By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia
If your home lawn is planted in centipede turfgrass, you may have noticed it changing colors lately. University of Georgia experts say this is a natural occurrence that has resulted from Georgia's unusual springtime weather.
"I've received numerous calls and e-mails lately on centipede grass green-up problems," said Clint Waltz, a turfgrass specialist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "It's common for centipede grass to change color during the spring transition from dormancy to active growth."
Soil, air temps change color
As the root system develops, the color of the grass will fluctuate with soil and air temperatures, he said. Georgia's recent cooler temperatures are another reason for the color change.
Waltz says the best plan of action is to take no action at all.
"Neither nitrogen fertilization nor iron applications will encourage green-up or growth," he said. "Waiting on conducive environmental conditions is the best practice. In most cases, this problem will solve itself by the end of May."
If you've neglected or mismanaged your lawn, you may have more problems.
"Lawns that have been mismanaged for several years may experience turfgrass loss," Waltz said. "This is typically evident by gray stolons with no green buds."
If this is the case, you may have to re-establish your lawn either by sodding large areas or seeding smaller areas. Waltz says this is best done when the soil temperatures 4 inches deep are consistently 65 degrees Fahrenheit. This commonly happens after mid-May.
What to do in the future
So how do you properly care for a centipede lawn?
Waltz recommends applying 1 to 2 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per year.
"One nitrogen application per growing season typically doesn't satisfy the growth requirements of centipede grass," he said. "Several reduced-rate applications are needed."
Apply fertilizer two to four times at a rate of 0.5 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet.
Mowing and watering properly are essential, too.
The recommended mowing height for centipede is 1.5 inches in full sun and 2 inches in shaded areas. "If you're mowing the lawn higher, you should gradually lower the mowing height," Waltz said.
Do this in steps, he said, by dropping the mower one notch and mowing at that height for several weeks. Then drop the height again.
"Continue this stairstep process until the proper height is reached," he said. "You may have some scalping and unattractive areas. It may look bad, but it will look better in the long run."
Centipede grass will decline if watered too much. Waltz suggests applying 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week during the growing season.
"This can vary depending on your soil type," he said. "Sandy soils may need to be irrigated toward the upper end of the range."
(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)