The pursuit of the perfect lawn is one shared by many homeowners and landscaping enthusiasts. The choice of grass variety plays a pivotal role in achieving this goal. Centipede grass, a warm-season turfgrass, is a popular choice for many, especially in the Southeastern United States. This preference is mostly due to its low maintenance requirements and ability to tolerate moderate shade.

However, to get the most out of this grass type, understanding its nutritional needs, particularly its fertilizer requirements, is crucial. This article provides an in-depth look at what centipede grass is, its fertilizer requirements, the best fertilizer for use, and the role of compost and compost tea in its growth and maintenance.

What Is Centipede Grass?

Centipede grass, also known as Eremochloa ophiuroides, belongs to the grass family, Poaceae. Its origins trace back to Southern China, but it was introduced to the United States in 1916. Since then, it has become a common sight in the Southeastern United States and Hawaii. Characterized by its medium to light green color, centipede grass has a coarse texture, with short upright seed head stems that reach about 3-5 inches.

One of the key features that set centipede grass apart from other turfgrasses is its slow growth rate. Despite this, it’s considered a low-maintenance grass variety. It doesn’t require regular mowing and can tolerate moderate shade. However, to flourish, it needs at least six hours of full sun daily.

Centipede grass is sensitive to most of herbicides. Therefore, extra caution must be taken when using herbicides on this grass type, especially during spring green-up and hot summer temperatures. Despite this sensitivity, its overall hardiness and low maintenance requirements have made centipede grass a go-to choice for homeowners and landscapers in warm, wet climates.

Fertilizer Requirement for Centipede Grass

Understanding the fertilizer needs of centipede grass is key to maintaining its health and lush green appearance. The nitrogen requirement for centipede grass is notably low compared to other turfgrasses. Over-fertilizing with nitrogen can cause more harm than good, as it can potentially damage the grass. Experts recommend feeding centipede grass once in mid-spring and again in mid-summer with a lawn food that slowly releases its nutrients over a 6 to 8 week period.

Centipede grass doesn’t require phosphorus fertilizer unless a soil test indicates otherwise. Potassium should be used only if necessary, as determined by a soil test. When it comes to choosing the best fertilizer type for centipede grass, opt for one with moderate levels of nitrogen and potassium with no phosphorus. A 15-0-15 mix, meaning 15% nitrogen, 0% phosphorus, and 15% potassium, is often recommended.

When it comes to the timing of fertilizer application, centipede grass requires 1-3 applications from the spring green-up through the fall. The ideal time to fertilize centipede grass is a few weeks after green-up but before temperatures start topping 85°F. However, the specific nutrient needs of your lawn can vary. A soil test can provide invaluable insights into what your lawn needs, enabling you to apply the appropriate fertilizer accordingly.

Best Fertilizer for Centipede Grass

While various commercial fertilizers cater to the specific nutrient needs of centipede grass, compost and compost tea are lauded as the best natural fertilizers. They are cherished for their ability to provide organic matter and beneficial microorganisms that enhance soil health and promote the growth of healthy grass.

Compost – When using compost, spread a thin layer of about 1/4 to 1/2 inch over the surface of the centipede grass. This application can be done manually or using a spreader. The best time to apply compost is in the spring or fall, during periods of active growth. Applying compost during drought or extreme heat should be avoided.

Compost serves several important functions. It adds organic matter to the soil, improves soil structure, enhances nutrient availability, and promotes beneficial microbial activity. These improvements contribute significantly to the overall health and appearance of your grass lawn.

Compost tea – Compost tea, prepared by steeping compost in water, provides a liquid source of beneficial microorganisms. These microorganisms contribute to improved soil health, enhanced nutrient uptake, and the growth of healthy grass.

When applying compost tea, use a spray tank and apply approximately five gallons for every 1000 square feet of lawn. Compost tea should be applied every 4-6 weeks during the growing season. This regular application ensures the continual health of your centipede grass.

Specific Types of Compost for Centipede Grass

When making compost tea for centipede grass, use compost that is actively managed and made from a mix of high-nitrogen and green materials. Such a mixture ensures that the compost tea provides a range of nutrients beneficial to the centipede grass. It also minimizes the risk of contamination with pathogens.

Some specific types of compost that work well for centipede grass include compost made with manure, legume family plants (such as clover, alfalfa, and beans), grass clippings, coffee grounds, and kitchen scraps (like vegetable and fruit peels). However, if you choose to use manure, ensure it has been properly aged and composted to reduce the risk of pathogen contamination.

What Are the Signs of Over-Fertilization in Centipede Grass

Over-fertilization can pose serious issues for your centipede grass. It’s essential to understand and identify the telltale signs of over-fertilization, which can include:

Grass blades turning yellow or brown: If you notice the tips of the grass blades changing color from a healthy green to yellow or brown, this could signal that you’ve applied too much fertilizer. In extreme cases, the entire blade might start looking burnt or scorched.

Weak or darkened grass roots: Another symptom of over-fertilization is that the grass roots may appear limp or turn black. This could mean that the grass is having difficulty absorbing the excessive nutrients from the fertilizer.

Hard, crusty layer on the soil surface: You might see a hardened or crusty layer forming on top of the soil. This happens when the grass cannot take in all the nutrients from the fertilizer, leaving a surplus to build up on the soil surface.

Stunted grass growth: If your centipede grass isn’t growing as expected or is growing more slowly than usual after being fertilized, this might indicate over-fertilization. An abundance of nutrients can disrupt the regular growth process of the grass.

If any of these signs become apparent in your centipede grass, it’s crucial to take steps to correct the problem. This could involve watering the lawn more frequently to wash away the excess fertilizer and letting the grass recuperate naturally. In more serious situations, where the grass has died due to over-fertilization, you might need to reseed the barren patches. To maintain a healthy centipede grass lawn, it’s critical to follow appropriate fertilization guidelines and to avoid applying too much fertilizer.