How to Make Centipede Grass Spread For a Better Lawn

Centipede grass is a popular warm-season turf grass known for its drought and heat tolerance, low-maintenance nature, and attractive, light green color. 

It makes any lawn look great when appropriately maintained, but how do you make it spread, so it doesn’t look like a patchy mess?

To promote your centipede grass’ spread, you’ll first need to use high-quality grass seed and apply a 15-0-15 fertilizer twice a year. Additionally, keep it mowed to around 1.5″ inches, dethatch often, keep foot traffic to a minimum, and maintain a soil pH of approximately 5.0 to 6.0 for best results.

Keep reading to learn all the secrets to making your centipede grass lawn spread and look lush, thick, and green no matter where you’ve planted it in your yard. 

Fortunately, this particular type of grass is one of the easier varieties to care for, so let’s get into its various maintenance requirements! 

how to make centipede grass spread
Help centipede grass spread and flourish on your lawn.

Can You Make Centipede Grass Spread Faster?

It’s possible to make any grass spread faster, and centipede grass is one of the easier varieties. 

It requires pretty minimal upkeep if you know how to care for it properly. 

Above all, regardless of the type of grass you have, the correct kind of maintenance is key to keeping it looking great. 

There are various types of maintenance to keep in mind here, from the proper mowing schedule to the correct soil quality, improving sunlight conditions, and using the best fertilizers and herbicides for the job. 

Every type of grass has its ideal growing conditions, and getting your centipede grass to spread throughout your yard and thrive is directly tied to how well you provide and keep up those conditions.

An important thing to note is centipede grass is one of the slower-spreading varieties of warm-season grasses. 

It spreads via stolons, or “runners,” which are horizontally-running stems that, in ideal conditions, will “creep” throughout your yard over time.

With a bit of patience and careful research, centipede grass will spread well all across your lawn.

It’ll take a bit longer than most other warm-season grasses, even with optimal mowing, dethatching, fertilizing, watering, and other forms of maintenance.

Tips For Making Centipede Grass Seed Spread Better

Always Use High-Quality Grass Seed

One of the essential factors in your lawn’s overall appearance and health is the quality of the seeds you use, even just for overseeding bare spots. 

Although higher-quality grass seed is often more costly, the increased price is worth it for a better-looking, healthier lawn.

If possible, use coated grass seeds rather than uncoated seeds. 

As the name suggests, coated grass seeds are coated in a protective layer to keep the seeds moist and fed and help speed up the germination process. 

You’re more likely to have thicker grass due to coated seeds than uncoated, so it’s worth the time and money.

It’s also essential to use fresh grass seeds whenever possible. 

Most grass seeds will have a sell-by or use-by date, so pay attention to this before planting. 

If you’re thinking of planting grass seeds you’ve been storing away in your shed for a few years, keep in mind they probably will still grow, but you’ll have better results with fresh centipede grass seeds. 

Over time, as grass seed ages, less and less of the total seeds are likely to germinate properly. 

If you want your centipede grass to spread and look great, this presents a problem. 

If stored properly and securely in a cool, dark place, grass seed can stay “good” for a few years, but again, with each passing year, even in the best possible conditions, you’re going to lose some of this germination rate.

Check out our tips for how to help grass seeds when they don’t grow.

Maintaining the Right Mowing Height

Every variety of turfgrass has an ideal mowing height at which it thrives best, and this ranges anywhere from as low as 1″ inch to around 3″ inches. 

For mowing centipede grass specifically, you’ll want to keep it at the height of around 1.5 to 2″ inches at most. 

Letting it grow too tall will make it look more thin and patchy, while keeping it too short or “scalping” will damage it and cause it to turn brown very quickly. 

Another great thing about centipede grass’s slow growth compared to other grasses is that it requires a fairly infrequent mowing schedule.

Be sure to always use sharp blades when mowing to avoid tearing or damaging the grass blades, as this damage will leave your lawn vulnerable to various diseases and harmful fungi.

If you’re waiting to mow your centipede grass lawn for the first time, wait for it to grow to almost 3″ inches before mowing. 

This will allow the grass roots to dig into the soil and, well, root themselves properly, so they can obtain nutrients efficiently. 

Additionally, letting it grow a little taller before mowing for the first time will let the individual grass blades thicken more than they would if you’d mowed it at, perhaps, 2″ inches.

Since centipede grass tends to go dormant and turn brown-ish in the fall and winter months, you won’t need to mow as often. 

When spring rolls around in March or April, you’ll be able to mow off those brown tips and resume a more regular mowing schedule. 

As a general rule of thumb, don’t let your centipede grass grow taller than 2.5″ inches (unless you’re mowing it for the very first time, as detailed above). 

Similarly, avoid “scalping” it, i.e., mowing it too far below 1.5″ inches. 

Always Dethatch Annually

Most lawns benefit from proper and regular dethatching to stay healthy and green. 

To encourage your centipede grass to spread faster, dethatching regularly is essential to ensure those stolons we talked about earlier can creep throughout your yard.

To be clear, “thatch” is essentially a layer of dead and living organic debris which gradually accumulates on top of your lawn. 

This layer is made up of organic matter like: 

  • Grass clippings
  • Roots
  • Stolons
  • Rhizomes
  • Leaf and other plant litter
  • Soil

If you don’t dethatch or clear out this layer from time to time, you’ll end up with an ugly, messy layer of this thatch atop your lawn. 

Excessive thatch prevents your centipede grass from taking in the nutrients, water, and sunlight it needs to spread and look thick and green. 

There are a few different ways to dethatch your lawn, from rakes to machines and liquid/chemical products, and even tow-behind dethatchers designed for mowers. 

