Top dressing for lawn


Advice for Top Dressing Lawns

Need advice for top dressing lawns? Keep reading to find step by step advice from start to finish.

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. Since many home lawns have poor quality soil, top dressing becomes even more important. Top dressing is simply a way of adding organic material and restoring the balance to home lawns, building better 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 combined with core aeration can place organic material deeper into the soil.
  • Organic top dressing can 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.
  • The Cation Exchange Capacity of compost is approximately ten times higher than most loam soils.

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 Understanding Soil pH. It will also show you how to correct any problems.

Since compost is neutral or slightly alkaline, if your soil pH is slightly low, the compost alone may help to bring it up to where it needs to be.

The Basics for Top dressing lawns

Choosing the Right Materials

Professionals topdress for different reasons using different materials. Golf green, for example, are most often topdressed with sand. However, top dressing lawns is better performed using compost. The goal is to build better soil structure and a better environment for macro and microorganisms. Choosing the right compost material is important, since most composts are not equal in nutrient levels.

To lower the cost of the topdressing, some have mixed the compost with topsoil or sand. If you decide to do this, it is very important to match the soil you plan to use with the soil you have in your lawn. Not all soils are compatible.

The rule for sand or sandy/loam soil is: when top dressing lawns, do not spread finer textured sand over a coarse textured soil. Most problems occur for those with sandy/loam soils, when a much finer sand is mixed over a more coarse sandy/loam lawn. The very fine sand can fill the air pockets in the soil ruining the structure. Sand comes in different textures (sizes), so you will need to use the coarsest textured sand. (Fine sand is small grain- Coarse sand is larger grain sand) This will usually be construction grade sand.

In addition, grass types that form thatch will be more problematic than grass types that don’t form thatch. Instead of mixing, the top dressing will frequently form a barrier on the surface. Over time, and with repeated topdressings, you lawn can become layered. These layers can form almost impenetrable barriers that prevent nutrients, insecticides, and even moisture from reaching deeper into the soil. Where this occurs, lawns may require dethatching or heavy core aeration before top dressing is applied.

For those who are seeking an organic lawn care program and will be depending on the nutrients within the compost, it could be especially useful to check the nutrient analysis first. Nutrient levels will vary greatly depending on the materials. If you are not sure what’s in it, you can always have it tested. Your university extension office can provide information and instructions on where to send the sample. Some extension offices will even send the sample in for you. There is usually a nominal charge for the test.

There is a lot of talk these days about fertilizers and nitrogen leaching below root depth. The statement below is one of those fun facts most people don’t know.

The facts are: Anytime top dressing is applied using compost or even organic fertilizers and the available nutrient content exceeds the nutrient requirements of the turf, the nutrients that are not immediately absorbed into the roots may leach below the root zone. (University of Maryland, Agronomy Department) This is something most people attribute to chemical fertilizers, but the same can occur with any fertilizer or compost. This concern is increased with low fertility turfgrasses and sand-based soils.

So remember, top dressing lawns consisting of low fertility grasses, such as centipedegrass, could be problematic. Centipedegrass doesn’t need much fertilizer and grows best in low fertility sites.

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, such as overseeding, with the top dressing for the best results.

If you do not plan on overseeding your cool season lawn, you can apply topdressing in early spring, so it starts working as the soil heats up.

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 or core aerate 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.
  • When to use core aeration on the lawn: If you have poor soil, i.e. heavy clay, core aeration is recommended first. Consider removing the cores from the lawn surface. If the soil is not too bad, leave the cores 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. Some compost can be too hot for newly germinated plants. Aged compost or compost mixed with good topsoil is better in this situation.

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

Cultural practices often performed when top dressing lawns

Detailed Descriptions of the Steps Listed Above.


When top dressing lawns, you will gain the best results when it is combined with other cultural practices.

Many lawns develop thatch. Thatch is not soil, but an organic layer consisting of shed roots, grass stems, and other grass debris that develops on the soil surface. Thatch with a thickness up to ½ inch doesn’t pose many problems, but any thicker than that should be removed. Thatch is spongy, dries out quickly, traps pesticides and herbicides and makes a poor growth medium. During prolonged dry spells, excessively dry thatch can become hydrophobic. Hydrophobic thatch is a condition where water pools on the thatch surface instead of being absorbed. Roots can’t tell the difference between thatch and soil and will often grow into the thatch.

If the lawn needs to be dethatched, it is better to do that first before the topdressing goes down. Not all grasses make thatch. Grass types that produce stolons or rhizomes tend to be the ones that produce thatch. Warm season grasses are the most susceptible. Among cool season grasses, Kentucky bluebrass has been known to develop thatch. If thatch problems are severe, dethatching will leave a lot of debris on the grass surface.

There are several types of dethatchers available to homeowners. Power dethatchers can be rented at equipment rental stores. You can purchase an inexpensive, non-motorized dethatcher that you pull behind your mower. They work well and can be weighted down with sand bags or bricks for greater depth.

Core Aeration and Compost

One of the most beneficial things you can do for your lawn is “core aeration”. Core aeration relieves soil compaction by removing plugs of soil ¾ inch wide and 2 ½ to 3 inches long. The removal of these plugs allow more water and oxygen to the root zone. Removing these plugs does not hurt the grass. Multiple passes is better than a single pass with the aerator.

