Centipede grass ideal for sustainable landscapes

Thomas J. Koske, Young, John, Gill, Daniel J., Owings, Allen D.

Sustainable Landscapes News Release Distributed 03/20/09

By LSU AgCenter Horticulturists Dan Gill, Tom Koske, Allen Owings and John Young

The major grass produced on Louisiana sod farms and most widely planted in residential lawns is centipede grass (Eremochloa ophiuroides). It thrives with less care and usually requires less mowing than many other grasses.

Any low-maintenance grass like this certainly fits into the sustainable landscape formula.

Centipede grass came to the United States from Southeast Asia in the early 20th century. It is adapted to less fertile soils. Ideal centipede soil pH is around 5.8, but it will tolerate soils with a pH in the low-5 to low-6 range quite well. Over-fertilization with nitrogen can lead to excessive growth, thatch and centipede decline syndrome, which causes large patches to die out in late spring following a cold winter.

This grass has a medium height and medium-textured blade with Granny Smith-green foliage. It is not dark green and never should be. High pH and extra phosphorus will promote chlorosis or yellowing of the foliage.

The established sod has fair shade tolerance if tree root competition is not an issue. It has a thin root system that appreciates adequate moisture. As a drought-avoidance feature, it stops growing when soil becomes a little dry and may even go dormant and turn brown in drought periods.

Many turf pests don’t bother centipede, but it is susceptible to sting nematodes, ground pearls and brown patch disease. It is easily damaged by pet urine and will not tolerate much salinity, poor quality irrigation water or traffic wear. When bruised or stressed, centipede leaf blades turn a dark reddish color.

The best way to avoid centipede problems is to avoid over-fertilization by applying between 1 and, at most, 2 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per season. Irrigate at the first sign of drought. Mowing height should be between 1 and 2 inches. Because it does best with a soil pH of 5.5 to a low 6, choose an acid-forming nitrogen, like ammonium sulfate, if your pH is at mid-6 or higher. Some centipede fertilizers are blended with acid-forming nitrogen.

Centipede grass is established by seed, plugs or sod. The expensive seeds are very delicate and require careful planting in a well-developed seed bed and much irrigation. Success with seed is less sure on non-loam soils and where soils crust over. Expect, on the average, one and one-half years from seeding to establishment on an irrigated, sunny lawn site.

In Louisiana, the most common centipede grass variety is “Common.” Tennessee Hardy and Oaklawn are also available. Centennial is a new, slow-growing, vegetative variety with better color, density and cold tolerance. Another new variety, TifBlair, grows faster from seed or plugs. This deeper-rooting grass produces a dense turf that has better color retention in late fall and better sustainability in poorer soils.

Come to LaHouse in Baton Rouge to see sustainable landscape practices in action. The home and landscape resource center is located near the intersection of Burbank Drive and Nicholson Drive (La. Highway 30) in Baton Rouge across the street from the new LSU baseball stadium. Go online to Louisiana Yards and Neighborhoods for additional information.


Editor: Mark Claesgens

3/20/2009 6:32:05 PM
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