Topdressing Your Lawn: Here’s Everything You Need to Know

Top dressing your lawn is a great way to inspire long-lasting growth throughout the summer, providing the grass with a slow release of nutrients that sustains its needs.

Are you planning on having a lush, green lawn this summer? With the springtime upon us, it’s time to give your grass the boost it needs to establish itself this growing season. With the right fertilizer or top dressing, you could have the greenest grass on your block.

Top dressing your lawn is a great way to inspire long-lasting growth throughout the summer, providing the grass with a slow release of nutrients that sustains its needs. This post unpacks everything you need to know about turning the turf in your yard into a luscious lawn this year.

Why Should You Feed Your Lawn?

Feeding your lawn should be a priority for any homeowner who wants to enhance their grass’s health this summer. Using a compost top dressing for your lawn helps you reduce the use of synthetic fertilizers this year.

Many people forget about improving soil health when using synthetics, and they end up getting poor results from their efforts. With a top dressing, you’re enriching the soil with a no-till method bringing organic nutrients into the ground.

With better soil quality, you get improved drainage and pest resistance while helping it choke out weeds. With the right top dressing, you can avoid the use of toxic pre-emergent in your lawn care.

The use of top dressing encourages better root growth in your grass, making it resistant to drought. As the soil condition improves, it spurs the presence of beneficial microbes in the soil that help to deliver nutrients to the roots.

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What is Lawn Top Dressing?

Top dressing is the act of spreading organic material over the lawn surface. Typically, the homeowner or landscaper completes this duty right before the first rains of the season. When the rain lands, it drives the nutrients from the organic material in the top dressing into the spoil.

For most lawns, the best organic material for top dressing is compost. Just sprinkle a light layer of the compost over the grass, and wait for the rain to do the rest. If you live in a dry region, you’ll need to water in the compost thoroughly after dressing.

Don’t smother the lawn with your top dressing, as blocking out the light will kill the grass. You want about 50% coverage, meaning that you should see around 50% of the grass in any specific area you cover with the top dressing.

Ideally, a ¼ to ½ inch layer of organic compost over the turf is all you need to complete the task.

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What are the Benefits of Top Dressing My Lawn?

  • Top dressing your lawn gives your turf several beneficial advantages throughout the summer season. As each rain breaks down the organic matter, it slowly releases nutrients into the soil.
  • The roots of the grass such up the nutrients, leading to stronger growth during the season (unfortunately, that means more mowing too).
  • As the organic compost breaks down into the ground, it improves nutrient quality and soil consistency. The top dressing can help to aerate the lawn, driving more air around the roots. Air is an essential part of plant life, and more air around the roots adds up to a thicker, greener lawn.
  • Compost also contains microbes, tiny organisms that assist with improving the health of your lawn. The microbes break down into the thatch, turning it into further organic material that breaks down into the soil.
  • As a result, your lawn drains better, ensuring there’s no waterlogging of the soil.

When Do I Apply Top Dressing to My Lawn?

We recommend top dressing your lawn in the early spring, before the first rains land in your area. It’s best to top dress just before the greening effect becomes noticeable in the early summer. If you have a severely depleted lawn, you can add a second top dressing in the late fall, right before the leaves start to drop.

Gardeners only need a ¼ inch of compost on the top of their lawn for best results, so don’t spread with a heavy hand. After spreading, you have the option of waiting for the rain or soaking it in with the hose. If you’re using the hose, water in the compost, but don’t waterlog the soil.

Why Use Compost of Liquid Synthetic Fertilizers?

Using synthetics might seem like a good idea. However, they’re not the organic choice for your yard. Some synthetics even promise to improve the aeration in the soil. However, we prefer using organic materials in our gardening practices, and we’re sure you do too.

However, synthetics lack the ability to add microbes to the soil to improve biological activity around the thatch and roots. Compost gives your lawn an organic result. It might take a week or so longer for it to get to work, but it provides the same effects as synthetics while keeping your backyard organic.

How to Apply Top Dressing to Your Lawn

Top dressing your lawn isn’t rocket science. However, you need to know what you’re in for, and there’s a big difference in the effort required for dressing a large lawn as opposed to a small backyard.

  • Most homeowners with small to mid-sized lawns prefer to top dress the grass by hand. You’ll need a wheelbarrow or garden cart for the compost, a leaf rake, and a gardening fork. Don’t forget your hat if you’re working in the sun.
  • Load up the wheelbarrow with the compost, and make sure you don’t overload it so that the compost falls over the sides. Walk to the far side of the lawn, and start in a corner. Scoop the compost out of the wheelbarrow using the garden fork, or put on some gloves and spread it by hand over the lawn.
  • You’re aiming for no more than a ½ inch layer of compost over the grass; any more will smother it. If you get too much in a certain area, use the leaf rake to spread the compost. You don’t need 100% accuracy with your top dressing, but try to stick to the 50% coverage rule we spoke about earlier.
  • Spreading the top dressing by hand might take some time, especially if you have a garden. Therefore, it’s important to ensure you remain consistent with the amount of dressing you apply to the area. Check back on your work, as it’s common for people to start adding too much dressing as they progress with the task.
  • If you have a medium-sized lawn, you can reduce the effort required to top dress the area with the help of a peat moss spreader. This spreading machine features a rotating barrel and a mesh metal opening. Most landscapers use them to spread peat moss, but they work great as a spreader for your top dressing.
  • You just fill the barrel in the spreader with your compost and walk around your lawn. You get an adjustment on the machine that sets the opening in the bottom of the unit, determining how much compost falls through the wire mesh.
  • You set the machine, give it a test run, and then start spreading your dressing across the lawn. The spreader drops the compost out of an opening on the bottom of the machine, giving you a perfect layer of top dressing for your grass.
  • The dropper also ensures that you get an even layer of dressing on the surface of your lawn. Using the dropper means you don’t have to worry about raking the compost to even things out, reducing the time you spend dressing the lawn.
  • The only drawback with these machines is the price tag, as some of them can cost several hundred dollars. However, they do offer you a level of convenience that makes it super-easy to dress the largest lawns. Droppers are also suitable for contractors and landscapers that need to fertilize large grass areas.
  • Golf courses and public parks suit the use of mechanized droppers, similar to sit-down lawnmowers. These machines allow the rapid dressing of the largest spaces.
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Water the Lawn After Spreading the Dressing

After you finish with your spreading duties, you can water the compost into the lawn. Ideally, to save on resources, you should time the completion of your top dressing with the start of the rainy season in your area, assuming it rains in the summer.

If not, you’ll have to resort to the method of watering in the dressing using your garden hose and the municipal water supply. Watering is an essential part of the dressing process. The water breaks down the compost, driving it into the ground to mix with the soil.

When Will I Notice Results from My Top Dressing?

Most top dressings start releasing nutrients into the soil right away. The watering of the top dressing feeds the roots, and you’ll notice a result within a week.

However, you’ll see better results with natural rainwater due to the balanced pH that enhances growth, making your lawn surge to life faster than using municipal water supplies.

Hollie is a life-long gardener, having started helping her Dad work on their yard when she was just 5. Since then she has gone on to develop a passion for growing vegetables & fruit in her garden. She has an affinity with nature and loves to share her knowledge gained over a lifetime with readers online. Hollie has written for a number of publications and is now the resident garden blogger here at GardenBeast. Contact her at or follow on twitter

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