Core aeration can be done on warm season grass just as the grass begins growing and on cool season grass in late September through October. Core aerators can be rented at many rental equipment stores. One concern with aerating in spring is to ensure the soil doesn’t dry out too much in the days following aeration. Depending on your soil, you may have some weed growth since the soil has been disturbed and seeds may be brought to the surface.

If your soil is of poor quality, such as high clay content, remove the cores from the grass surface before top dressing. If the soil is loamy, leave the cores on the surface to break down naturally.

When applying compost, spread approximately ¼ inch evenly across the lawn. It is okay to fill in the holes left behind by the aerator. As compost gets down into the soil, it can help change soil structure.

There are now many pull behind compost spreaders on the market. Find the easiest method that works for you. You may find that using a shovel to fling compost in a fan shape may work well. Snow shovel are light and work well if you can handle it. This can be hard work, so make sure you are healthy and are up to the challenge before starting.

With the increased use and interest of compost, there is now equipment made especially for spreading. Prices range from over $100.00 to over $1000.00 for home and landscape models. Motorized models begin at a 1000.00 dollars. However, a number of lawn companies are now specializing in top dressing lawns, but it can be pricey. In larger cities, you may be able to rent a motorized top dressing machine.


People have asked about the best time to seed, before top dressing lawns or after. If you are very accurate with spreading the 1/8 to 1/2 inch of compost, you can overseed first. Most people are not that accurate. It is common to have a ¼ inch in one spot and 1 inch or more in another. Most seed should not be covered with more than ¼ inch of soil or it may have difficulty growing. It may be better to spread your seed after top dressing and then lightly comb over the seed using the back of a rake. This will also help move the compost from the grass surface to the soil.

It is okay to fertilize after top dressing. Nutrients from compost are released slowly from microbial activity, so fertilizer could give your grass some immediately available nutrients.

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Top dressing a lawn: how and why

Top dressing a lawn is the process of applying additional materials to the surface of a lawn for many purposes and benefits, but most importantly to make it look its best, allowing you to enjoy those beautiful summer days in a stunning garden.

A top dressing consists of a mix of materials such as sand, soil, peat and loam, which should be made to closely match the composition of the existing soil, as all of the new materials will eventually form part of the root zone (soil where roots grow best) and will therefore need to blend well.

What does lawn top dressing do?

Top dressing does not just improve the look of your lawn, but can also benefit the health of the grass too. It allows you to maintain a true and level lawn surface by filling in any imperfections or hollow areas to create a smooth surface. It also helps to dilute thatch layers, assisting in their natural breakdown and preventing them from building up.

For lawns that suffer from water logging a sand based top dressing applied after aeration can improve the drainage and firm the surface as a preventative. Alternatively for lawns with the opposite issue, where drought is a problem, the same method can be applied but using a peat top dressing instead of sand.

The addition of certain nutrients being introduced from some of the dressing materials can also contribute to improving the fertility of the lawn, encouraging the production of fresh healthy shoots and improving the soil structure of the existing root zone.

When is it best to top dress your lawn?

Ideally top dressing your turf will take place after some method of renovation has taken place, with the most common type being aeration. This is the process of creating holes in the lawns surface to allow stale carbon dioxide out of the soil and oxygen rich air back in. This will stimulate and encourage root growth and can be done with a mechanical aerator or manually with a garden fork.

It is recommended to aerate your lawn once annually, removing plugs of soil from the ground and leaving channels for air water and the top dressing to mix in. Aerator holes are recommended to be roughly 8cm deep and 2cm in diameter, spaced up to 8cm apart.

Be sure to clear any debris such as fallen leaves from the lawns surface before beginning the process in order to allow light and oxygen in and reduce stoppages.

How to top dress your lawn

Making your lawn top dressing

Once the turf has been cleared and aerated the top dressing will need to be prepared. As mentioned this can consist of a mix of materials depending on the existing soil composition and health, such as sand, loam, topsoil or peat. Any sand used should not contain lime and all ingredients should be dry and sifted before use to remove any large clumps. Alternatively you can buy a ready made top dressing such as Miracle-Gro EverGreen Lawn Dressing.

Before the top dressing can be applied the grass will need to have been recently cut to allow the dressing to penetrate the existing topsoil without causing damage to the grass. After cutting, walk around the lawn raking and loosening bare patches.

Applying your lawn top dressing

When you are happy with the consistency and ratio of ingredients, you are ready to start applying top dressing to your turf. It is easiest to work a few feet at a time, making sure the mixture is spread evenly across the whole surface. The best technique to evenly distribute the mixture is to use both sides of a heavy garden rake, gently working the mix into the aeration holes with the tine side, and spreading it out with the flat side.

The top dressing should preferably be no more than a couple of centimetres in depth, allowing the tips of the blades of grass to be visibly poking through.

Once you have completed the application the lawn will need to be watered and if required lawn starter and seeds applied to replenish any bare areas. For any badly damaged lawns the process can be repeated regularly with light applications.

Allow the top dressing to settle for a few days before gently running the rake across the surface to smooth out any developed bumps or hollows.

Steps to top dressing your lawn

  1. Clear the turf and aerate.
  2. Mow the lawn.
  3. Apply the topsoil, spreading evenly a few feet at a time.
  4. Water the lawn.
  5. Rake and smooth any uneven areas.

