Low-Maintenance Lawns: Choosing Between Centipede and Zoysia Grasses

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Homeowners in the South looking for a low-maintenance lawn are often deciding between Centipede and Zoysia —two warm season grasses native to Southeast Asia that take kindly to heat and humidity and need very little mowing because they grow very slowly or grow horizontally instead of vertically.

They have a lot in common, and are both grasses that create lawns that are easy to take care of, but there are also important differences.

Appearance

Zoysia gives you a green lawn in the spring. It has a look that is probably familiar if you’ve ever been golfing. Golf courses across the South like Zoysia for fairways and putting areas because the grass keeps its manicure, is attractive and, thanks to its heavy sod and deep roots, holds up nicely to traffic.

Growing Emerald Zoysia Grass – Warm Season Turf Tips

Centipede’s blades, meanwhile, are more yellowish green, and nice and short. Centipede has a wider blade that gives the lawn a more course texture than Zoysia. Centipede, despite its roots being relatively shallow, provides a nice, thick lawn turf that’s popular for park use. Centipede is also known as the “poor man’s grass,” because it usually only grows to five inches in height, and slowly at that.

Growing Centipede Grass – Warm Season Turf Tips

Watering

Both grasses are “drought resistant,” but Zoysia requires more water, even though its deeper roots make it a better grass for surviving extended dry conditions. When not watered well during drought conditions, Zoysia will survive but discolor and stop growing. Most homeowners only water their Centipede lawn on an as needed basis, when the grass starts turning brown. Once you water it, Centipede returns quickly, like magic, back to its normal vibrant color. (Centipede grass prefers deeper, less-frequent watering.)

Diseases, Weeds and Pests

Zoysia’s thicker sod helps it repel weeds year-round and also makes it less susceptible to disease and insect strain. All this reduces the need for herbicides, fungicides and insecticides to be applied in your yard, which is nice if you live near a water source or have young children at home.

Fertilizer, Erosion and Runoff

Depending on your local conditions, Zoysia requires light-to-moderate fertilization in the spring and summer. Centipede on the other hand, requires less or none—saving time, money and reducing the possibility of nutrient runoff and nonpoint water pollution of lakes and streams.

Complicating the runoff issue, however, is that Zoysia’s deep roots reduce both erosion and runoff. This can make it an ideal grass for yards with contour descending into bodies of water (like small ponds), even though it needs twice-annual fertilizations. The herbicides and insecticides required by Centipede grass will more readily travel to water sources, of which there are many in the coastal south.

Sun, Shade

Centipede is a great direct-sun grass with medium shade tolerance. Centipede could be a great choice for large open yards, and newer yards at the immature landscaping stage. Zoysia would be the better choice for properties with a nice complement of mature shade trees, while also doing fine in the open-sun parts of your lawn.

Frost

Is your home at altitude, or otherwise prone to the occasional frost? Zoysia wins some points here for cold adaptability. During a frost, Zoysia goes into dormancy. It turns and stays brown until the air temperature returns to 70 degrees. It copes. Centipede copes less well: With repeated dips below 32 degrees, it’s subject to winter kill, which would not end up being so “low-maintenance” after all, if you had to replace your lawn after a cold snap.

Salt

For homeowners in low-lying ocean and gulf coastal areas, Zoysia is the more salt-tolerant grass.

Wear, Tear and Traffic

Zoysia, again thanks to its deep roots, holds up better and, if damaged, recovers faster than Centipede.

Establishing

Making the switch from your current grass to Centipede or Zoysia takes effort and patience.

Zoysia: For replacing cool-season grass, use Zoysia plugs. It can take two years for Zoysia to become the dominant grass in your yard—and it will stop advancing on your old grass during extended dry periods. Do not attempt to insert Zoysia plugs into an existing warm-season grass like Bermuda. The existing grass will have to be removed first. Starting with bare ground Zoysia seeds work better than plugs, and usually take five months to establish. Once it’s in, Zoysia is very difficult to remove—as equally hard to remove as Bermuda grass.

Centipede: To overseed your existing lawn with Centipede, mow it down low in the late spring, core aerate the lawn, then broadcast the seed. If you don’t core aerate first, then rake well after you broadcast the seed because Centipede seeds need to be covered by dirt in order to germinate. After 30 days, your lawn will start to thicken and gradually transform into a Centipede lawn. This usually takes a full three months from the day you seed. If you’re starting with tilled earth—especially recommended if you had Bermuda grass in place—then seed the bare ground sometime between April and July, rake (to help seeds eventually find a spot under the dirt), then apply fertilizer (it helps at first) and mow regularly through the summer. Centipede seeds take 30 days to germinate, so be patient. You will not see any grass inside the first four weeks after seeding. After three months—by fall—you will have a new low maintenance lawn.

No matter which type of grass you decide on, to establish it across a sprawling multi-acre property, we recommend contracting with hydroseeding company, because it becomes a job beyond the normal scope of what a homeowner can accomplish on their own.

Good luck!

Any questions? Contact your local Spring-Green lawn care professional for advice. We’re happy to help you plan or install your new low maintenance lawn.