Slow growing and semi shade tolerant, centipede grass is known throughout the South as “the lazy man’s grass.” It thrives with little fertilizer, requires less frequent mowing than other lawn grasses, and is well adapted to the heat and humidity of the southern states. Tolerant as it
is, centipede grass does need a little bit of care. Providing the right fertilization program helps ensure that a centipede lawn grows dense and healthy.
Unlike other grasses, centipede grows best in soil with a low pH value, low phosphorus, and moderate to high potassium levels. Not just any fertilizer will do; in fact, the wrong types
will damage centipede lawns. The best fertilizer for centipede grass includes moderate levels of nitrogen and potassium, and no phosphorus. Keep reading to learn what to look for and to see quality picks suited to your landscaping style and needs.
- BEST OVERALL: Scotts Southern Turf Builder Lawn Food
- RUNNER-UP: Simple Lawn Solutions Superior 15-0-15 NPK- Lawn Food
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Scotts Turf Builder Bonus S Southern Weed & Feed
- BEST ORGANIC: Safer Brand 9334 Lawn Restore Fertilizer
- BEST FOR DARK GREEN LAWN: Scotts Green Max Lawn Food
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Fertilizer for Centipede Grass
Lawn food options include liquid and granule applications, organic and nonorganic blends, and a variety of different nutrient ratios. Each formulation is designed to meet specific needs, to either maintain a healthy stand of grass or improve a thin or weak lawn. Learn more just ahead.
- Granular fertilizers are the industry standard. They are simple to store and easy to apply with a broadcast or drop spreader. The granules break down slowly and feed over an extended time, usually 4 to 6 weeks or longer. Results are evident within a few days to a week or more. This is a good choice for regular maintenance.
- Water-based liquids can deliver near-immediate results, within a day or two. Although liquid fertilizer does require dilution, hose end sprayers make it relatively easy to mix and apply. Use these products to quickly treat nutrient deficiencies or for regular maintenance.
- Premeasured spikes are popular options for long-term feeding of trees, shrubs, and other landscape plants, but they are not a great option for lawns. For uniform feeding of centipede grass and other types of turf over an extended time, the best option is granular lawn food.
Organic vs. Nonorganic
Organic lawn fertilizers use ingredients derived from plant and animal byproducts. They rely on microbial action in the soil to deliver nutrients to the plants in a usable form. Organics are naturally slow acting and nonburning, and they typically feature low to moderate levels of nutrients compared with nonorganic products. Organic fertilizer supports healthy soil microbe populations, increasing soil organic content over time. In poor clay or sandy soils that suffer from a lack of organic matter, organic fertilizer helps build a better growing environment for centipede grass.
Nonorganic fertilizer is made of chemical compounds that become directly available to plants as they dissolve in water. They do not require biological delivery methods like organic products, and may actually lead to a reduction in soil organic matter over time. Nonorganic lawn food is available in both fast-acting and slow-release formulas. Where soil nutrients are not well balanced, nonorganic fertilizer delivers the nutrients needed for a healthy centipede lawn quickly and efficiently.
Nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) are the so-called macronutrients found in fertilizers. They are typically required in larger quantities than the other micronutrients. The N-P-K ratio listed on fertilizer labels indicates the amounts of each of these three elements as a percentage of the total product by weight. For example, a 10 pound bag of 15-0-15 lawn food contains 15 percent N (1.5 pounds), no P, and 15 percent K (1.5 pounds). Other nutrients and fillers make up the balance of the fertilizer’s total weight. Refer to the label’s small print to find out the total nutrient load and sources from which these elements are derived.
N-P-K applications should be guided by soil testing. While high-nitrogen fertilizer is preferred for lawns of all types to support healthy foliage, centipede lawn food does not require the large amounts of N consumed by other grasses. For this reason, many of the same general purpose lawn fertilizers recommended for “all lawns” work well for centipede grass too, but fewer applications are needed.
Centipede is damaged by moderate levels of P, so none should be applied without the guidance of a soil test. Generous applications of K are beneficial for centipede grass. When the grass breaks winter dormancy, 32-0-10 will help it to turn green quickly. In midsummer, 15-0-15 provides a boost of K to help with drought tolerance and disease resistance.
Grass only needs supplemental fertilizer to make up for what is lacking in the soil. The best way to understand what’s needed is by performing a soil test. Test the soil in winter to plan the fertilization schedule for the upcoming growing season. Results will include current pH and organic content as well as macro and micro nutrient levels. The most complete soil testing programs are available through various state university systems’ Cooperative Extension Service. Search local government listings for your county’s Extension Office contact information.
Centipede grass needs a pH of about 5.5. Use lawn and garden sulfur, or fertilizer containing sulfur, to lower the pH; use lime to raise the pH if necessary. Apply fertilizer after the grass has turned green in late spring, as recommended by test results. The low nutrient requirements of a centipede lawn means a single fertilizer application in spring will likely be sufficient.
Soil Fertility and Condition
Soil fertility (also called soil chemistry) is what allows it to provide nutrients in sufficient amounts and the right balance for grass to grow. When natural fertility is lacking, fertilizer makes up the difference. Fertilizer improves on the soil’s naturally available nutrient supply. It directly impacts plant growth by delivering the compounds the plant needs to extract from the soil.