Now you are ready for the next stage: seeding your lawn.

Seeding your lawn

You can apply grass seed to your lawn either before or after you top dress it. We would recommend that you seed your lawn after you apply your top dressing. This is because you avoid compromising how evenly spread your grass seed is. Some literature will say that you can mix seed in with your top dressing but this can result in uneven and unnatural looking grass growth.

Now all that’s left is to sit back, relax and watch your lawn transform into a beautiful, fresh carpet of vibrant green!

Check out our video tutorials for how to achieve a great looking lawn on our YouTube channel here.

Lawn and Sports Turf Top Dressing (TD5)

High quality premixed sand and soil Top Dressing (70/30), blended using heat treated 3mm screened sports sand.

Available in:

  • 1000kg Bulk Bags
  • Pallets of 25kg Bags, from 10 bags to a full pallet of 40 x 25kg bags (1000kg).

Suitable for lawn and sports surfaces, top dressing helps break down the thatch layer in your turf, improves overall soil quality and stimulates grass to produce new shoots for a denser grass cover as well as improving drainage.

Top dressing also helps level out hollows and bumps to create a smooth, regular and true lawn surface for that pristine appearance and a totally even, shade-free space.

Perfect either for promoting thick, healthy lawn growth in late spring or for establishing a fertile base for your lawn in late autumn, top dressing is ideal for helping lawn development, including when overseeding to fill in and thin patches.

Ideal for sports surfaces, large turfed spaces or just to bring some professional-league punch to your garden lawn this year!

  • Stimulates grass growth
  • Thickens lawns
  • Beaks down thatch
  • Improves drainage
  • Levels lawns

Top Dressing a Lawn – Application Rate

Top dressing a lawn is simply a case of raking in a fine layer of topdressing, the depth of application very much depends on the situation but somewhere between 0.5cm and 1.5cm depth is recommended.

Depending on the preferred application depth you will require:

  • 0.5cm application: a rate of approximately 4kg to 6kg per square meter
  • 1cm application: depth 8-12kg per square meter

The general rule is 75% of the grass leaf must be exposed. At this rate you may be able to top dress twice in spring and once in autumn if need be.

Top Dressing Specification

Our lawn topdressing is a 70:30 horticultural silica sand to sterilised topsoil mix

Particle Gradings:

Delivery is made via a curtain sided vehicle with a tail lift offload. Guaranteed to kerbside only. For more information please see our delivery details.

When it comes to spring lawn care there are three key jobs need doing. These are scarifying, spiking, and top-dressing.

SCARIFYING removes moss and ‘thatch’ – small pieces of dead grass and other debris.

SPIKING improves drainage and gets air down to the roots of the grass.

TOP-DRESSING holds open the spiked holes, improves soil quality and adds some fertiliser.

These jobs are best done one after the other, in close sequence, to get the best effect for your efforts. But you’ll need to prepare the lawn first.

Here’s how to go about it:


The first job is to mow the lawn so you can get closer to the soil beneath. Next, before we scarify the lawn you need to kill the moss, if you don’t kill the moss you will just spread living moss spores around the lawn. We recommend you use lawn Sand, which is widely available from garden centres.

Use Lawn Sand to kill the moss in your lawn

Scatter the Lawn Sand lightly and evenly over the lawn surface – you can use a spreader but it is not essential.

Scatter the Lawn Sand lightly and evenly


After two weeks moss will have been killed. You can now rake it up by hand, using a spring tined rake pulled firmly across the lawn surface – but be warned, it is hard work!

Rake out the dead moss

It is of course much easier to use an electric scarifier or aerator, with either sprung tines or blades. This might be a good idea if you have a large lawn area, you can usually hire the equipment locally.

The amount of debris these machines remove is astonishing – and they’re easy to operate.


The next job is to get some air into the soil. Drive a garden fork into the lawn every 6in (15cm), going at least 4in (10cm) deep. This needs to be done across the lawn – a long, hard and boring job, but well worth the effort.


If you want to watch Tim Rumball Spiking watch this video


The final job is top-dressing. I use a 50:50 mix of sharp sand and John Innes No 3 potting compost. My small 12ft x 12ft (3.6m x 3.6m) lawn needed one-and-a-half bags of each.

Mix the ingredients thoroughly, and put them through a medium grade sieve to remove any large lumps or stones.

Spread the compost mix roughly evenly across the surface by flicking it off a hand shovel.

Spread the top dressing

Now brush the dressing into the holes you pricked with the fork – a beesome broom is ideal for this. Don’t walk on the lawn, work from a plank to avoid squishing holes shut.

Brush in the dressing


Job done. The end result looks pretty awful at this stage, but the lawn will love you for your efforts in the long run.

Just a week later, strong green growth is pushing through, and as spring advances into summer the turf will look better and better

Good luck with your lawn this spring and please share any of your spring lawn care tips with us.

How To Top Dress Your Lawn

When is top dressing a lawn necessary?

In most cases top dressing is done to correct poor preparation and lack of soil underneath or to fill in low spots and correct uneven areas in the lawn. If your lawn is well fertilised, healthy and even, then you don’t need to worry about top dressing.

How does top dressing help a lawn?

Top dressing brings many benefits to a lawn that is looking a little lacklustre, including helping to reduce the accumulation of dead grass clippings and stems, known as ‘thatch’. It helps to increase nutrient retention, improves drainage and increases disease and pest resistance.

