippings will provide nutrients and decompose into organic matter which will enrich the soil. Mulching also saves the significant time and expense of bagging and disposing of the grass clippings and will keep clippings out of landfills.
So, how do we begin doing this?
The simplest and easiest way to begin mulching lawn clippings is to buy a mulching mower. However, if you already have a mower as I did, you’ll likely want to purchase a mulching kit. These allow you to convert your current mower to have mulching capability. Almost any mower can become a mulching mower with these modifications.
The Lawnmower Mulching Modification Kit
- The modification includes special “mulching” blades containing a larger cutting surface.
- The output chute is blocked, trapping the clippings under the deck.
- This, along with an added baffling helps move the clippings around under the mower more so they can be cut multiple times.
- The baffling then helps blow the clippings down into the lawn, spreading them out evenly.
Mulching and Thatch Buildup
Thatch is a layer of living and non-living plant material that forms between the grass plant and the soil as the turf grows. The centipede grass may attempt to grow in the thatch since it spreads more across the surface through stolons and then roots down. This can result in a lawn susceptible to drought and other problems since the roots do not make it down to the fertile soil.
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One belief about mulching with grass clippings is they lead to thatch build-up. However, grass clippings are mostly nitrogen and water (source). Any remaining plant material is broken down. Because of this, non-mulched grass clippings will not create thatch, but they can contribute to a thatch problem that already exists. Mowing regularly with a mulching mower will not contribute to thatch buildup.
When yards are wet or overgrown, clumping of grass clippings can occur. Even without rain, high humidity and heavy dews can lead to wet grass if mowing first thing in the morning in some climates. If care is not taken, this clumping can lead to smothering the grass. Mowing over clumps or not mowing during these periods can help prevent this problem.
When to Not Use Grass Clippings
Mulching grass clippings can be invaluable in saving time, money, and resources. However, there are times when clippings should not be mulched back into your yard.
When should you not mulch your lawn?
- When there is an abundance of weeds especially
- When weeds are going to seed
- Bagging can help remove weed seed from the yard and stop them from spreading
- If the yard is overgrown due to mowing late
- Potentially you could mow over clumps to distribute better
- High use of chemical insecticides and fertilizers
- Chemical insecticides can kill most of the microbes in the soil leaving soil barren and unable to break down clippings
- High use of fertilizers can reduce earthworms and microbes, resulting in slower decomposition of the clippings.
Centipede lawns require lower maintenance than many other kinds of grass. With proper care, centipede grass should not need high levels of fertilizer or other chemicals. Fewer chemicals and fertilizers mean less impact on the natural microbes that should be present to help with breaking down the grass clippings.
So What About Mulching Those Leaves?
Fall leaves are free organic material that can be introduced back into lawns and gardens through mulching. Many soils are lacking organic matter, making leaves a potentially good addition. The leaves are broken down by microbes and earthworms and turned into usable matter and nutrients for the lawn.
In addition to being spread on the lawn, fall leaves can be gathered and used as mulch for gardens, flower beds, and around planting beds. They can also be filler in a compost pile. Mulching leaves can not only help your lawn, but also the community as it keeps bags of leaves out of landfills.
One cautionary note: As mentioned at the onset, many people claim that mulched leaves can impact the soil pH negatively. SInce Centipede grass prefers slightly acidic soil, this is worth noting. However, I have read multiple studies from universities and have found very little evidence of a significant impact to soil pH from mulching leaves.
In fact, some studies cited minimal to no impact because the mulched leaves are simply being left on the surface of the soil to decay, not integrated into it. I think it makes sense to be mindful of this and to monitor your soil pH but this is not something that I’m going to lose sleepover. I feel like the benefit of adding more organic material to the soil outweighs any small changes in soil pH.
You can purchase a simple soil test at this link from Amazon.
Below are the common concerns usually related to mulching leaves:
- Nitrogen levels dropping in the soil
- Decomposing leaves changing the pH level in the soil
- Leaves falling too thickly resulting in “choking out” or “smothering” the grass
- This could be corrected by putting some on gardens
- Mats of wet leaves collecting that do not decompose due to soil/climate conditions
- Mowing over the leaves with a mulching mower before they are wet can help break them up, spread them out, and prevent this.
Complete Lawn Care Program
Mulching is only part of caring for a lawn, even with grass as low maintenance as centipede grass. When the lawn shows signs of damage it is easy to blame the mulch without considering the overall health of the grass or the soil beneath. Many of the potential problems with mulching can be prevented with a complete lawn care program.
Soil fertility is important to consider when mulching leaves. Without nitrogen in the soil, a layer of mulched leaves is less likely to break down. This can result in a mat layer of mulch that will prevent nutrients, water, and air from entering the soil. With centipede lawns, care must be taken to have enough nitrogen for break down, but not too much that damages the grass.
Common sense practices can help with making sure mulching is part of an overall lawn care program.
- Do not mulch to the point the leaves smother the grass. The best way to prevent this is to not let the grass get too high in the first place.
- The lawn should still be vertical and visible through the mulched debris.
- Perform soil testing to verify nitrogen levels
Mulching is an excellent way to add nutrients and organic matter back into the soil and a lawn. Mulching with grass is simple with the use of a mulching mower. Grass clippings, as long as they are not allowed to clump, will not damage centipede grass and will actually help put nitrogen back into the soil.
Mulching with leaves can be slightly more complicated. The key with centipede grass is to ensure enough nitrogen in the soil to help with mulch breakdown. Centipede grass only requires 1-2 pounds of nitrogen a year spread out over about two applications. Over application of nitrogen can damage centipede grass but mulching may provide enough nitrogen for the lawn that you don’t even need to use a fertilizer.
It is important to do soil testing to manage the nitrogen level and the acidity of the soil and ensure the mulched leaves are not causing soil deficiencies. Centipede grass is normally an apple green color.
Learn more about growing a thriving Centipede Lawn from these articles: