How to make your centipede lawn look great

Published 4:24 pm Saturday, February 1, 2014

First, a little information about centipede grass. Centipede tolerates infrequent mowing, little fertilizer, acidic soils, and partial shade. These characteristics are why centipede is so commonly used as a utility grass in the coastal plains.

Centipede does not tolerate much foot traffic, compacted soils, high soil pH, high phosphorus, excessive thatching, drought, flooding, and heavy shade. Each of these problems will have to be corrected before the centipede can improve. Chronic problems may mean replanting with a better-adapted grass species; Bermuda for disease and wear issues and St. Augustine for shade issues. (Never mix warm-season grass species.)

The first step to renovating a centipede lawn is to take a North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services soil sample. A soil test will reveal the soil’s pH levels, phosphorus index and potassium index. Centipede does not like pH levels above 6.0. If the pH is high, sulfur will have to be applied to drop the pH level.

Stepping stones or walkways should be installed in high-traffic areas to prevent damage to the centipede. Compacted areas will have to be core aerated and top-dressed in the summer to improve root growth and soil drainage. Some areas night need drain tile installed to further improve drainage.

Centipede can develop thatch if it has been over fertilized and not mowed correctly. If thatch is a problem, lawn should be carefully dethatched every three years. Dethatching rakes come in all sizes. One can purchase a small, inexpensive hand rake or a bigger model that is pulled behind a lawn mower.

Centipede should be mowed to a height of 1 inch and should not be allowed to grow more than 1½ inch tall. Fertilize centipede in June with ½ lb. of nitrogen per 1,000 sq/ft (ex: three pounds of 15-0-14 per M). A high potassium fertilizer can be applied in August.

Trees and grass don’t mix. Trees out-compete grass for water, nutrients and sunlight. Heavy shaded areas that never grow grass should be turned into flowerbeds.

Large patch is a common disease in centipede. The large-patch pathogen begins killing the centipede in the fall and is not noticed. By spring, it’s already too late to spray fungicides; however, the centipede will regrow during the summer. If large patch is seen, map out affected areas so they can be spray in the fall when soil temperatures dip below 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

The information for this article is given courtesy of the Beaufort County Extension Master Gardener program. If you have a gardening question, please contact the Beaufort Extension Master Gardener hotline at 946-0111 or email your question to:

For local horticulture updates, follow me on twitter: Jacob Searcy@BeaufortCo_Hort




February gardening calendar


Lawn care

Spot spray wild onions with the recommended herbicide.

Spray for spurweed and other winter annual broadleaf weeds at the end of this month, especially if it’s warm.  Read the label before using.


Spread ashes from the fireplace around gardens and bulb beds where soil pH is below 6.0.  Avoid acid-loving plants. (three pounts of ash equals one pound of limestone)

Shade trees can be fertilized.

Emerging spring flowering bulbs can be fertilized.



Asparagus crowns can be planted at this time.

Early February, sow beets, carrots, peas, lettuce, mustard, radish, spinach, Irish potatoes, and turnips.

Consider planting pansies in your salad garden for added color.

New grape vines and fruit trees can be planted in the landscape at this time.


Hardwood cuttings of many landscape plants; forsythia (yellow bells), flowering quince, weigela, crape myrtle, juniper, spirea and hydrangea can be taken this month.

Perennials like daylily and shasta daisy can be divided at this time if the ground is dry enough.


Prune grape vines.

Ornamental grasses like liriope and pampas grass should be trimmed.

Weeds or unnecessary trees should be removed from the landscape.


Peach and nectarine trees need to be sprayed with a fungicide to prevent leaf curl.

Spray all fruit trees with dormant oil to eliminate some insects. This is especially important if the tree has just been pruned.

Other activities

Now is a good time to fix or clean old birdhouses and put up new ones.

Develop a gardening plan for your landscape so you can start preparing for the spring.

Consider ordering new varieties along with tried-and-true varieties to see how they compare.  Experimenting with varieties is fun and has virtually no ill effects.

Don’t forget to order flowers for your sweetheart or else your garden will be the least of your worries. Happy Valentine’s Day!