Topdressing Turf is an old concept that goes back to the old St. Andrews golf course. Until recently, the immediate satisfaction and convenience for homeowners and the profits of lawn maintenance companies have led modern chemical practices to triumph over the ancient art of manually spreading compost on the lawn. However, with the growing popularity of organic lawn care, a new romance with topdressing is developing among homeowners in America.
The practice of top dressing
When topdressing a lawn, a thin layer of material is applied over the grass.Typically, 1/4 to 1/2 inch compost or other soil additive is shoveled over the lawn in a throwing action. The material can then be worked into the thatched layer by raking, washed in with rain or sprinklers, or deposited by itself. It is a labor-intensive activity and this may be one of the reasons for its low popularity. There are motorized top dressers and compost spreaders, but they are expensive machines, especially for an infrequently used piece of equipment. Lawn care companies sometimes offer a top dressing service, but sometimes they are reluctant as it is viewed as a labor intensive inconvenience without a large profit margin. However, as consumers have become sensitive to the issues surrounding chemical lawn care, they are beginning to learn the benefits of top dressing and use the services of lawn care professionals. Many learn how to do it themselves.
Benefits of top dressing
The benefits of topdressing are so numerous that it is difficult to understand why it isn’t the foundation of every lawn care program.As a soil improver, topdressing can improve soil biology by adding organic matter and the beneficial microorganisms found in compost. Soil structure and drainage can be changed by top dressing with sand or other corrective materials. Regular topdressing can smooth out bumps caused by worm infestation and promote a thick, lush lawn. Topdressing reduces lawn stress, helps keep the lawn under control and acts as a long-term natural fertilizer.Adding organic matter to a lawn by top dressing it with compost is arguably the most beneficial cultural practice the science of lawn care has to offer.
The best materials for top dressing
Topdressing materials vary widely and are usually dictated by the budget and needs of the lawn. Most topdressing is done with compost, which can vary in quality and be expensive. Compost should be made from the right proportions of wet and dry materials and should be fully “cooked” – badly decomposed. High-quality ready-made compost is dark and rich and contains a large number of organic materials with few fillers such as sawdust or clay. In some cases, commercial compost is mixed with soil or sand to make it more affordable and easier to spread, but make sure the soil you add is compatible with the soil on your lawn.
Good topdressing compost is not always easy to find. Some sources are trying to save money by selling the compost too early, before it has cooked enough, or by using too much filler and too little finished compost in the mix.While it’s okay for the topdressing mixture to have some amount of organic material that hasn’t broken down yet, too much filler negates the benefits of the topdressing. In other words, always buy your topdressing compost from a reputable source.
Sand is sometimes used as a top fertilizer on lawns with heavy, loamy soil or drainage problems. Usually applied after aerating, the sand fills the holes and over time can alter the structure of the soil for better drainage and healthier grass.
How to get dressed
Manual topdressing is hard work that involves shoveling, moving, and spreading compost or other topdressing materials.However, the results make the hard work worthwhile. Traditionally, topdressing has been scooped across the lawn using a movement similar to a hockey player swinging at a puck. Spin the compost with a gentle, stroking motion to distribute the material as evenly as possible to a depth of 1/4 to 1/2 inch. Then lightly rake the lawn to ensure that the top dressing is evenly distributed. Immediate pouring will help set the material down and hold it in place.
Motorized top dressing spreaders are also available to make this work easier. Power spreaders consist of a hopper to hold the material and a motorized belt to move the material through the hopper to a rotating disc that spreads it on the lawn. These machines are becoming more and more popular as more and more people ask for top fertilization with compost as part of their lawn care. Tool rental centers and large hardware stores can rent them.
It is a good idea to do topdressing in conjunction with other cultural practices such as aerating, scarifying, and overseeding. Topdressing after aerating and overseeding is the ideal trio of lawn care practices to create a healthier lawn. Aeration opens up the soil, which allows for better air and water movement and less compaction. The ventilation holes, in turn, provide the perfect environment for reseeding so that newer generations of grass can establish themselves and thrive. Finally, topdressing with compost will help fill the holes, cover the seeds, and create ideal germination conditions as well as just the right nutrient boost for the grass seedlings as they establish themselves.