Acidic, sandy soils that receive over 40 inches of rainfall annually make good areas for a lush centipede grass lawn. Centipede grass (Eremochloa ophiuroides) is a low-growing, coarse-textured grass from southern China. It truly never goes dormant or thatch-brown in winter, but it survives only in mild winter regions, such as in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 8 and warmer. Hard freezes do cause some browning, but once warm temps return in spring, this grass greens up quickly.
Centipede grass lawns are started from seed, sod plugs or sod rolls. Each has benefits and challenges. Seed is the least expensive, while rolled sod is the most expensive. Sod produces an instant lawn effect. Modern varieties of centipede grass often do not flower and produce seed, so you are forced to establish such lawns with tiny plant sprigs or established sod rolls.
Whether you plan on sowing seed or laying sod, the lawn site mandates significant preparation in both cases. Tilling the soil and grading it with a rake ensures a smooth surface and facilitates removal of weeds, debris, rocks and soil clumps. A soil test is a good idea, as it reveals what nutrients and other qualities exist in the soil. Results show soil particle composition, drainage rate, soil pH and amount of essential plant nutrients. These data can guide your watering and fertilizing regimen after seed or sod is laid and you establish the centipede grass lawn. According to Georgia gardening expert Walter Reeves, centipede grass does better in neutral to alkaline soils, so adding lime may be warranted. Moreover, the soil must be wetted before seed or sod is placed on the site.
Based on comments from Pike Nurseries of Atlanta, establishing a new centipede grass lawn needs to take place during the warmer parts of spring and summer. More time is needed for grass seed to sprout so the season for seeding centipede grass ranges from late spring to midsummer. Do not sow seeds less than 90 days prior to expected fall frost dates, according to Seedland. Centipede grass sod is already growing and often available from mid-spring to early fall. Always establish centipede lawns from seed or sod when temps remain above 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Centipede grass seed is extremely tiny and takes anywhere from 14 to 28 days to germinate based on warmth and soil moisture. Pike Nurseries mentions mixing the seed with sand makes it easier to see, handle and broadcast. Use 1/4 to 1 lb. of seed per 1,000 square feet and rake the seed into the soil so it's covered by no more than 1 inch of soil. Sod must be laid upon moistened topsoil and rolled to ensure excellent root-to-soil contact. Seed must be watered 1/4 to 1/2 inch daily and sod 1 inch daily to help it establish. Don't walk in these newly sown or sodded areas.
No one likes a weed infestation in a newly planted, maintained lawn area. Sowing centipede grass seed potentially creates an environment where other warm-season weeds also germinate and compete with the grass seedlings. Pre-emergent herbicides aren't useful, as they will also retard the germination of the grass seeds as much as the weed seeds. Moreover, Texas A&M University notes that centipede grass is slow-growing and takes two to three years to form a perfectly matted turf when grown from seed. Rolled sod creates an instant lawn, but must be watered to get roots to penetrate into the topsoil below. Pre-emergent herbicides can be applied to it months later to stop cool-season grasses from sprouting during the first winter.