Be Careful Not to Over Maintain Your Centipede Grass Lawn

Rafash Brew is Area Horticulture Specialist for North Central Region.

This article originally ran in the Ruston Daily Leader on April 9, 2009

The LSU AgCenter provides farm and home visits to advise homeowners about horticultural issues. During the last few weeks many of the horticultural calls we have received are regarding centipede grass lawns. Most homeowners are assured by the advice of an Extension agent who has made a home visit because they have invested a considerable amount of money in their lawns.

Centipede grass is a warm season perennial type grass grown throughout the south and can be somewhat different from most warm season grasses we grow in the south. Centipede grass is salt sensitive and exhibit fair shade tolerance. This grass has a moderate growth and requires less maintenance except for ample irrigation during dry periods. Centipede grass is sometimes called a low maintenance, business man, or Lazy Man’s grass for good reason.

Common Centipede can be seeded, but it must be done only on a sandy soil that will not crust. Seed is expensive and stands are often slow to start, sparse, and uneven. Centipede is presently very popular with homeowners.

The best approach to turf grass fertilization is to sample your soil and have it tested, another service provided by the LSU AgCenter. This test provides information about soil fertility. Fertilize with phosphorus, potassium, and lime as indicated by the test results. Once these nutrients are brought to their ideal level (preferable at time of establishment), grass growth can be controlled with nitrogen fertilizers. Continual fertilization with a fertilizer such as 8-8-8, 13-13-13 or other complete fertilizer can result in excessive costs, extra labor, and too much phosphorus in the soil. Excessive phosphorus may result in a decline in turf grass quality, especially in centipede grass.

Normally, applying 1-2 pounds of actual nitrogen per 1000 square feet annually is sufficient on centipede grass. You can achieve this with 3 pounds of ammonium nitrate (32-0-0) per 1000 square feet. Higher rates of nitrogen with a fast-release source will result in excessive grass growth, may “burn” the grass, build thatch, and can predispose the grass to pest damage. Slow-release nitrogen may be put on at higher rates because of its time release factor.

Mowing has a measurable effect on the way a grass plant grows. Do not remove more than one-third of the grass top at any one clipping. For example, if the height of cut is 1 inch, mow when growth reaches 1.5 inches in height. If you continually allow your grass to grow too tall between mowing, a thin, weedy turf may develop. The recommended mowing height of centipede grass is 1-2 inches. The higher mower setting should be used when trying to grow centipede grass in a shaded area.

The patches of green you may see within your centipede lawn may be the areas that are getting the greatest amount of water or have a deeper root system. This deeper root system may be the result of more topsoil in this area than others. Be careful during establishment to apply at least 2 inches of top soil for deeper root penetration. Root systems on most grasses struggle on clay soils. The stress in which you see within your lawn in early summer may be water stress and not disease. Remember, you can do more with water on a centipede lawn than you can with fertilizer.

For more information regarding this or any other horticulture topic please contact Rafash Brew.

3/17/2010 12:30:28 AM
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