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Top Dressing

Top dressing is the process of applying compost, soil, or sand over the surface of your lawn. It has been performed on golf courses since the sport was invented in Scotland, but has only recently become popular on home lawns.

Good soil is living soil. That may sound like a cliche, but it's true. One tablespoon of soil can contain billions of microorganisms. These microscopic organisms are one of the reasons we have plants and trees. In nature, soil microbes enrich soil by converting fallen leaves, limbs and other debris into nutrients plants can use. Top dressing is simply a way of restoring that balance to home lawns, building good soil and increasing soil flora.

Below is a list of some of the benefits when topdressing lawns.
 Top dressing adds organic matter to soils.
 Top dressing can build up the soil flora.
 Top dressing with core aeration helps change soil structure.
 Compost top dressing with the right biological components can help reduce lawn diseases.
 Adding compost helps reduce traffic stress.
 Compost incorporated into heavy soils helps relieve compaction problems.
 Compost incorporated into sandy soils helps with water retention.
 Top dressing with the right materials can help reduce the need for fertilizer.
 Top dressing can help reduce thatch.


Another benefit of top dressing the lawn is that it will help to even out any lumps and bumps that are present on an uneven lawn, filling in any small hollows that may develop. Top dressing also stimulates the grass to produce new shoots and so results in denser grass cover which helps combat the onset of weed and moss infestation


A Note About Soil pH

Be sure to correct any soil pH problems before or after top dressing lawns. Here's why.
Bacteria are by far the most abundant form of soil microbes in your soil. Low soil pH, at 5 or lower, will begin to favor fungi over bacteria, including pathogenic fungi. Since beneficial bacteria feed upon many pathogenic fungi and help to keep their numbers in check, it is important you favor bacteria. (Unless your specific plants prefer acidic soil) For additional help, please see our page on Soil testing. It will also show you how to correct any problems.


Choosing the Right Materials

When top dressing lawns, compost is the best material. Choosing the right compost material is important, since all compost is not equal in nutrient levels.
To lower the cost of the topdressing, special blends of compost or peat with loam and sand have been developed. The easiest way is to buy a mix already blended from a sand company or Healthy Lawn Center. Many sand companies around the country have started blending topdressing for their clients. Another easy way is to buy an organic material that mixes easily and mix yourself.

First you need to make your topdressing by combining a mixture of loam, sand and peat. The proportions of these 3 ingredients will vary depending on your type of soil but for a loamy soil type then the following is a good guide: 3 parts sand to 3 parts loam to 1 part peat. The top dressing ingredients should be reasonably dry before you start mixing them to ensure that they are mixed as well as can be expected.

Try and use a good peat rather than garden compost as garden compost can contain weed seeds that will germinate in the lawn. Your sand should be lime free and so sea sand is not suitable.

For heavy clay soils you can increase the amount of sand and reduce the amount of loam.

For sandy soils you can reduce the amount of sand.

The topdressing mixture should be very fine so that it can penetrate the grass surface and reach the existing soil.
Steps for top dressing lawns

When top dressing lawns, there are several important steps that can be done to ensure good results. They are listed in the order they should be performed. Not all these steps need to be done on all grasses, so just eliminate the steps you are not performing.

 If your lawn has more than ½ inch of thatch, dethatch your lawn first. Dethatching will leave a lot of debris on the surface, so you will need to remove it before mowing or top dressing. That can be done in the next step.
 Mow the lawn as low as possible without stressing the grass too much.
 Bag or remove all of the grass clippings and dethatching debris, if you haven't already done so.
 Core aerate the lawn. If you have poor soil, consider removing the cores. If the soil is not too bad, leave them on the grass to break down naturally.
 Spread top dressing over lawn to a depth of ¼ to ½ inch. It is okay to fill in holes, especially if you have poor soil.
 Lightly brush the grass with the backside of a rake. The object is to get as much top dressing touching the soil as possible.
 If you plan on overseeding, do this after the topdressing is down. The reason for doing it after you top dress, is so you don’t bury the seed too deeply.
 If you overseed, remember to keep the soil moist, but not too wet, until seeds have germinated.

With sufficient moisture, much of the top dressing should work into the soil in as little as a few weeks.


The best single time of the year for top dressing lawns is in the fall for cool season grasses and in the spring for warm season grasses. This also allows you to combine other cultural practices with the top dressing for the best results.