Centipedegrass

Prepared by Bob Polomski, Extension Consumer Horticulturist, and Debbie Shaughnessy, HGIC Information Specialist, Clemson University. Revised by Trent C. Hale, Extension Turfgrass Specialist, Clemson University. (New 01/99). Revised 08/03.)

HGIC 1209

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Centipedegrass (Eremochloa ophiuroides) was introduced into the United States from seed found in the baggage of Frank Meyer, a USDA plant explorer who disappeared on his fourth trip to China in 1916. It was initially used for low-maintenance cemeteries and eventually for lawns during and after the Depression and is sometimes referred to as "lazy man's grass" or "poor man's grass". It is well adapted to the climate and soils of the coastal plains and lower Piedmont areas of the southern United States.

Centipedegrass is a low-growing and medium-textured naturally yellow-green colored perennial turf. Its low fertility requirements result in slow growth and reduced maintenance. Centipedegrass' natural color is Granny Smith crab apple green. Overfertilizing to obtain an unnatural dark green color reduces its cold tolerance and usually increases long-term maintenance problems. Centipedegrass is currently the most common home lawn turfgrass in the South.

Centipedegrass is adapted to infertile soils. It spreads by stolons, producing a medium-textured turf. Maintenance requirements are low when compared to other turfgrasses. It has fair to good shade tolerance, good drought tolerance, and can be established from seed or sod. Since it only produces surface runners (stolons), centipedegrass is easily controlled around borders of flowerbeds and walks.

Centipedegrass is highly susceptible to damage from nematodes (especially ring nematodes) and ground pearl insects. Nematode damage limits centipedegrass' use in deep sandy soils. It exhibits iron chlorosis (yellowing) and produces a heavy thatch if overfertilized. It has poor salt tolerance and forms a loose turf that is not very wear-resistant, so it will not withstand heavy foot traffic.

Stolons from centipedegrass have high lignin content and do not decompose readily, thus developing a thatch layer. The rate of thatch accumulation is a direct result of management practices, which provide excessive vegetative growth. When overfertilized, the subsequent growth means new runners are soon several inches above the soil surface and exposed to the wide fluctuations of temperatures normally experienced in late fall and winter. Within several years, large brown dead patches form in early spring. This dieback is collectively referred to as "centipedegrass decline." Following proper management techniques can prevent this problem:

  • Avoid overfertilizing (e.g., 0 to 2 lbs N per 1000 sq.ft. yearly)
  • Prevent thatch accumulation or remove thatch when it exceeds ½-inch in thickness
  • Irrigate during drought stress, especially in the fall and early spring
  • Maintain a mowing height of 1½ to 2 inches.

Varieties

Improved varieties of centipedegrass are available, including Centennial, Oaklawn, TennTurf (formerly, Tennessee Hardy), TopQuality and TifBlair. The improved cultivars have better cold tolerance than common. However, these must be vegetatively propagated and are selected specifically for their improved cold tolerance. Centennial will perform a little better on alkaline soil than common centipedegrass. The centipedegrass seed and sod produced in most Southern areas are a mixture of red- and yellow-stemmed grasses.

Excerpted from Southern Lawns: Best Management Practices for the Selection, Establishment and Maintenance of Southern Lawngrasses, EC 707, 2003.

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