The Q&A Archives: Growing Grass on Clay

Question: We have moved onto two acres of raw land that used to be part of a national forest. The soil is white clay with relatively good drainage. I would like a low maintenence lawn and was thinking of centipede. What would you recommend to prepare the soil before seeding, what type of seed would you recommend, and when should we seed?

Answer: Centipede does well in acidic soils of the south. It will tolerate some shade and needs little if any fertilizer. In fact, overfertilizing it will lead to its demise!

It may be useful to start with a soil test to determine whether any nutrients are way out of line before planting turfgrass. The best time to add nutrients is prior to rototilling and planting. The Extension office in your parish can provide you with soil test forms and instructions.

Now is a great time to plant centipede. Prepare your site by lightly rototilling the area (about 1-2 inches deep) and then raking it smooth. Centipede can be planted from seed or sodded, depending on which are available in your area. Seed should be lightly raked in or rolled to establish contact with the soil. If a hand-push type roller is available to rent in your area this is the best option.

Water the seed lightly every day until seedlings appear and then every two days for two or three weeks. By July, it should be sufficient to water twice a week and then to wean the new turf to once a week.

Sod should be watered daily for two weeks and then twice weekly for a month or two.

If you fertilize Centipede, do not apply more than 1/2 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet, and only do so once or twice a year (March and October). Your turf can survive on less. Use a fertilizer with a 3-1-2 ratio such as 15-5-10 or 16-4-9. If for example you selected a 15-5-10 product, 3 pounds of fertilizer per 1,000 square feet would give you about 1/2 pound of actual nitrogen.

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