When is the right time to top dress your lawn?

Should only be done during the growing season (this is when you need to mow your lawn weekly) and the earlier in the season the better. Generally late spring to early summer is best.

How to top dress a new lawn

On new lawns top dressing is generally not required, but can be done to fill in any gaps or holes. However we recommend that you leave it for a few months and most of those issues will take care of themselves. Occasionally after a settling period some areas of a new lawn may need a slight correction to desired levels. Fertilise a few weeks prior to top dressing to ensure maximum growth at the time. Use river sand or a top dressing soil mix. Using a higher proportion of organic material for sandy soils is a good idea.

How to top dress an established lawn

For established lawns that need top dressing, prior to doing so mow low with a rotary mower equipped with a catcher. Aerate or core your lawn, spread the mix evenly over the desired area, then rake, level lawn or broom it into the lawn profile. Never top dress more than 1cm in a single application, making sure the grass tips are still exposed.

For more hints and tips on top dressing your lawn check out our article here.

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Top Dressing Buffalo Lawn

Top dressing lawns is another tool we can use to help our Buffalo lawns in two different ways. The first reason to top dress a Buffalo lawn is to add organic nutrients to the lawn, and the second reason is to level an uneven Buffalo lawn. Top dressing should never be done for any other reason.

Top Dress to Add Nutrients

This method of top dressing lawns involves putting down a very thin layer of highly organic soil mixture. This process is used to add natural organic nutrients and minerals to the lawn, and is highly recommended for all lawn owners to undertake every so often.

The top dressing mixture is sold in bags at lawn care and garden nurseries. The mixture is applied to the Buffalo lawn at manufacturer’s recommendations, and when completed – the lawn should look as though it has been dusted with most of the organic material sinking directly into the thatch layer.

The top dressing mixture is then watered into the lawn, and due to it’s very thin application, it should almost disappear into the lawn after watering.

Do not use this organic top dressing mixture to level uneven lawns.

Uneven Buffalo lawns should be top dressed with either a sandy Loam or a clean free flowing sand. Soil from a nearby garden bed may also be used if it hasn’t had organic matter added to it, this should be the same soil which is already under the lawn.

For shallow indentations, the top dressing material can be added to a depth which does not exceed around 12 millimetres at the one time. If the depression is greater, then wait until the first top dress is fully covered before applying another application.

Most of the top grass leaf should still be visible after top dressing, and care should be taken to never completely cover the lawn with top dressing sand.

The sand is then levelled and watered into the Buffalo lawn.

Levelling Deep Indentations in Buffalo Grass

Deeper indentations which may be more than 4-5 centimetres in depth should not be top dressed. Instead, a spade should be used to lift up the affected lawn area, and the top dressing sand placed underneath the turf to achieve most of the levelling. Any slight unevenness which is left over can be top dressed. Maintain regular watering for 2 weeks after this lawn repair.

Top Dressing Myths

There was once a wide spread practice amongst homeowners which involved top dressing lawns every spring. This was done with the belief that the lawn would revitalise itself after the top dressing.

This is a Total Myth

This practice should never be done to a Buffalo lawn, as all it will do is aid in rapidly increasing the thatch layer of the lawn, which is already a major concern for this lawn type.

What Is Top Dressing: Best Top Dressing For Lawns And Gardens

Image by Diana House

It may not be a common issue, but lawn and garden top dressing is occasionally something that needs to be addressed, especially when top dressing a lawn becomes necessary. So exactly what is top dressing? Continue reading to find out how to apply lawn top dressing in the landscape as well as the best top dressing for lawns and gardens.

What is Top Dressing?

What is top dressing? Top dressing is an application of a thin layer of soil over a turf grass area and is used to smooth and level the surface or to modify the soil condition, usually no more than ¼ to ½ inch.

Top dressing is also used to control thatch, protect from extreme temperatures and amend the soil medium around the roots. If improvement of the soil is the goal, it is best to aerate prior to broadcasting top dressing.

Generally, it is used on golf greens and athletic fields to even the surface for play. Top dressing is not usually implemented on home lawns as it is quite pricey; however, it may be suitable for use in extremely wet or bumpy areas.

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Best Top Dressing for Lawns and Gardens

The selection of the correct top dressing is extremely important in order to match the underlying soil and prevent layering. If unsure of the composition of your soil, it may be advisable to collect a sample for analysis or consult a landscaper or reputable lawn care service. Your local extension office can also be of help.

Inspect the top dressing for debris, such as large rocks or weeds. Avoid chemically tainted agricultural soil that can kill turf. Compost is not recommended, as it may “smother” the roots. An organic soil, such as “Black Dirt” or dry sand will prevent water from penetrating too deeply and drowning the grass.

Amount to Use When Top Dressing a Lawn

When ordering top dressing, first determine the surface area and multiply by the depth of top dressing desired (generally, 1/8 to ¼ inch).

Some extremely fertile, fast growing grass areas need a thicker layer of top dressing and require top dressing more often. For example, one half cubic yard of top dressing is needed to broadcast a 1/8 inch layer over an area 10 feet by 100 feet.

