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Grass top dressing involves applying a thin layer of compost, sand, or both to the surface of a lawn. Top dressing improves soil structure, enhances nutrient levels, and promotes a healthier turf. Fertilizers and biostimulants can also be added to the top dressing mix. It levels bumpy areas, fills in patches, and encourages grass seed germination. Top dressing with aeration improves drainage, reduces thatch buildup, and creates resilient green grass. To top dress a lawn, you need tools like a wheelbarrow, shovel, broadcast spreader, and leveling rake.
Before you start the top dressing process, you’ll need to clean up your lawn with a light scalp. Removing excess debris and old grass with your lawnmower is like getting a new haircut. Lawn scalping will encourage new turf growth for greener, healthier grass.
To understand more about lawn scalping, read our blog post on how to scalp yours and why it’s essential for maintaining turf health.
Top dressing your lawn is the best way to get that smooth, pristine putting green look you’ve been aiming for. All grass accumulates organic matter and excess thatch after a while, which introduces new problems. Excess thatch creates a breeding ground for pests, a haven for lawn diseases, and can suffocate your grass.
In this article, we’ll unpack the science of top dressing your lawn and the best way to apply your chosen top dressing material.
Top dressing is hard work. It’s a great idea to get help from friends or family members if you choose to top dress your lawn yourself.
The Basics: What Does Top Dressing Your Lawn Mean?
Top dressing a lawn is the process of adding a thin layer of soil or sand to the turf’s surface to make it smooth, improve drainage, and to boost the quality of your soil. After scalping your grass in the spring, you might discover uneven and bumpy areas — all the more reason to dress your lawn.
Why Is Top Dressing Your Lawn Important?
As we’ve already mentioned, top dressing your lawn creates a flat surface and has the added benefit of adding some organic matter to provide your grass with nutrients. But there are two other main reasons to top dress your lawn:
- Because your lawn’s surface is more even, you can mow the grass much lower — without the risk of scalping. Using a reel mower, you can cut below an inch without risking turf damage.
- Using a mixture of sand and soil in your top dressing mix will promote healthier soil. Healthier soil means a quicker green-up for your turf in spring, and in fall, your grass will take longer to go dormant. This means you can enjoy your golf course lawn for longer during its growing season.
When to Top Dress Your Lawn
You can top dress your lawn when you notice ruts or low spots and treat them then and there, or do a full lawn top dress. May is a good time to top dress as it’s when your grass is beginning to grow more rapidly. Post-winter, you’ll need to core aerate your lawn to reduce compaction in the soil and allow for a flow of nutrients and water. This is a perfect opportunity to top dress your lawn and provide some extra nutrients and improved soil structure. Top dressing after aeration also helps it better integrate with your existing soil.
How to Top Dress Your Lawn
Now, let's move on to the materials and top dressing lawn equipment you’ll need to top dress your lawn the DIY way.
Top Dressing Mix
The best top dressing mix you can use is a combination of sand and soil. Sand will help add structure, and soil will add nutritional value. Our chosen product is Soil³ Level Mix which contains 70% silica-based sand, which spreads easily, and 30% Soil³ humus compost blend to add beneficial bacteria. This lawn-care product is ideal for leveling and also feeding your soil with rich, organic matter.
If this product isn't available in your area, find a local supplier of masonry or river sand. Sand can be combined with a rich organic compost like CarbonizPN, creating an excellent top dressing mix.
To give your lawn that extra nutrient boost and speed up recovery, you’ll need some extra lawn-care products like a lawn fertilizer and biostimulants. It's best to apply them after core aeration but before top dressing for best results.
Top Dressing Lawn Equipment
First up, make sure you’ve got everything you need. The top dressing lawn equipment you use will depend on your preferred method. If you’ve got the budget, you can invest in or rent a top dressing spreader to ensure even application of your top dressing mix, but we’re going to describe the manual method here. It’s pretty much the same, the machine just makes it less of a workout!
Top Dressing Lawn Equipment Checklist
Leveling rakes are a worthwhile investment as they combine the convenience of a shovel, rake, and broom. It’s far easier to move the top dress leveling mix around with this specialized tool, but you can use a landscaping rake or broom too.
Lawn Top Dressing Prep
Step 1: Before top dressing your lawn, you’ll need to scalp it first to remove excess thatch and organic matter. This will also help you see the uneven areas on your lawn. A good target is to scalp the turf to a height of 0.5”-1.5”.
Step 2: Remove as many grass clippings and debris as possible from your lawn.
TOP TIP: Mowing your lawn shorter than 1.5” makes it easier to see where you’ll need to add your top dressing mix.
Step 3: Core aerate to reduce compaction and allow the top dressing leveling mix to integrate into the soil better.
Applying Your Lawn Fertilizer & Top Dressing Mix
One of the best top dressing fertilizers is Lebanon Turf’s Humic Max. It’s a high-performance fertilizer that will encourage a quick grass green-up and is excellent for all grass types. Alternatively, any starter fertilizer can be used here too. Apply humic max at a rate of 3 lb per 1000 sq. ft and add a lawn biostimulant, like eco-friendly Essential-G™ which will really help build up and enhance your soil quality.
Step 5: Now, you need to apply your top dressing mix. A shovel for spreading and a wheelbarrow are what you’ll need to transport the leveling mix if you don’t have a top dressing spreader machine. Cast the leveling mix over the soil with your shovel and use the leveling rake to spread the mix flat on your lawn’s surface. You should be able to see the tips of your grass showing through.
If you’re top dressing isolated low spots, fill each rut halfway before using your feet to compact the leveling mix. Add more mix and repeat the process until the rut is full. Remember, the low area needs to match the grade of the existing lawn to blend in properly.
Step 6: After you’ve applied your leveling mix, water it in after application to help it settle and speed up turf recovery.
TOP TIP: Using a top dressing spreader machine? Put frisbees over your sprinkler heads so you don’t damage them while you’re top dressing.
Top (Of the Class) Lawn Dressing!
You can combine your top dressing with overseeding bare or thin patches. Mixing your grass seed with play sand gives the mix weight, which means it won’t blow everywhere during application. The soil moisture manager Hydretain (also available in liquid) can promote accelerated seed germination by retaining moisture in the root zone.
Top dressing is a big commitment, but ensures your lawn can achieve a beautifully smooth finish — it just takes some hard work!
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