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Is Fall A Good Time to Plant Centipede Grass?

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If you live in the South, you may have noticed centipede grass in your landscape. Chances are it’s in your yard too even if you didn’t plant it. Centipede is stoloniferous, or a creeping grass that is often seen in southern and coastal areas of the southeastern United States. The grass gets its name from its long, narrow leaves that resemble those of a centipede.

There will always be people who argue that centipede grass is the best option. But is this really the optimal time to plant it? Let’s examine the advantages and possible disadvantages of planting centipede grass in the fall

Centipede grass can be planted in fall but whether you should will depend largely on climate and timing. This is because the young stolons of centipede grass are particularly vulnerable to colder weather. In order for the grass to survive and thrive it needs to have properly established itself before temperatures drop too low.

What is Centipede Grass?

What is Centipede Grass?

Centipede grass (Eremochloa ophiuroides) is a popular, low-maintenance, slow-growing lawn grass generally found in the southern United States. It is a warm-season grass that flourishes in hot, humid regions and is comparatively drought- and salt-tolerant. However, centipede grass does not tolerate shade well, so it is typically only used in areas that receive full sun.

In appearance, it tends to have a light green hue and, in structure, centipede grass makes a thick, mat-like lawn. It is often used on golf course fairways and residential lawns.

Why Plant Centipede Grass in the Fall?

Centipede grass is usually best planted in the late spring or early summer. There are though, some areas of the country, where it is possible to plant centipede grass in the fall.

Advantages to Planting in Fall.

Fall planting has several advantages, including cooler weather and less competition from weeds and there are typically fewer pests active at this time.

Planting in the fall also provides an extended maturation period. Generally, freshly planted centipede grass requires one whole growing season to become thick and fully developed.

Planting in fall gives the grass the opportunity to be well-established enough to sustain heavy lawn usage. It also helps that the roots will be significantly stronger when the heat of the summer hits

Things to Keep in Mind Before Planting in The Fall

Being one of the warm-season grasses, it grows best in areas with hot summers and mild winters. It is not tolerant of cold weather and can be damaged by frost. This is important as centipede grass is a slow-growing grass, so it may take several months for it to become fully established.

Another consideration when planting in the fall is the water requirements. During germination, it has an insatiable demand for water and continues to need to be well-watered during its establishment period.

Depending on your location, the timing of planting can vary because of climate. Having a reliable source of water is clearly important but rainfall patterns can vary considerably. For example, rainfall tends to drop off after October in Florida[1] but increases in Texas over the fall period.[2]

How does Centipede Grass Grow?

In deciding whether planting centipede grass in fall is right for your lawn it is important to understand how it grows and establishes itself.

Centipede grass is stoloniferous, which is commonly referred to as creeping grass. As a type of grass, it varies from other varieties in that the blades are shorter and they grow by creeping, which can lead the stolons to appear to look like a centipede, hence the name. They move across the lawn and root down in places along the way.

As a warm-season turfgrass, its main growing season is when soil temperatures range between 60°- 90°F, although unusually for grass varieties, centipede grass doesn’t go completely dormant.[3] Below this temperature range, it will stop growing, whilst if temperatures become too elevated, its growth will slow down. This is why temperatures in late spring or fall are optimum for grass growth and the thus best times to seed.

Centipede as a grass type also seeds easily. This means that it is easier than with some types of grasses to fill in bare patches. If you collect up stolons from around the edge of the lawn you can place these on any bare areas. Cover lightly with compost and they will root down and fill in the patches.

When to Plant Centipede Grass

When determining the best time to plant much will depend on your climate. As we have discussed, centipede grass will continue to grow if soil temperatures are above 60°F. However, in practical terms, you should be looking to plant where temperatures are likely to remain above 70°F for the next eight to twelve weeks, to allow initial growth to establish itself.

Depending on where you are situated, your fall planting opportunity is likely to be a window between the end of August and October. If you leave it any later then the grass may fail to properly establish itself. If temperatures drop without the grass being properly established, the young grass stolons could be destroyed if temperatures drop below freezing.

In general, the best time to plant centipede grass is likely to be in the late spring, when the weather is warm and the main growing season begins. However, as we have seen, centipede grass can also be planted in the fall, as long as the soil temperature is likely to stay above 60°F for long enough for the stolons to be established.

