Once upon a time there was a centipede lawn. After a long, cold winter the owner came out of their cottage to look over the lawn. When last they had seen the lawn, it looked like Sleeping Beauty -- peacefully asleep and fair, awaiting spring. Now that the lawn was awaking from its long winters nap, surely the kiss of spring had awakened their Sleeping Beauty to be a radiant princess.
Horrors. Imagine their surprise when they saw that their Snow White lawn has transformed into Homely, the 13th dwarf. The lawn is half greened up, with some patches dark green and others yellow or brown. What happened? Did the wicked Witch of the North curse the lawn with a late cold spell?
Fear not -- this Grimm Fairytale can have a happy ending. In the spring, most centipede lawns begin growth slowly. They often look like ugly ducklings at first but given time and care they can grow into lovely swans by late spring. But, you must understand the enchantment these lawns are under now so that you can work the magic to make these lawns grow.
Jack Frost can slow the green up of lawns -- especially centipede lawns. March 2013 was about four to seven degrees cooler in Georgia than usual. Centipede lawns respond by greening up slowly and unevenly. Centipede lawns are awaiting the warmer soil temperatures we hope to see by May 1 so they can really green up well. Wait until May 1 before deciding your centipede lawn will remain a frog and not a prince all summer.
Centipede lawns often reflect in the spring the growing conditions they received over the last few years. Understand that they are unlike every other type of grass and give them the specific care they need to make them recover quickly now and to look better next spring.
If I could, here are three wishes I would make for every centipede lawn. These can help produce the little lawn that could.
First wish: Mow often and at the correct height. Centipede is more a dwarf than a giant. Mow at 1 to 1.5 inches as needed. Higher mowing heights make the lawn look great temporarily, but can make the lawn susceptible to cold and mold (dry cold winter winds and insect and disease pests).
Second wish: Fertilize sparingly and at the correct time. Centipede is a low growing, light green grass. You can make it into a dark green thick turf with fertilizer and high mowing, but expect problems at some point! Thick centipede lawns are prone to winter kill, insect problems, diseases, drying out, etc.
Begin with a soil test to identify soil problems and the best fertilizer for your soil and lawn type. Fertilize centipede lawns at half the rate other grasses and fertilize no more often than 2 or 3 times a year. Fertilize no earlier than late April and no later than Sept. 15. Do not fertilize lawns that are not receiving plenty of water and do not lime centipede lawns unless recommended by a soil sample.
Centipede lawns lacking iron may be bright yellow or have streaked leaves. Use fertilizers containing iron. Although you should not apply fertilizer yet, an application of liquid or granular iron now should give a temporary boost to your centipede lawn. If iron deficiencies are not corrected with an application of iron, contact the local Extension office to identify the underlying problem at http://extension.uga.edu/about/county/index.cfm.
Third wish: Water properly. Centipede is probably the most drought sensitive grass in central Georgia. Water deeply and infrequently. Apply 1/2 inch of water twice a week or 3/4 to 1 inch of water once a week if it does not rain. Do not water more often than twice a week.
Improper centipede care can eventually create problems that even Cinderella could not clean up. Ugly Duckling centipede lawns can eventually turn into beautiful swans, but you must be patient and not kill the duckling before it can mature. Patiently follow these tips to tame the dragon harassing your centipede lawn.
And so they all lived happily ever after. (At least until next spring.)
Willie Chance works with the University of Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture and helps to train the turf and landscape industry.