Written by 12:56 pm Lawn Tips

Diagnosing Common Centipede Grass Problems

Centipede grass is one of the most popular grass types for lawns in the south. It can handle high temperatures and is low maintenance. Centipede grass’ tight growth pattern makes it desirable for lush appearances. Also, people desire it for its ability to fight off weeds.

Yet, with all these benefits, there is always a downside. Knowing what the common centipede grass problems are is the first step in correcting them.

Identifying Centipede Grass Decline

Out of all the problems associated with centipede grass, centipede grass decline is one of the most common. You can identify this problem by looking for spots in the lawn that fail to turn green in the spring. The grass may also turn green, but later turn brown in the late spring. This is another potential sign of centipede grass decline.

What causes centipede grass decline?

The most common are usually nutrition, excessive thatch, and\or soil conditions. Prevention is the key to not letting this problem occur. If it does occurs, recognizing and addressing the issue is the best thing to get your lawn looking healthy again.

Fertilization Problems

Applying too much fertilizer early in the season opens up your lawn to centipede grass decline. We recommend reading our article on centipede grass fertilizer. It provides directions and best products for how to apply fertilizer to centipede.

If you don’t read the article, know this:

  • The best fertilizer for centipede does not contain any phosphorus
  • You should apply in the early summer months.

Centipede grass does not use much phosphorus. When you apply too much, the phosphorus reduces the available amounts of iron in the soil. Iron is what helps turn your lawn green. Without it, the grass begins to yellow. We call this by its technical term: chlorosis.

Nitrogen is a critical nutrient and essential for a beautiful centipede lawn. Yet, too much nitrogen will change the color of your lawn to a dark green and increase the growth rate too much. This will cause excess thatching, which can increase chances for centipede grass decline.

Problems with Centipede and Thatch

Thatch is a buildup of dead grass particles, like blades, stolons and roots. Thatch causes shallow roots to form in centipede. Shallow roots makes your grass more susceptible to temperature extremes and drought.

Thatch does not occur from excess fertilizer. It is a common occurrence in centipede grass, especially after winter dormancy. Regardless of how it got there, remove it to reduce chances of centipede grass decline. Excess thatch impedes water, nutrients and air from getting to the grass roots. It is also a perfect place for and attracts destructive insects, fungus and bacteria.

Over thatchy lawns may look green on the surface, but peel back the upper layer to expose what’s under it. Thatch will be brown and the lawn may feel soft and spongy. Remove thatch from your centipede lawn by raking or aerating.

As we have discussed too much fertilizer makes your lawn susceptible to centipede grass decline. However, it will also burn the grass. Fertilizer burn occurs when you apply too much fertilizer to a lawn. Often this is due as a result of adding too much nitrogen to the soil.

Fertilizer Burn

Fertilizer burn will often cause yellowing and streaking in the lawn. Many times you can see the path you applied the fertilizer by following from the yellowing. If you suspect fertilizer burn, increase the amount of irrigation. This will flush the excess nutrients from the soil. Follow our guide for optimal fertilization rates and times for centipede grass.

Nutrient deficiencies

While too much fertilizer or nutrients can be problematic to centipede grass, too little can also cause problems. The two most common causes of centipede grass turning yellow is due to a lack of iron or nitrogen. These common issues will likely show up in the entire yard or in large sections. This makes nutrient deficiencies identifiable from the smaller spots from insect or disease issues.

Iron is an essential element in chlorophyll production. Not only does chlorophyll help the plant absorb sunlight, but it also causes its green color.

Iron deficiencies occur in the spring. You can identify them by looking for green streaking on a yellow blade. You can correct iron deficiency with an application of Ferti-Lome Chelated Liquid Iron.

If the blades of grass are a solid yellow color, it is likely suffering from a nitrogen deficiency. To correct this problem, apply a fertilizer with higher nitrogen, or first number (N-P-K). In many situations, iron and nitrogen can be applied together.

Drought stress

Although centipede grass thrives in hot weather, it struggles in drought conditions. Centipede grass needs between 1.00” and 1.25” of water each week.

Drought stress in centipede grass lawns will cause the blades to appear dry-crispy. Additionally, the grass will not rebound when walked on. Extended periods of lack of water will cause the grass to turn brown and become crispy and brittle.

Shade

Centipede grass thrives in full sun lawns. In fact, in shaded areas where the grass does not receive at least 6 hours of direct sun, the grass becomes stressed. Thinning will occur in these shady spots with still some grass growing.

Continuous seasons without shade will yield bare spots in your lawn. Bare spots makes your lawn more susceptible for weed invasions.

Weeds

Healthy centipede lawns will have a tight growth pattern that blocks out most weeds. However, weeds may break through or pop up in thin areas.

Homeowners should be on their toes to handle infestations when they strike. If left untreated, weeds will outcompete your grass continue to spread.

When the weeds are finally killed, or die out for the season, your lawn will have bare spots. Not only are these spots eye sores, but also breeding grounds for future infestations. Check out our extensive guides on controlling weeds in your centipede grass lawns.

Insects

Though not as common as other issues, insect damage can occur in centipede grass lawns. The most common pests for centipede lawns are:

  • mole crickets
  • grubs
  • ground pearls
  • spittlebugs
  • nematodes
Common Centipede Lawn Pests
Clockwise from top-left: Mole Cricket, Grubs, Ground Pearls, Nematode, and Spittlebug. Ground Pearls photo courtesy of University of Florida.

Depending on the species, the pest may attack and feed on the blades, roots, rhizomes and stolons. You can recognize this by feeding damage or by direct observation of insects.

Additionally, insects may burrow under the turf. This may be harder to distinguish from other problems.

The best times to apply bug killers is in the fall before the first frost. Mid-July applications are also very effective at killing young insects and larval stages.

It’s important to follow the label when applying pesticides. This the law. Also, too much pesticides could kill beneficial organisms that remove thatch.

Diseases

Warm temperatures and damp conditions are where disease issues can occur. These conditions may be a result of too much irrigation or rain. It can also occur in areas that do not drain well or are shady. Once diseases have established, they will spread throughout your yard. This will happen especially if poor conditions continue.

The best time to treat diseases is at the first sign of trouble. For best results, however, apply preventive treatments like Armada 50 WDG Fungicide. Besides treating your lawn, it is important to remove the conditions that make diseases ideal. Follow proper water guidelines (1” per week) and encourage adequate soil drainage.

By far, the three most common diseases that occur in centipede grass lawns are Large patch, Dollar spot, and Fairy rings.

What does Large patch Look Like?

Large patch is a fungus and is sometimes referred to as brown patch. This disease will cause brown, thinning grass in a circle. As the disease spreads over the season, grass may recover in the middle. This large donut-shaped appearance is an identifiable characteristic of large patch.

What does Dollar spot look like?

Dollar spot is another fungus that causes spots on the leaves. These spots then spread across the entire blade. Blades of grass will have a smoky-brown appearance and appear to look dead.

Dollar spots will be 2-6” in diameter. In infested yards, these small spots may grow together appearing as one. The grass may recover in the middle if the spots get large enough. When this happens, Dollar spots will have a donut-shaped appearance.

What does Fairy rings look like?

Fairy Rings with Mushrooms

Fairy rings will have growth patterns like brown patch and dollar spot. In addition to dark yellow arcs or circles in the yard, tiny mushrooms will grow on the perimeter. Unfortunately, there is no way to remove this disease. All you can do is remove affected areas and reseed or sod.

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