How to Plant Centipede Grass in Fall

If you are determined to plant in the fall, bear in mind that depending on the weather, it may take longer for the grass to establish itself than if you were planting it in late spring. However, as, well as the time of year, there are several other considerations that need to be taken into account when planting.

Centipede grass needs full sun to partial shade to grow well, so choose an area of your yard that gets at around six hours of sun per day. It is though, not particularly shade tolerant. If you have areas of your lawn that are likely to be constantly in shade then these should be seeded with a shade-tolerant warm-season grass variety, such as St. Augustinegrass or zoysiagrass.

Preparing the Soil

When growing any lawn from seed you need to start by preparing the soil. The first thing to do is to conduct a soil test to check on the nutrient, moisture, and pH levels of the soil. You can do this by sending a soil sample away or using a soil testing kit.

Centipede grass does best in acidic soils with a pH of 5.0 to 6.5. If your soil is too alkaline then the seed will struggle to germinate. To lower the soil’s pH level you should add a sulfur amendment to your soil, calcium sulfate and elemental sulfur are two of the best options.

The next step is to prepare the ground properly. You should till the soil to a depth of four inches, fully breaking up any compacted soil and remove any weeds or debris. Rake and grade the soil until it is smooth and level.

You should also consider post seeding watering. You shouldn’t walk on freshly seeded areas so you need to plan your watering in advance. If you have a large area then a sprinkler system or setup should be used.

Once tilled, the application of any sulfur requirements should be done before you plant the grass seed. In addition, at this point, you should apply a fertilizer to ensure the necessary nutrient requirements are present to kick start germination.

Planting the Seed

Planting centipede grass seed

Before being planted you should check the centipede grass seed’s viability, especially if it is more than a year old. If the viability is low it will obviously adversely affect the result. When happy, it is then time to plant the seed.

It is crucial that you spread it evenly over the prepared soil ensuring the seed has good soil contact. A rotary spreader or drop-type spreader are the best ways to broadcast. A distribution rate of around eight ounces per 1,000 square feet is normally adequate, but seed viability may affect this.

Once the seeds have been broadcast, you can cover the seed with a straw mulch or a light layer of compost. This will help the soil retain moisture.

Watering After Planting

Watering After Planting

Getting the watering regime right after is important. Too little water and the seed wont grow properly and too much water and you can drown your seed.

The germination stage is the most important as it is at this point there is the greatest demand for water. You may need to water several times a day. Be careful not to step onto the seeded area, and use a sprinkler so that you do not wash away the seed. Monitor the soil’s moist watering to keep it between 21-40%. In practice this could be between half and inch and an inch of water each day, depending on climate and soil.

After the grass seed has germinated and first grass shoots are visible throughout the majority of the seeded area, you should typically begin to reduce the frequency of watering. You should water just once each day, but you must take care not to saturate the ground.

Typically, approximately two weeks after sowing the seed, you may decrease the frequency of watering to every other or third day during this third week. Again, a great deal will rely on the prevailing climatic conditions at the time.

Summary: Is Fall A Good Time to Plant Centipede Grass?

In general, the best time to plant centipede grass is in the spring, when the weather is warm and the main growing season begins. However, as we have seen, centipede grass can also be planted in the fall, as long as the soil temperature is likely to stay above 60°F for long enough for the stolons to be established.

If you do decide to plant it in the fall, it is important to do so early enough in the season that the grass will have a chance to establish before cold weather sets in. In general, September or early October is the best time to plant centipede grass in most warm-season areas of the country.

Commonly Asked Questions

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about centipede grass, including whether or not it can be planted in the fall.

Can you plant centipede grass in the fall?

Yes, if you live in a warm-season zone it is possible to plant centipede grass in the fall. When will depend on your exact climate but as a rule of thumb, the most conducive time to plant is in September or October. Later than this and you run the risk of temperature drops in winter damaging the stolons.

When should you fertilize centipede grass?

Generally, the best times of year to fertilize centipede grass are in early spring, summer, and late fall. You should conduct soil tests to make sure that you do not over-fertilize and with mature grass it is best to use a slow-release fertilizer.

How often should I water my centipede grass?

When mature, you should water your centipede grass about once or twice a week, or as needed to keep the soil moisture above 21%. It is often best to water deeply rather than more frequently.

Notes:

  1. Florida State University, Florida Climate Center,: Precipitation in Florida
  2. Texas A&M University, Weather
  3. Texas A&M University, Richard L. Duble: Centipedegrass