Improve Your Lawn With a Top Dressing Treatment - Backyard Boss
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Improve Your Lawn With a Top Dressing Treatment

The lawn is the showpiece of your estate. For this reason, it is crucial to make it always look perfect. However, when it’s not in the best shape, it can become a source of frustration. Uneven surfaces, bald patches, and poor soils all contribute to a messy view, but luckily there is a solution that can help improve the health of your grass.

Top dressing a lawn is the practice of applying a thin layer of nutrient-rich soil to the surface of your existing grass. It’s a technique that can solve a wide variety of common problems. Plus, it’s very easy to do on your own without investing in expensive tools.

Read on to learn about top dressing to improve the soil on your lawn.

What is Top Dressing?

Top Dressing
Image credits: Beekeepx via Shutterstock

As mentioned above, top dressing your lawn is applying a thin layer of nutrient-rich soil to existing grass. It’s a practice used for well-established lawns, in addition to regularly spreading high-quality lawn fertilizers that require a soil amendment. Over time, soil can become compact and lose nutrients, resulting in uneven surfaces, bald patches, or stunted grass growth. 

To amend soils, most gardeners will mix in new soils with what they already have, but this is a complicated process that can destroy your carefully cultivated lawn. Luckily, top dressing is another solution that can help amend soils without tilling or starting on a new project.

Not only does the soil benefit, but so does the overall surface of your landscape. Top dressing is a great practice to help even out the ground, fill in holes, or level areas that have settled. If you lay it down heavy, you can always reseed over it to fix areas in need of a green thumb.

When Top Dressing is Appropriate

repair of damaged lawns after installation of automatic irrigation
Image credits: Beekeepx via Shutterstock

When your grasses struggle to grow and turn lush green, you can add some top dressing to improve their condition. If you notice browning or thinning areas, it might benefit from an application. The same goes when you have to water or fertilize more often than usual to keep it looking green.

Some other common problems top dressing can take care of include:

  • Smoothing out areas that have settled, such as over rotting tree roots, erosion, or underground pipe installation.
  • Leveling low areas that collect water.
  • Help balance compacted soils due to high traffic.
  • Bare spots from heat or stress, drought, or other environmental factors- such as animal tunneling, digging or marking.
  • Depletion of nutrients due to over-fertilization, neglect, or leeching.

Benefits of Top Dressing

There are many benefits to consider when you decide to top dress. When determining if this is the best process for your lawn, think about the following:

  • Reduces high traffic stress.
  • Relieves compaction problems for grasses to take better roots.
  • Sandy soils will retain water better.
  • Reduces thatch build-up.
  • Combined with core aeration, it helps amend soils and place organic matter deep into the soil.
  • Lowers lawn disease.
  • Decreases the need for fertilizer.
  • Improves drainage.
  • Enhances drought resistance.
  • Evens out the terrain.
  • It builds up healthy bacteria for decomposition.

What to Consider Before Top Dressing

lawn sowing and grooving
Image credits: Beekeepx via Shutterstock

Balance pH

The pH of your soil is critical to your lawn’s health. Too low, and fungi and diseases will proliferate. Too high, and the bacteria good organisms feed on will not be present. You want a good balance with a neutral to slightly alkaline result. 

It is an easy process that allows you to apply a base, such as lime or wood ash, over your lawn to help increase pH. You could also use iron sulfate, acidifying nitrogen, and organic mulches to lower it.

Choosing Your Top Dressing

Top dressing a lawn is almost exclusively done using a compost-like material. Since your goal is to build up the soil structure to help support healthy micro and macro organisms, choose the proper compost mix to meet the needs of your lawn. 

Some people like to blend topsoil or sand with their compost as well. Do not increase the amount of sand if you already have sandy soils, or apply a heavy mix to grasses that thatch, as it will build up on top rather than work into the soils.

Aeration Techniques

Aerate your lawn every two to three years. Aeration can occur in a few different ways, from using special tools that roll over the lawn to deeper coring techniques. 

This method removes plugs of soil to allow water and nutrients to reach the root layer of your grass. It also helps loosen compacted soil and is a great step before top dressing to ensure your application mixes into the ground well.

When to Apply

This process is best done in early spring to help work with emerging grasses or in early fall to help prepare soils and vegetation for winter. Since you introduce nutrients, you want them to be available to actively growing lawns.

It also does not need to be an annual practice unless you have some areas that need special attention regularly. Also, you can apply multiple light applications rather than one heavy one depending on the results you are looking for.

Steps to Top Dress Your Lawn

Step One – Aerate and Dethatch

Aerating soil with pitchfork
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If you are on an aeration schedule, doing so prior to ‘dressing’ the lawn is a great practice, as described above. You also want to dethatch the lawn to help expose the soils for enrichment purposes.

Step Two – Mow Lawn Short

Man mowing with a cordless lawnmower
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You also want to mow the lawn as short as possible without scalping it. It allows the soil to be exposed to the best application. As always avoid mowing your lawn when it is wet.

Step Three – Prepare Top Dressing

Mixing soil for cultivation by hand Ingredients have Black clay with Coconut Spathe Chopped and Rice hull ash
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A mixture includes sharp sand, loam, and peat to form a nutrient-rich base. Clay-like soils can reduce the loam, while sandy soils can reduce the sand. Be sure to dry and sift the ingredients not to have clumps larger than ¼ inch.

Step Four – Apply the Dressing

Woman improving garden bed soil for planting
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To apply the dressing, find a place in your yard to start and place a shovelful of the mixture in a mount. Take a garden rake and spread it out, ensuring it works into the aeration plug holes (if you have any) and is spread evenly.

Make sure it is no more than 1 inch deep where needed. Keep spreading until the grass is peeking through, flipping the rake from the tinned to the flat side to help level it out.

Step Five – Water and Adjust as Needed

Watering the lawn
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Give your lawn a good watering and watch over the next few days as the application begins to settle. If you see issues with coverage or how well it is leveled, you can go back and adjust as needed.

Step Six – Over Seed if Needed

grass seeds
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If you had thick areas or needed new grass, now is the time to add seeds to these spots. Do so once you have a good even application in place and water as needed.

Put In The Time

Whether you have struggling grasses or uneven terrain, top dressing is a way to address many common lawn issues in just one application. This method is simple, inexpensive, and very effective.

If you have any tips you want to share or questions, please do so below! And, as always, pass on the info!