How to Apply Lawn Top Dressing

Professionals usually use a top dresser that is self propelled and mounted on a utility vehicle. To top dress at home, the gardener should use a large spreader or shovel to fling the top dressing material. The top dressing material should be fairly dry to ensure ease and proper coverage too.

Half the height of the grass blades should be visible to avoid killing the turf due to lack of sunlight. On larger areas, aerate the soil to mix the top dressing and existing soil. This improves water absorption from the surface to the sub soil. Use top dressing only during active growth periods (fall or spring) and not when it is hot and dry or during dormant turf phases.

Top dressing cannot improve lawns affected by poor drainage and other built in problems but has been shown to be beneficial in correcting matted turf, protecting against severe winter weather, improving water and nutrient retention, and alleviating disease and weeds.

Lawns typically give more than they take. Give your lawn a boost with topdressing! Sprinkle a thin layer of fresh, rich soil on the entire lawn.

Topdress will help a lawn recover from soil compaction, nutrient deficiency, and water or heat stress. Grass will grow into a picture-perfect expanse that will let you truly enjoy your garden.

  • Read also: What is topdressing?

Topdressing is the perfect way to increase lawn health and beauty in an organic garden without using any chemicals or synthetic fertilizer.

How to topdress a lawn

Steps for topdressing a lawn

Here are the steps to topdress a lawn properly.

  • Work on a dry day. Ideally, it shouldn’t have rained for a few days.
  • Mow the lawn first, cutting the grass rather low. If needed, dethatch, too (if thatch is deeper than your nail when you stick your finger in it).
  • Compute how much topdressing mix you need. From 1 to 8 pounds (½ to 4 kg) may be needed per square yard/meter (see below).

Then, there are three passes you have to run over your entire lawn.

  • In the first pass, lump the fresh topdressing mix very regularly around the garden. As a result, the yard should seem dotted with molehills every couple feet (half a meter or a meter apart).
  • In the second pass, spread the lumps out evenly and break up any clumps to small bits.
  • In the third pass, rake or brush the grass so that the topdressing falls through the blades of grass, and gently bring the blades of grass out top.

At the end of the day, you can water the lawn lightly (no flooding or runoff) to further help the topdressing trickle down to ground level. Don’t mow for at least three or four days. No need to use a roller.

Depending on the surface you need covered, different types of equipment are recommended.

Manual lawn topdressing

In its simplest form, you can just use a pail and a rake. A wheelbarrow might help carry bags of topdressing mix around.

  • This is suitable for lawns smaller than 50 square yards or meters.
  • Use the backside of the rake for the pass where you spread the topdressing.
  • Use the tooth side of the rake to pull up blades from under the topdressing. A specific tool exists which is called a lute. A brush with stiff hair will work best as regards grass health, but it’s longer.

Alternatively, you can directly thrust the topdressing mix on the lawn with a wide shovel (such as a snow shovel). It’s hard, physical work, though. It takes practice to cover the lawn evenly.

All in all, for smaller surfaces, it really isn’t necessary to purchase expensive equipment.

Topdressing with small equipment

For lawns that are between 50 and 500 square yards (or meters), having specific equipment will help speed things up. Let’s take a look at the possible options:

  • Small hand-powered push topdressers have a hamper. Load the topdressing mix in the soil, and criss-cross across the entire lawn. It’s often the same tool that’s used to spread seeds when re-seeding a lawn. Gravity and spinners that turn together with the wheels spread the mix evenly.
  • New electric battery-powered topdressing dispensers have whirring blades that project topdressing mix around. Getting the hang of it is very easy. Spreading the topdressing is also very even.
  • Other DIY solutions include rollers made from medium-mesh wire (about ¼ or ½ inch holes, .75 to 1 cm gap) which you fill up and drag or push along the grass, drilled barrels, etc.

Usually, this equipment both spreads and breaks clumps up. As a result, you’ll only need one pass with the device. A second and last manual pass with the rake will pull grass blades up top.

Motorized topdressing

For larger gardens, over 500 square meters or yards, it’s almost mandatory to use motorized devices. The extreme is golf course care, where specific tractors and modified trucks have been designed for the purpose. Smaller variations of these are self-propelled dispensing wagons you guide around the lawn.

Most often, a simple attachment to your regular tractor lawn mower or rototiller will do the trick (tow-type dispensers). Check with your tractor brand to see what accessories are best suited to topdressing.

  • topdressing dispensers are usually the same as seed and fertilizer dispensers.
  • wide brush accessories will be suitable for raking, as should be done after spreading the topdressing mix.

Best topdressing to use on a lawn

Check for imbalances and compensate

As a rule of thumb, the goal is for the topdressing to be close to the original soil, but tending to “improve” it. This means reaching a soil that is richer, less compact, and better draining. However, it’s important not to be too different from the original soil. The key here is avoiding a certain form of transplant shock.

If you’re only adding a single type of amendment (for example, river sand), then divide amounts by half.

Another option is to prepare a half-and-half mix of new amendment with original garden soil.

