What is wrong with my centipedegrass?

Published 1:50 pm Friday, April 26, 2024

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I have received all kinds of calls this week but there was one that really stood out. The caller asked, “What is wrong with my grass?

First, a few words about centipedegrass, known as the lazy man’s grass because it just doesn’t grow that fast. That is good from a maintenance standpoint but it isn’t so good from a recovery standpoint. Because centipede takes so long to grow, it also takes a long time to recover from damage. It likes a lower pH (5.5, no lime), takes less fertilizer, is drought tolerant and you only need to mow it every seven to ten days. It is also very difficult to establish, especially if propagating from seed. Centipedegrass takes a whopping 28 days just to fully germinate. As the moniker goes, “The first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps and the third year is leaps.”

Lately, I have been seeing an uptick in the occurrence of ground pearls. These are small scale insects that attach to the roots of the grass. They intercept water and nutrition that would otherwise go to the plant causing it to look unthrifty. They are difficult to diagnose and even more difficult to treat because it is difficult to get the treatment to move down into the soil profile. Like other scale insects, the insecticide doesn’t penetrate the waxy coating. In centipedegrass, the recommendation is to change the grass over to Bermudagrass, which grows much quicker and can recover from the damage, especially with the addition of fertilizer and irrigation.

The best defense against disease, insect, and weed pests is to give your grass everything it needs to grow well. A dense healthy turfgrass will outcompete most pests. Most important is to cut your grass at the correct height. In most warm-season grasses, the correct height is from one to two inches. Bermudagrass will perform best at one inch. Centipedegrass will perform well between an inch and one and a half inches. These grass are so intolerant of shade that they will become stressed from their own shading if left to grow any higher.

As seen in the picture, ground pearls, along with large patch and nematodes can cause a circular pattern to emerge. It takes further investigation and diagnostic work to figure out exactly what causes the damage. In this case. It was none of the above. This was a case of competition. In a sandy soil, the soil can become droughty very quickly because the sand drains so quickly. Next time you go to one of our amazing North Carolina beaches, watch as the water rolls in and then disappears into the sand. This happens in our lawns when we have sandy soil.

As the tree began to draw water from the soil profile, it was in direct competition for resources with the tree. In this case, the tree won. More often than not, I see where the grass out competes the trees and causes them to suffer.

Will the grass recover? I expect that it will as the season progresses. The addition of irrigation during dry periods would definitely help recovery. The recommendation is to have a mulch ring under the tree to cut back the competition with the turfgrass. It is hard to say if this would have happened if the grass was Bermudagrass.

If you are having trouble with growing in your home landscape, call the Extension office to talk to a Master Gardener Volunteer on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10:00 to 12:00 at (252)946-0111. Check-out the Beaufort County Master Gardener Facebook page to see helpful gardening tips and see the plant of the week. If you are looking for some tomato plants, we have them. Please call the office to schedule a pick-up. We have Cherokee Purple and Cherokee Carbon among others leftover. Cherokee Purple is my absolutely favorite! Until then, Happy Gardening!