The soil’s condition is a structural issue that indirectly affects grass growth—including that of “easy” centipede grass. Condition refers to soil particle size, aeration, and drainage. If these elements are not favorable, air, water, and roots struggle to penetrate, or roots may rot due to saturation. Adding fertilizer does not improve poor soil structure. Compacted soils, typically low in organic content, must be aerated to improve the structure for healthy, deep root development and for fertilizer to provide the desired effect. Regular applications of soil amendments like compost help to improve poor soil conditions over the long term.
Our Top Picks
To rank as a top pick, a fertilizer must provide the right nutrient balance to maintain health and vigor of centipede grass. For a centipede lawn that is sparse, pale, or recovering from damage, consider one of the formulas here designed to treat those issues. All the fertilizers here have proven their effectiveness on thousands of lawns.
This 32-0-10 fertilizer from Scotts for regular maintenance of healthy lawns has a convenient and effective all-in-one granular formula. Each particle contains the full fertilizer analysis, for smooth flow through a walk-behind spreader and even coverage across the whole yard. It should be applied on dry grass, and there’s no wait period before the lawn can take foot traffic. Each application feeds for up to 2 months.
The 28.4 pound bag covers 10,000 square feet of centipede lawn. Southern Turf Builder is also available in bags covering 5,000 or 15,000 square feet.
The fast action of Simple Lawn Solutions Superior liquid fertilizer is delivered via a convenient ready-to-spray hose end bottle. While liquid fertilizer requires multiple applications for season-long nourishment, this product is a solid choice for a quick transition from winter dormancy to spring green-up, as well as for regular summer maintenance. The 15-0-15 N-P-K analysis is just what most centipede lawns need for steady growth, rich green color, and overall health.
The addition of humic acid conditions the soil while fostering the transition of nutrients through root cell walls for quick nutrient absorption. One quart feeds up to 3,200 square feet. It is also available in 1 gallon and 2.5 gallon sizes.
This Scotts fertilizer is a good value for two reasons: Only one application is needed to feed all season, and it’s a 2-in-1 product that nourishes centipede grass and banishes broadleaf lawn weeds.Turf Builder Bonus S features 1.29 percent atrazine (a broadleaf herbicide) and 29-0-19 fertilizer plus 7 percent sulfur. It kills dandelion, oxalis, clover, and dozens of other common broadleaf lawn weeds to nurture a lovely, unblemished lawn .
The added sulfur unlocks nutrients in the soil by balancing the pH and promotes overall plant metabolic health. The result is a weed-free, dense, deep green stand of centipede.
The 17.18 pound bag covers up to 5,000 square feet. Bonus S is also available in a larger bag for 10,000 square feet of coverage.
For both healthy and struggling lawns, Safer Brand Lawn Restore Fertilizer features a 9-0-2 N-P-K ratio. It is derived from all-natural, nonburning ingredients that will build the soil as it feeds the lawn.
Apply this granular lawn food with a walk-behind spreader. Although organic fertilizers offer a slow, consistent feed, this Safer Brand product may make the lawn greener in as few as 3 days. The 25-pound bag feeds up to 6,250 square feet. It is also available in a 20-pound size that covers 5,000 square feet.
Yellowish grass—likely sign of iron deficiency—may be easily remedied with Scotts Green Max. It has a 27-0-2 N-P-K, plus 10 percent sulfur and 5 percent iron to green up the grass in as few as 3 days.
Acid-loving centipede grass also benefits from the boost provided by sulfur, which unlocks the soil’s naturally occurring nutrients. Apply with a walk-behind rotary or drop spreader. The 16.78-pound bag covers up to 5,000 square feet, and this product is also available in a larger bag for 10,000 square feet of coverage.
FAQs About Fertilizer for Centipede Grass
If you’d like more info on fertilizing and caring for your centipede grass, check out the answers to these common questions about caring for centipede grass.
Q. Do I need to test the soil before fertilizing?
Centipede grass is sensitive to high soil pH and excessive feeding. It is important to test the soil annually to determine fertilizer requirements to avoid damaging the grass.
Q. How do I make my centipede grass dark green?
Healthy centipede grass, sometimes described as apple green, is naturally a lighter shade than other grasses. But if it is a sickly yellow-green color, it’s probably suffering from iron deficiency. Use Scotts Green Max Lawn Food to boost the soil’s iron level, add nitrogen, and unlock natural fertility for a deep green lawn.
Q. How do I apply fertilizer to my lawn?
Granular fertilizers should be applied with a walk-behind rotary or drop spreader. Use the spreader owner’s manual and the fertilizer label to calibrate the tool for proper coverage. A good way to avoid mistakes is to apply half of the recommended rate in parallel lines across the whole yard, then apply the other half in parallel lines at right angles to the first application. You’ll cover the whole yard twice, but doing so eliminates streaking.
Q. Can I apply fertilizer to wet grass?
Always consult the product label for explicit application instructions. In most cases, granular fertilizers should be applied to dry grass and then watered in. Liquid fertilizers should be applied while the dew is still on the lawn in the early morning.
Q. Should I water the lawn after applying the fertilizer?
Be sure to read your product label for application instructions. In most cases, granular fertilizers should be watered in after application. Most liquids need not be watered after application.