Best materials for topdressing

  • compost – provides the highest amount of nutrients both short-term and long-term. Best if the composting process brought the compost to high temperatures (over 140°F or 60°C) because this eliminates weed seeds and possible pests. Great for microbial flora and fauna (“live soil”).
  • manure – dry manure must be shredded small enough that it won’t form clumps. It’s very rich in microbial life, which is excellent for lawn soil. However, it might give the air a hearty twang for a couple weeks, smelling a bit unusual.
  • seaweed – now quite common, seaweed can be a great addition to lawn soil because it has lots of nitrogen. If you harvest your own, rinse and dry it well to eliminate sea salt before shredding it.
  • topdressing with sand – best is river sand or quarry sand. Do not use seaside sand because the salt would kill your lawn (quarry sand, even though it was on the seabed, usually has had all the salt washed out over ages). Prefer coarse sand to fine sand. Sand will increase drainage and enhance soil structure. However, in most cases, it isn’t necessary to topdress house lawns with sand, most often only golf courses apply sand turf.
  • peat – not recommended in its natural form unless soil acidity needs to be increased. Best prefer new equivalent nature-friendly alternatives like Brière black soil or materials derived from plant or wood fiber.
  • topsoil – usually available in horticulture stores
  • garden soil – great to add to the mix, especially the first year. Indeed, it’s the best way to ensure topdressing and soil compatibility.
  • forest soil – almost as rich as compost, but must be sieved to ensure no large leaf and stick pieces remain.
  • used coffee grounds – actually an excellent, ready-to-use lawn topdress. It’s already small enough that it doesn’t need sieving. Used coffee grounds aren’t acidic so it won’t change the pH. And nitrogen content is naturally high, perfect for grasses.

Quantity of topdressing and proper lawn topdress amount

There are two different cases that can help determine the amount of topdressing you need to spread. How often a lawn needs topdressing depends on the situation.

  • Regular maintenance of an already healthy lawn – every 3 years – Use 1 to 2 pounds per square yard (½ to 1 kg per square meter). The lower amount guarantees that the lawn will remain beautiful since the layer is almost invisible. It can be repeated up to 6 times within the year. The higher amount makes the lawn look slightly darker or dirtier for around a week. Thicker topdressing should only be applied 3 times that year.
  • Regenerative work to heal a lawn that’s in a pitiful state – yearly topdressing until solved, then every 2 or 3 years – Use 6 to 8 pounds (3 to 4 kg) per square meter in lumpy areas and wherever there are holes and bare patches. Use less on “hills” and more in “holes”. Apply 2 or 3 times within the year at most.

When to topdress lawns

Topdressing isn’t always necessary. However, there are situations where it helps grow a healthier, nicer lawn.

Season and time for topdressing a lawn

Best is to topdress just before a growth spurt. Here are the best seasons for topdressing :

  • beginning of spring
  • middle of spring (a typical June garden task)
  • end of summer
  • middle of autumn

Don’t topdress lawns in summer or winter. Indeed, slow growth means grass can’t grow atop the new layer, resulting in patches being smothered.

Morning dew, and moisture at dusk, make it harder to topdress. Best is before and after lunch or over the afternoon.

Topdress to replenish nutrients, yellow grass and bare patches

Some spots in the lawn tend to wash out nutrients with runoff. Usually grass on these patches turns yellow, sparse and bare.

  • Select topressing that contains good nutrients for grassy plants, high in nitrogen.
  • Compost can be used directly.
  • Mix in manure or seaweed derivatives.

Here is a before and after shot of topdressing a yellow spot on a lawn:

Vulnerable lawns need topdressing

Lawns that are in the following situation deserve regular topdressing:

  • high foot traffic – helps reduce soil compaction
  • high sun and/or wind exposure – helps conserve moisture and reduce water needs
  • previously a construction work site – fine dust from building materials makes soil heavy
  • nutrient-poor soil – lawns set up on thin layers of topsoil, urban areas
  • old lawns planted a long time ago – constant mowing has removed organic materials and compacted soil
  • lawns not irrigated – drought-resistant varieties like kikuyu grass will benefit from topdressing

Topdressing to help level out bumps and holes

Holes and shallows where old tree stumps were removed can be filled in during topdressing. Similarly, a bump in the lawn can be smoothed out by topdressing around the bump (but not on it).

Topdressing after dethatching, renovating and aerating

You could say that topdressing is like dressing a wound. When a lawn is stressed because of moss removal or the soil was aerated, topdressing will help it heal.

  • Dethatching, usually associated to moss removal, is the fact of breaking up the layer of lint that forms after repeated mowing. Blades of grass fall but don’t decompose fast enough. Soil suffocates and only moss keeps growing. Also called scarification.
  • Lawn renovation is a set of steps that helps rebuild an old or damaged lawn.
  • Aerating the soil means pulling out plugs at close intervals or walking around with nail-equipped shoes. It breaks the crust and helps air and water trickle in.
  • Reseeding the lawn or overseeding – spreading new seeds for a more dense, lush lawn. This is either with the same grass as earlier, or because you’d like to introduce a new type of grass. In the end, the variety most suited to the area will win over.

Note: if you’re adding new lawn seeds:

  • during maintenance topdressing – spread seeds first, before topdressing
  • during regenerative topdressing – spread seeds after spreading the topdressing but before raking it down

Benefits of topdressing for a lawn

There are quite a lot of advantages of topdressing lawns.

