Turf species all come with pros and cons; Bermuda grass (Cynodon spp.) and centipede grass (Eremochloa spp.) are no exception. These two types of turf commonly fill lawns throughout the South, but each has a long list of undesirable traits and problems. Choosing between the two may be difficult, but the choice will ultimately depend on your personal needs and the functions of your lawn.
Both Bermuda grass and centipede grass are warm-season grass species. Bermuda grass grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 through 10, while centipede grass grows best in USDA zones 7 and 8. Bermuda grass does not tolerate shade as well as centipede grass and other warm-season grasses; centipede grass may succumb to salt spray and a lack of iron in the soil.
The various Bermuda grass species and hybrids range from light to dark green. Each produces a thick, vigorous lawn that grows well on multiple soil types. Its fine texture adds to the denseness and clean look.
Centipede grass, on the other hand, is almost always apple-green, has larger blades than Bermuda grass and doesn't grow in as dense.
Benefits of Each
Bermuda grass establishes very quickly, making it ideal for homeowners wanting a quick lawn without the wait of other species. It handles salt, wear and drought fairly well, making it a good choice for oceanfront properties and warm areas. In some areas of its growing range, Bermuda grass is the preferred turf species for athletic fields and golf courses.
Centipede grass tolerates moderate amounts of shade and, in some cases, is referred to as "lazy man's grass" because of its low maintenance requirements.
If a low-maintenance, rarely used turf is what you're after, centipede grass might be your best bet. This group prefers a mowing height of 1 to 1 1/2 inches and, because it grows slowly, needs less mowing than Bermuda grass. Low fertilizer requirements also serve the homeowner well; too much nitrogen -- a common homeowner mistake -- will cause the grass to shoot too much new growth and make it susceptible to fertilizer and other damage. Centipede grass requires an absolute maximum of 2 pounds of nitrogen fertilizer per 1,000 square feet in mid- to late-spring each year.
Bermuda grass requires a much more frequent mowing regimen. Because Bermuda grass' ideal mowing height is 3/4 inch to 1 1/2 inches, and because it grows so quickly, you may need to mow between one and three times each week. This group of turf also requires more frequent fertilizer applications; apply 1/2 to 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet three weeks after the lawn turns green and sometimes two to six times per year.
To determine how much fertilizer to apply to equal 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet, divide 1 by the first number in the fertilizer N-P-K ratio, the three-digit number listed on the bag or container. For example, the amount of a 10-10-10 fertilizer would be 1.0 divided by 0.1, which equals 10 pounds of fertilizer per 1,000 square feet.
Pests and Problems
Numerous pests and diseases affect these two turf grasses. In particular, both easily succumb to fungal diseases such as brown patch and dollar spot. Nematodes are among the most serious pests of each group, but ground pearls, caterpillars, grubs, web worms and mole crickets also attack. Weeds establish and out-compete newly planted centipede grass because of its slow growth rate, but Bermuda grass' quick growth rate allows it to outgrow weeds and prevent infestations.
Improper fertilization is a major cause for pest and fungal problems in both groups.