How to Top Dress Your Lawn
Top dressing, sometimes referred to as compost top dressing, is a common practice to improve the health of your lawn. For a lush lawn, take a tip from golf course turf pros and add top dressing to your lawn maintenance schedule.
Top dressing is the process of adding a thin layer of nutrient-rich compost to your lawn, or parts of your lawn that need extra attention. When performed routinely and with aeration, the soil will improve and your turf will benefit.
Helpful Top Dressing Lawn Tips
Before you begin top dressing, remember:
- When exactly to start top dressing your lawn (fall for cool season grasses, spring for warm season grasses).
- To test for soil pH, as pH affects nutrient uptake. If the pH is off, the grass will not be able to effectively absorb nutrients.
You should also aerate your core. Here's why and how:
- Dethatch or core aerate your work area if you've got more than 1/2-inch of thatch. Make sure you remove any grass clippings and debris before top dressing your lawn.
- Core aerate your lawn if you've got poor soil. Clay soil and sandy soil are examples where core aeration is generally recommended.
- Make sure you keep your soil damp if you're spreading seed on top of your fertilizer. Damp soil, not wet soil, is ideal.
- Keep kids and pets away from your lawn when top dressing, as it's a messy project.
Benefits of Top Dressing Your Lawn
So what are the benefits of top dressing a lawn? If you have reasonably healthy growing grass you might wonder why you need to do anything at all. The answer is that top dressing can help with soil amendment in certain spots that don't grow as well as others. Of course, you can also top dress your whole lawn if growth is sporadic or otherwise problematic.
Still not sure about the benefits of top dressing? Here's what top dressing correctly can do for your lawn:
- Top dressing can help you use less water. Your lawn will need less water because the top dressing retains soil moisture, reduces surface evaporation and keeps the roots cool in the heat of summer. That's why many people apply a top dressing of organic material like compost to warm season grass.
- Your grass will get greener. Greener grass is common after top dressing since the soil is fed with well-aged organic matter that enhances existing soil health.
- Weed seeds don't germinate because the topdressing blocks light.
- Top dressing can help smooth out a bumpy lawn. This is one reason using top dressing material is so common on golf courses.
- Top dressing helps keep lawn stress under control, effectively reducing thatch buildup while acting as a natural lawn fertilizer that promotes growth.
Begin Top Dressing Your Lawn
Top dressing your lawn isn't a difficult task. Typically done in the spring, top dressing is an activity you can take on in one day depending on the size of the lawn you're working with.
Before you begin, you'll need to prep your lawn so it's ready for top dressing.
- Perform a soil test to determine the soil pH and if the soil needs additional amendments. Soil tests can be purchased in the Garden Center. You can also contact your local Cooperative Extension Service for a soil test kit.
- Dethatch lawn if the thatch is thicker than 1/2-inch. Use a leaf rake or, for better results, use a vertical mower (also called a power rake) available from Tool Rental.
- Mow your lawn so grass blades won’t bend when you distribute your compost. Make sure your lawn mower is set to catch grass clippings that could interfere with the top dressing process.
Use Bags of Fine Garden Compost or Well-Composted Manure
- The next step in top dressing your lawn is to obtain the right material for the job. If you have a compost pile, you may be able to use this to top dress your lawn.
- If not, you'll want to obtain well-composted manure or fine garden compost. Look for small particles of compost that filter through blades of grass easily when shopping for a top dressing mixture. If you use manure, make sure it's herbicide-free, aged and screened.
Tip: A lawn mower, leaf shredder or specific compost shredder can help you turn your backyard compost into a fine material you can utilize for top dressing all types of grass.
Spread the Fertilizer
- Use a fertilizer spreader to distribute the compost about 1/2-inch deep. If you don't have access to a compost spreader, you can use a shovel to do the same job, though it will typically take longer.
- Be careful to evenly distribute the compost throughout the targeted area.
Tip: Multitask by overseeding directly on top of the compost.
Apply The Top Dressing and Water Deeply
Apply the top dress using a shovel in small piles around the lawn. For best results, use a fertilizer spreader because it will distribute the top dressing quickly and evenly. Distribute the compost about 1/2-inch deep. Gently hand rake as you go to settle the compost evenly throughout the grass.
Go over each area several times if you need to, working in sections as you go. If you've spread too much compost, work toward an outlying area where you can collect extra compost you don't want to leave on your lawn.
You can apply grass seed on the top dressing if you are over-seeding.
The last step is to deeply water the grass using your irrigation system or standard garden hose nozzle using a fine spray. Doing this can help stimulate new growth quickly.
Tip: Consider watering your grass in the early evening. Doing this will allow the moisture to remain longer.
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