  • Replenish nutrients in the soil – fresh nutrients and organic matter replaces what has been consumed or washed out.
  • Increased porosity, reduced compaction – soil develops small cavities that help grass roots grow quickly. Soil structure is improved.
  • Greater air circulation – plants breathe with their roots, too. Microscopic animals, insects, and worms find it easier to breathe.
  • Better water retention – small cavities retain water, the topdressing acts to block evaporation. Soil stays cooler throughout the day.
  • More biodiversity in the soil – animals have more food, air and water and in turn produce more nutrients for grass.
  • Ground is softer and less hard – the layer of living grass is thicker and bounces back after being trod on.
  • Less need for fertilizer – organic material in the topdressing breaks down into basic plant nutrients.

It’s equivalent to repotting for a houseplant, but for a lawn.

A great way to maximize the positive impact of topdressing is to pair topdressing with organic fertilizer. Spraying fermented tea on your lawn immediately after topdressing will give it a real boost!

Precautions when you topdress a lawn

Young lawns and topdressing

Don’t topdress a lawn you recently planted or renovated. It would upset fragile root systems. Wait for at least three years. Of course, best is to have included nutrient-rich materials when preparing a new lawn.

Smothering lawn with topdress

The most important with topdressing is to not put too much!

  • Topdress with recommended quantity.
  • Better to topdress twice with half the amount than once with a larger quantity.
  • Even at the heart of the growing season, don’t topdress more than once every three weeks.
  • When leveling out holes, be especially wary of putting too much topdressing. This will backfire and kill off the grass, creating a bare patch.
  • Watch out for clumps and break them up. Each clump will create a hole in the lawn. Use very dry topdressing mix for best results.

Wrong amendments added to lawn

In some cases, the topdressing mix won’t merge well with the existing lawn soil, resulting in layers. This is because contents are too different from the original soil.

  • The first time you topdress, use 50% original garden soil and 50% new topdressing mix. Dig it out from a growing bed or flower bed.
  • It’s also possible to analyze your soil and select or prepare the perfect topdressing mix.
  • Check that the pH of the topdressing mix doesn’t stray to far away from the pH of the original soil (at most 1 point difference).

Layers shouldn’t happen because they would result in smothered grass, moss growing, and thatch forming.

Gravel or grit in the topdressing

Another type of mistake with topdressing is when it contains gravel or grit that is too large.

  • Sieve the topdressing mix first.
  • Best sieve grade is ¼th inch (0.5 to 0.75 cm)

Weeds sprouting everywhere after topdressing

This is possibly because the topdressing mix used had seeds in it! It often happens very often with compost, a bit less with forest soil.

  • use sterilized topdressing mix, or sterilize your compost (must have reached 140°F / 60°C during the composting process).
  • resume mowing about 4-5 days after having spread the topsoil. Most weeds won’t survive when cut short.
  • manual weeding may be necessary to remove low-lying weeds like dandelion and clover.

Learn more about topdressing lawns

Top dressing is a brilliant alternative to chemical fertilizers. It’s a great way to manage a healthy lawn with purely organic options.

It was pioneered and developed especially for the golfing industry, where lush, pristine greens were needed for playing. In early days, it was actually the only option to grow healthy lawns since chemical fertilizers didn’t exist.

Smart tip about lawn topdress

Don’t splurge to buy equipment right immediately. Practice by hand on a small area first to get a feel of how it should go.

Then, ask around your neighborhood, someone almost certainly has the equipment for rent or for borrowing. Since it’s only needed every three years or so, it often isn’t worth purchasing at all.

Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Topdressing on lawn, manual by Rosalyn & Gaspard Lorthiois, own work
Push-pull manual topdresser by Lloyd Jensen ★ under © CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Yellow spot on lawn by Rosalyn & Gaspard Lorthiois, own work
Topdressed yellow lawn spot by Rosalyn & Gaspard Lorthiois, own work
Rake topdress lawn by Rosalyn & Gaspard Lorthiois, own work
Compost trail by Lloyd Jensen ★ under © CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

How to Top-Dress Lawns with Compost

By Cathy Cromell, The National Gardening Association

If you’ve gone through the effort of making rich compost of your own, you can use it to top-dress your lawn for thicker, healthier grass. You can use compost to top-dress both new and existing lawns.

  • On a seeded lawn: After sowing lawn grass seeds, apply a thin layer — about 1/4-inch — of compost as top-dressing to help maintain consistent soil moisture while seeds germinate and tender grass seedlings get established. Top-dressing is especially helpful in arid climates or during dry or breezy spells, where the soil and seeds easily dry out within hours. (If a germinated seed dries out, it’s a goner.)

  • On an existing lawn: Top-dressing with compost may also rejuvenate existing lawns. Lawns often become compacted over time from foot traffic, play, and mowing, which prevents air, water, and nutrients from circulating freely through the turf’s root zone.

    Top-dressing is more effective if the turf is core aerated before spreading the compost. To core aerate a small patch of turf, use a specialized foot press that you can find at your local home and garden store. For large lawns, rent a machine from an equipment supply company or hire a lawn maintenance firm.

When top-dressing with compost, you should only use screened compost or compost with particle sizes of 3/8-inch or less. Small compost particles infiltrate between blades of grass more easily than large particles, which may smother the grass. Also, take care to top-dress with compost that’s guaranteed free of weed seeds, or you may be sowing a future weeding nightmare into your lawn!

No matter where you live, the best time to aerate and top-dress your lawn is when it is most actively growing. This allows the grass to vigorously rebound after having holes punched in it.

