What Is Wrong With My Centipedegrass?

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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. This grass is 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 then intercept water and nutrition that would otherwise go to the plant causing the plant to look unthrifty. They are difficult to diagnose and even more difficult to treat. The reason they are difficult to treat is because it is so difficult to get the treatment to move down into the soil profile. Like other scale insects, the insecticide doesn’t penetrate the waxy coating around the insect. In centipedegrass, the recommendation is to change the grass over to Bermudagrass. This grass 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. The number one cultural practice is to cut your grass at the correct height. In the case of most warm-season grasses, the correct height is from 1 to 2 inches. Bermudagrass will perform best at one inch in height. 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.

Take notice that the grass was greening near the tree but then there was a ring of grass, in a circular pattern, that is not. This is from direct competition for resources between the tree and the centipedegrass. Photo By: Stephanie Williams

Take notice that the grass was greening near the tree but then there was a ring of grass, in a circular pattern, that is not. This is from direct competition for resources between the tree and the centipedegrass. Photo By: Stephanie Williams

As can be seen in the picture, ground pearls, along with large patch and nematodes can cause a circular pattern to emerge in many cases. It takes further investigation and diagnostic work to figure out exactly what is the cause of 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 make out 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 as well when we have a 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! This is often not the case, 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 recover as the season progresses. The addition of irrigation during dry periods would definitely help the grass to recover in the area. 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 of some tomatoes. We have Cherokee Purple and Cherokee Carbon among others leftover! Cherokee Purple is my absolutely favorite! Until then, Happy Gardening!