Top dressing your lawn is much more than just flinging some soil over the grass. It’s the art of greenifying and levelling your lawn while encouraging better drainage and improving soil biology.
In this post, we go through the why, how, and when of lawn top dressing. We’ll also list the pros and cons of top dressing and answer some frequently asked questions.
Top dressing your lawn will take it from bare and brown to thick and thriving. You can do it by spreading ¼ of an inch of top dressing material over the grass. This will add nutrients to the soil, improve water retention, and prevent erosion. The best time to top dress your lawn is between spring and autumn.
Ready to get to work? Read on to learn all about topdressing your lawn.
What is lawn top dressing?
Lawn top dressing means adding a thin layer of material over the grass. You can spread ¼ of an inch of compost or sand across your lawn. Then work it down evenly by raking or using motorised spreaders.
Top dressing will improve the soil quality and encourage the grass to grow more vigorously through the top dressing material. You’ll notice a huge difference in the appearance of your lawn after top dressing.
Lawn dressing before and after
Before top dressing, your lawn most likely looks distressed, with bare spots here and there. It may lack the nutrients needed for a dense, lush lawn. Plus, you may also notice plenty of dead grass or thatch.
Don’t worry. Top dressing will give your lawn the facelift it deserves.
After top dressing, your lawn’s soil biology will improve. This will break down the thatch layer, improve drainage, and smooth out any bumps and bare patches. What’s more, top dressing will encourage the grass to grow, so walking on it feels like walking on a sponge.
The best soil for top dressing
From sand and topsoil to compost, and custom-blended mixes, there are many top dressing materials you can use. So, which one’s the best for your lawn? We’ll get to that.
But first, ensure that the dressing material matches the underlying soil, says Dr. J. Bryan Unruh, a leading authority on turfgrass. Using a drastically different material will affect the air and water movement, reducing the overall turfgrass quality.
Now, let’s take a look at the different choices and mixes for top dressing.
- Sand: Sand is perfect for golf courses and other man-made greens. It will level bumpy ground, improve drainage, and loosen soil density. But remember, it will not improve your lawn’s fertility.
- Topsoil: Topsoil similar to the underlying soil will level out your lawn. But topsoil for lawn won’t provide nutrients to your grass for dense growth.
- Compost: Compost is the best material for top dressing lawn. It’s rich in organic matter that your turf needs for growth.
- Dressing mix: You can also make a cost-effective dressing mix. Simply blend equal parts of compost with topsoil or sand.
Best sand for top dressing lawns in the UK
There are a few different types of sand available for top dressing. This includes sharp sand, river sand, silver sand, mason sand, play sand and USGA sand.
USGA sand is often the best choice for top dressing lawns in the UK. It’s hydro-washed, very fine and free draining. It’s also quite easy to work into the surface of your lawn. That said, USGA top dressing sand is more expensive than other types of sand, but it’s a good investment that will pay off.
Why top dress a lawn? Pros and cons
When done correctly, top dressing helps with overall lawn care. It smooths the surface of the lawn, controls thatch, and improves the root zone.
Let’s take a closer look at the key reasons for top dressing:
- Surface smoothing: An uneven and bumpy lawn can cause drainage issues. These may lead to fungal infestation and erosion. Top dressing application helps smoothen surface irregularities.
- Thatch control: Thatch is a layer of dead grass that can inhibit air and water movement. Top dressing can fix this issue. The microbes in compost will break down and decompose the thatch.
- Surface root zone improvement: The root zone is the layer in which the grass roots live. The long-term success of any green lawn depends on it. Top dressing helps to improve the surface root zone by correcting unfavourable soil conditions.
Pros of top dressing
From adding nutrients to the soil to improving aeration, here are the benefits of top dressing your lawn:
- Top dressing adds plenty of nutrients to the soil, like nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. This will help to greenify your lawn.
- Compost top dressing carries beneficial soil microbes. These microbes help to break down the thatch and control diseases.
- Top dressing improves aeration. It also boosts the soil’s ability to hold nutrients and water.
Cons of top dressing
Lawn topdressing also comes with certain problems, like encouraging weeds and leaching salts.
- Top dressing might introduce or encourage the growth of unwanted weeds. It might even serve as a source of parasitic organisms that feed on turf grasses.
- Certain top dressing mixes may contain chemicals and salts. These can leach out and make the soil poor or unfit for growth.
- Low-quality top dressing soil can cause layering problems. This will disrupt the water and air movement in the soil.
When to top dress a lawn in the UK
The best time to top dress a lawn in the UK is anytime between April to October. That’s when the grass is actively growing, with plenty of sun and rain. Top dressing your UK lawn in spring or autumn will aerate the earth and encourage root growth. Ideally, you want to top dress your lawn after scarification and before overseeding.
