Don’t Kill Your Centipede!

by Taylor Williams, Agricultural Extension Agent

Early spring is a dangerous time for owners of centipede lawns.  The urge to “Get out and do something!” about that weedy, brown grass is insistent, especially so following the cold wet March weather this year.  My advice: Do nothing. At least, don’t until you read this article.

Centipede is a peculiar lawn species that blesses the indolent but confounds the diligent.  It thrives on neglect: Homeowners who “do nothing” frequently have fine looking lawns, whereas neighbors who “buy and apply” chemicals regularly end up with a weedy, ugly mess. Commercial ads touting expensive products prey on these insecurities, but for centipede, this is counterproductive.

Centipede lawns are at their homeliest and weakest stage now.  This warm season species has surface runners (“stolons”) but no underground stems (“rhizomes”).  Harsh winter weather punishes these exposed runners, enforcing a dormancy that an erratic, “on again, off again” spring prolongs.  Herbicide and fertilizer applications now are a singularly bad idea: Centipede is sensitive to most herbicides, especially during the green-up phase between late March and early May.

This does not mean there is nothing you can do.  Cool season annual weeds like chickweed, henbit, and vetch are blooming now, and thus are nearing the end of their life cycle.  DON’T SPRAY herbicides (which will hurt your centipede more than the weeds), but do MOW!!! Mowing will reduce weed seed production, and will improve your lawn’s health and appearance.  The proper height is 1” to 1.5”.

The most important thing to do now is test your soil:  The NC Department of Agriculture offers free testing between April 1 and late November each year.  The soil test is an indispensable weapon in the struggle for a healthy, weed free lawn. Centipede grown in sandy soils needs regular additions of potassium and periodic liming.  The only way to determine how much is to test your soil.

Cooperative Extension has maintenance calendars for centipede and other turfgrass species, and all you need to know about lawns, on Turffiles https://www.turffiles.ncsu.edu/ .  The centipede calendar can be found here:  https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/centipedegrass-lawn-maintenance-calendar  . When you get your soil test back, call our Extension Master Gardeners (910-947-3188) or email gardener@moorecountync.gov .

Cool season annual weeds, like henbit (purple flower) and hairy vetch (pea-like vine) thrive in spring. Herbicides applied now will injure centipede and do little to control annual weeds. Instead, mow.

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