They’re all quite effective for different types of grasses, but be careful not to damage the centipede grass’ stolons! 

Liquid methods tend to work best for this type of grass, as rakes and manual dethatching often tear up those stolons.

For centipede grass, in particular, you’ll want to be sure to dethatch whenever the thatch layer grows beyond a quarter of an inch or so. 

If you’re able to see the layer atop your lawn from a distance, it’s probably time to check on the thickness of the thatch to determine if it’s time to get rid of it. 

As a general rule of thumb, most people with centipede grass lawns dethatch annually or biannually, but this varies depending on the growing conditions, soil quality, weather patterns, etc. 

Stick to dethatching whenever the layer is thicker than 1/4″ inches for best results.

Maintaining the Ideal Soil Quality

test the soil to help centipede grass grow
Checking the soil is critical in helping centipede grass grow.

Another critical factor in encouraging centipede grass to spread faster and look thicker is maintaining the ideal soil conditions for it to grow. 

This type of grass fares best in fairly acidic soil or at a pH level somewhere between 5.0 to 6.0. 

You will be able to test the quality with a soil sample and one of various soil testing kits on the market commonly available from home and garden shops and online retailers. 

Depending on whether your soil is too acidic or too basic, you’ll need to raise or lower the pH with certain products. 

To lower your soil pH level, products like elemental sulfur, aluminum sulfate, or even sulfuric acid will do the trick. 

To increase the pH, agricultural lime is best in a pinch. 

Keep in mind you’ll likely need to re-test the soil pH after these treatments to ensure it’s within the appropriate level for centipede grass.

Use the Right Fertilizer

Using the right kind of fertilizer with the right ratio of nutrients is essential to getting any grass to spread more quickly and effectively, especially centipede grass. 

Most grasses’ “big three” nutrient requirements are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. 

Different grasses require different ratios of these three nutrients and different amounts and frequencies of fertilizer applications.

In particular, centipede grass does best with fertilizers with a 15-0-15 NPK ratio. 

It is a more sensitive variety of grass, so be careful not to overapply or overwhelm your lawn with any fertilizer you choose. 

Most fertilizers denote their NPK ratio clearly on their packaging, making it easy to select the proper ratio for your lawn. 

We recommend using something like this fertilizer from Ferti-Lome

Around 2 to 3 pounds of fertilizer per 1,000 square feet is ideal for most centipede grass lawns. 

When it comes to your fertilizing schedule, you’ll want to apply fertilizer to your lawn around twice per year: 

  1. Once in early-to-mid-spring before temperatures hit 85° degrees Fahrenheit (29° C), usually sometime between April and May 
  2. Again in the middle of summer, around July or August 

For more info on timing, check out our deep dive into the best time to fertilize grass seeds.

Use the Right Herbicide

Controlling weed growth is essential to keep your centipede grass growing and spreading properly. 

It’s a good idea to use a pre-emergent herbicide specifically designed for centipede grass once in early spring (around March or so) to keep weeds in check. 

Something like Scotts WeedEx works well for centipede grass in particular.

After your initial application of the herbicide, apply a follow-up treatment within 10 weeks. 

This will fall sometime in the mid-summer. 

Use a selective, post-emergent herbicide if needed in the meantime to control any additional weed growth. 

Make sure the herbicide is designed specifically for centipede grass, as this type of grass is very sensitive to some post-emergents

Minimize Foot Traffic When Possible

As we touched on earlier, centipede grass is hardy to the elements like heat and humidity, but it does not tolerate physical wear and tear particularly well. 

This is also why certain dethatching methods are too harsh, as the grass stolons are easily damaged. 

As we touched on earlier, this damage leaves your lawn vulnerable to fungal infections and diseases. 

Whenever possible, keep excessive foot traffic, whether it be from you, your pets, or your kids, to a minimum, mainly when you’re focusing on getting your centipede grass to spread more quickly and thoroughly. 

This will help keep your lawn looking lush, green, and healthy all year long. 

Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t ever be able to walk on your lawn at all–it’s just centipede grass is a lot more vulnerable to physical damage from foot traffic.

Is Centipede Grass Right For Your Lawn? 

For starters, as a warm-season variety, centipede grass thrives incredibly well in mild climates in, for example, the southeastern US, especially the hotter and drier areas with warm winters. 

Cool-season grass is probably a better choice if you live somewhere in New England or the northwestern coast. 

While centipede grass can tolerate temperature fluctuations reasonably well, it doesn’t hold up well to low temperatures in colder climates and freezing.

Another thing to keep in mind is while centipede grass is hardy enough to the elements, it doesn’t tolerate heavy foot traffic or physical wear and tear in general very well. 

If you know you need your lawn to tolerate many people or pets walking on it, perhaps consider another, more foot-traffic resistant grass like zoysia.

Finally, centipede grass requires at least 6 hours of sunlight per day to thrive. 

If your lawn doesn’t get enough sunlight, you’re going to struggle with getting this type of grass to grow and spread very well.

Aside from this, though, centipede grass is a great choice and a favorite of lawn owners in warm, dry areas. 

It also tolerates humidity reasonably well, so even areas like southern Florida are well-suited for this attractive turfgrass.

If you’ve assessed centipede grass is the right choice for you, there are a few ways to plant it depending on your situation, preferences, and budget: 

  • Seed 
  • Sod
  • Grass plugs

Seeds and grass plugs are less expensive, but they require a bit more labor on your end to get planted and thrive. 

Sod, on the other hand, is more costly, but it’s the fastest way to have a lush lawn as quickly as possible with as little effort as possible. 

You’ll be able to achieve an awesome-looking lawn with any of these options, so choose whatever works best for you.