How to top dress a lawn
You can top dress your lawn in five easy steps. Start by preparing your lawn by loosening the thatch and mowing the grass. Then choose the right top dressing material for your lawn. Next, distribute the top dressing in small parts, spread it evenly, and patiently wait for new growth to sprout. Let’s zoom in on each of these steps.
Step 1 – Prepare your lawn
Before you start spreading soil for your lawn dressing, make sure to prepare the lawn. First, break up the thatch layer. Use a rake or core aerator for this.
Then, mow the lawn very lightly. This will take the new growth off and let the top dressing material easily penetrate the surface.
Step 2 – Choose the top dressing material
You can use sand, topsoil, compost, or a dressing mix to top dress your lawn. Choose the top dressing material that matches the soil already present on your lawn.
For best results, use a finely screened mix of sand and compost. This will feed your lawn as well as fill out any uneven patches in it.
Step 3 – Apply the top dressing
The next step is to apply the top dressing material to your lawn. You can fill the dressing in a barrel and distribute it in small parts around the lawn. Alternatively, you can fling it using a shovel or your hands.
Don’t worry if you’re not able to apply it evenly. Apply approximately 1/4 inch at a time, and not more, otherwise, it can hamper healthy grass growth.
Step 4 – Spread the top dressing
Time to get your lawn dressed! In this step, you’ll have to spread the dressing material to see if there are gaps or excessive material in some places.
For this, you will need a steel rake. Use it upside-down to push and pull the soil around till you get an even surface. Then use a metal leveller and move it back and forth again. This will help the soil to move down the blades of grass.
Finally, use a traditional garden rake and move the dressing material around the edges of your lawn for a perfect finish.
Step 5 – Allow new growth to sprout
Water your lawn to allow the top dressing to settle down. Also, avoid heavy foot traffic for the next week. Then wait for new growth to sprout.
This might take a while. But slowly, you’ll begin to notice better drainage, decomposing thatch, and fresh, new growth.
What to top dress a lawn with?
You don’t need sophisticated tools to top dress your lawn. A simple garden rake, metal leveller, and drag map are more than enough. But if you have a large lawn and a sufficient budget, you can consider investing in an eco lawn dresser.
- Steel garden rake: Use the traditional steel garden rake upside-down to move and evenly spread the top dressing material.
- Metal soil leveller: As the name suggests, a metal leveller will help you level the dressing material. It’s basically a metal grate with a swivel on the end of the handle.
- Plastic garden rake: A classic garden rake will help you reach the edges of the garden which other tools might miss.
- Drag map: You can think of this tool as a steel carpet. It helps rattle down the top dressing material into the smallest of holes and level out the lawn.
- Eco lawn machine: This is a small version of the machine used in golf courses. It spreads the top dressing material thinly all over the lawn.
How much top dressing do I need?
The answer depends on how long your lawn grass is. The rule of thumb is to apply the top dressing one centimetre deep. That way, you will need 1 cubic metre for every 100 square metres of lawn.
That said, if you bury the grass too deeply in a layer of top dressing, you’ll starve it of sunlight. So, gently move any excessive top dressing material, allowing the grass blades to poke through.
What to do after top dressing
After top dressing, sprinkle your lawn lightly to allow the material to settle. Give your lawn a few days’ rest. That means no raking or mowing. Be patient and before long, you’ll see the green results of all your hard work.
How much does it cost to top dress your lawn?
The cost to top dress your lawn largely depends on its current condition and the areas that need a little bit of extra work. Roughly speaking, top dressing will cost you around £1.60 per square metre. This excludes delivery and other miscellaneous costs.
You can buy top dressing for lawns at your local nursery, garden centre, or home improvement store. You can also look up online stores that deliver top dressing soil to your area.
If you have some more lingering doubts about the why, how, and when of top dressing your lawn, these FAQs might come to your rescue:
Can you put top soil over grass to level it?
Yes, you can put topsoil on the grass to level your lawn. Just spread it around evenly with a rake and leveller and you’re good to go. But make sure not to apply it too thickly or you may smother the grass.
Will grass grow over topsoil?
Yes, your existing lawn grass will grow over topsoil. Once you have top dressed your lawn with topsoil, you might have to wait a few seasons before the grass grows back thick and lush.
What is the best top dressing for lawns?
Compost is often the best top dressing for lawns. It’s rich in organic matter and nutrients. That means goodbye thatch and hello lush growth.
Tips for a greener lawn
You can turn your lawn from bare to beautiful without slaving away in the dirt for hours. How? By top dressing lawn the right way.
- Make sure to pick the right lawn top dressing mix.
- Use the right tools, like a garden rake and soil leveller, to spread the soil.
- Make sure you apply enough top dressing material. While too little will not show results, too much will raise your yard level.
The key is to top dress your lawn lightly and gradually. Have patience with the process, and you can turn a patchy eyesore into a green and healthy lawn.