If you live in either a cool or “transition” climate and grow one permanent turfgrass (such as bluegrass or fescue), the best time to aerate your lawn is spring to mid-summer. Avoid aerating these grasses during summer’s intense heat, which may stress roots. Although some growth occurs in early fall, these types of grasses go semi- or fully dormant as weather cools, making recovery after a late aeration more stressful. Also, early aeration promotes better penetration of summer and fall rains through the soil when it’s most beneficial for growth. Improved soil penetration with rainfall creates a healthier, stronger lawn that has a better chance of making it through harsh winters unscathed.

If you live in a warm climate that allows year-round lawns, you have different options. The best time to aerate and top-dress is early to mid-summer when your warm-season lawn (such as Bermuda grass) is actively growing. You should also apply compost top-dressing (without aeration) after overseeding your summer lawn with a cool-season grass (such as ryegrass) in the fall. If you don’t overseed, there’s no need to top-dress in fall.

Irrigate immediately after top-dressing (unless rain does the job for you). Water disperses the compost evenly among the grass blades.

Time to Top-dress Turf!

Spring is literally around the corner, and our attention turns from the brown of dormancy to the green of new growth. It’s my favorite time of year as plants become a focus of our human attention.

Turning our attention to green, the mainstay of most urban landscapes in central Florida is the turf/grass/lawn. This landscape element is often the most expensive of the features when considering the inputs: labor, equipment, fertilizers, and pesticides. In my previous job as a professional landscape manager, I learned to value landscape maintenance by the cubic foot rather than the square foot. When viewed through that lens, an investment in a tree that only needs occasional structural pruning or a mature shrub bed needing only mulch at the edges are a particularly good value compared to the flat field of green.

Turf in Florida-Friendly Landscaping™

A Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ move is to reduce the turf area to only functional space in your landscape, such as enough area to kick a ball, walk a dog, or for party guests to overflow from the patio. A reduced lawn area will save on the input expenses. If changing your landscape is not in the plan this year, perhaps you’ll be interested in another approach to reduce your inputs and improve your environmental footprint: topdress your turf.


Top-dressing turf with a quality compost product has the potential to improve soil quality, nutrient and water-holding capacity, and plant health. Good soil quality allows more robust plant root structure, higher organic matter helps the soil hold onto water and nutrients better, and soil active microbes from the addition of compost may improve the quality and appearance of the grass. A recent field study conducted in a local development showed an average increase of soil organic matter of nearly 60% with compost topdressing. Anecdotally, some of the participants reported a reduced need for irrigation and fertilizer, and an approved appearance of their lawn.

Topdressing is usually accompanied with an aeration that allows the biologically active soil amendment to work its way down to the turf’s root zone. Watering in after application is a good practice to kick the microbes into action. Aeration and an application of ½ to ¼” of a fine screened fully composted product can be done by a landscape professional with mechanized equipment, or can be done by a homeowner with a bag of compost, a shovel to toss it around and a leaf rake upside down to get it near the soil.

More research needs to be conducted to validate and quantify the environmental benefit and economics of a compost top-dressing to existing turf areas. In the meantime, consider giving this a try on your lawn. Do your own “citizen science” and see if you are able to enjoy a beautiful lawn with fewer inputs this year. It’s time to top-dress your turf!

by lsingleton

Posted: March 24, 2018

Category: Florida-Friendly Landscaping, Home Landscapes, Uncategorized

Tags: compost, topdress, turf, turf amendment

Top dressing To Fix Lawn Indentations

What is topdressing?

Topdressing is a method used in lawn care, and is the application of sand or a soil mix to the surface of your lawn. It is used to level out small indentations in the lawn and create a smooth level surface across the lawn.

Topdressing is also used to apply a thin layer of a nutrient mix of organic matter over the lawn to replace the use of a fertiliser.

Topdressing was often thought to be good for the all-round health of a lawn and a layer of sand would be applied over the full lawn. This is incorrect, all that will do is raise the level of the lawn and create thick layers of thatch and sand which will ruin the health of your lawn. Read more here on how to fix lawn thatch problems.

How does it work?

Top dressing helps the patch of grass which has been dressed create new shoots and runners which then grow to level out the dents in your lawn for a smooth, green surface.

When should you topdress your lawn?

If you are wanting to apply a nutrient soil mix, anytime during the year is fine. For fixing indentations, the best time is within the growing season – from the beginning of Spring to a few months before Winter sets in.

How to fix lawn indentations.

For indentations in the surface of your lawn less than 5cm…

  • Fill each indentation in with soil from your property or clean sand and compact it down.
  • Water it both during and after application so the sand can make its way into all the little spaces.
  • Finish by levelling it off to match the level of the lawn around it.

What to do for large indentations

When you have indentations deeper than 5cm and spread out wide, topdressing will only suffocate your lawn, impairing its ability to re-grow.

The best way to fix this problem is to cut out the affected area, apply the sand underneath and replace the lawn. This raises the level without choking it with sand. Once you have replaced the lawn, very lightly topdress the area to finish.

How long until the lawn is back to normal?

If you have topdressed your lawn during the warmer growing season it should take between 2-8 weeks. This of course also depends on how carefully it has been looked after during this time with proper watering etc.

Take care to not mow the treated areas until the new roots have grown in and the lawn doesn’t move when it’s tugged gently upwards.

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