Centipede grass ( Eremochloa ophiuroides), sometimes spelled centipedegrass, is a type of slow-growing perennial lawn and garden grass that is native to southern China. Its introduction to the U.S. in 1916 is attributed to Frank N. Meyer, a former botanical scout and collector with the United States Department of Agriculture who also introduced Americans to water chestnuts, Chinese cabbage, and soybeans. Credit for introducing centipede grass to the Western world was made by association, though, since some seeds were simply found in his recovered baggage. Since travel in the region became quite treacherous by the late 1900s, Mr. Meyer himself never returned from his last trip to China, although accounts differ as to the reason why. Some believe that he simply disappeared, while other reports cite that he died under suspicious circumstances on the Yangtze River while traveling to Shanghai.
After its introduction to the U.S., centipede grass was originally used in areas where little ground maintenance was desired, such as cemeteries. It later became a popular yard grass during the Great Depression, from which its nickname of "poor man’s grass" probably stems. However, centipede grass is not considered a durable turfgrass since it deteriorates with heavy foot traffic. For this reason, more resistant cultivars have been developed, such as Tennessee Hardy, Oaklawn, and Centennial centipede grass.
There are considerable benefits to using centipede grass for lawn and yard areas. Most notably, it is slow growing and low-maintenance. In fact, that’s probably why centipede grass has earned the additional nickname of "lazy man’s grass." Unlike other popular lawn grasses, it is tolerant of shade and drought conditions and doesn’t need frequent fertilizing, even in the fall. Finally, centipede grass grows on stolons, or runners, meaning that it can be easily deterred from invading neighboring walkways and flowerbeds.
Growing on runners can present a downside, however. Since the stolons fail to form a root attachment, centipede grass can develop significant thatch and become vulnerable to cold temperatures as well as invading grasses and weeds. This condition can lead to "centipede grass decline," which is characterized by patches of brown appearing in spring. Decline also occurs if the grass is over-fertilized due to iron chlorosis, which produces yellowing. For that matter, over-fertilizing in an attempt to achieve a deep green lawn is a common mistake that will backfire. The normal color for healthy centipede grass is similar to a Granny Smith apple.
Centipede grass is also susceptible to damage from nematodes, which may necessitate prevention and management strategies. This includes infrequent but deep watering, even irrigation, especially in the fall and early spring. The soil should also be monitored to ensure low levels of nitrogen and high levels of potassium and phosphorus. In fact, since centipede grass enjoys an acidic environment, it is most commonly found in the southeastern and south coastal regions of the U.S., as well as in Hawaii.