A green and healthy lawn starts, literally, from the ground up. One way to improve the look of your lawn is to improve the soil. A technique called topdressing can help you do just that. Topdressing is the process of adding soil or other organic material directly over the top of your lawn. In addition to improving soil conditions, topdressing can help smooth out rough or uneven areas in your lawn. It also can set the stage for seeding bare areas.
“Turf professionals use topdressing techniqes to improve high-maintenance, high-use areas, such as putting greens, all the time,” explains Van Cline, PhD., senior agronomist at The Toro Company. According to Cline, there are three benefits to topdressing your home lawn. “The primary benefit of topdressing is to aid the breakdown of thatch,” he says. Adding soil to the surface of your grass allows it to work its way down into the turf, speeding up microbial activity. The soil particles help speed up the decomposition process. Topdressing also can help smooth out bumpy areas in your lawn, filling in low spaces or other damaged areas. Finally, topdressing can modify soil conditions, creating a better growing environment for the turf. Knowing your soil conditions before you choose what type of material to use for topdressing is key.
“If you have poor soil, you can modify the soil properties by topdressing,” explains Cline. “Adding a coarse material, such as sand, to heavy clay soils can improve drainage. Topdressing with compost on soil that is too sandy or lacking in nutrients can improve the growing conditions. If you have good soil, you should be topdressing with a mixture similar to your current soil conditions.”
Once you’ve determined your needs, make sure you’re only spreading ¼- to ½-inch of your mixture across the lawn in a single application. Adding too much at once can create poor growing conditions. Spreading the material typically requires a little manual labor. Distributing the soil mixture with a shovel is the most common application. “If you have very dry material, you can use a broadcast fertilizer spreader,” says Cline.
Once the process is completed, watering your lawn will help the soil settle into the ground. Be sure the soil mixture is completely settled before your next mowing.