Top dressing your lawn: how to guide
For those just starting out on their quest to get their lawn in shape for summer, applying a top dress might be a foreign concept but it is the one of the best ways to lay the groundwork for a gorgeous green that you can be proud of. For some, top dressing is a great way to correct poor lawn preparation, holes, and unevenness in a soil or turf surface. It can also add some extra organic matter to soil that needs a bit of a boost. It is also prominently used by groundskeepers to maintain sporting greens; especially golf greens. It is why the soil is so sandy when you go golfing. Playground ovals, rugby fields, AFL grounds all get top dressed on a yearly basis and many avid lawn lovers make it a yearly task in their lawn maintenance schedule.
Why Top Dress?
Top dressing your lawn can serve two functions and there are two types of top dresses you can go for; you just need to decide on what function you need it to perform. If your lawn is looking tired and lacks nutrients a soil based top dress is the way to go. A soil based top dress will be packed full of organic matter to help feed your plants whilst still filling any holes and unevenness on your lawn.
If you are a lawn fanatic and you keep to a regular fertilisation and watering schedule you might just want to even out your lawn, so a sand based top dress would work best. Sand based top dresses often contain little to no organics, so it is important to apply these to a lawn that is healthy. If you are looking for a bit of both, you can look for a USGA top dress with added organics so you can get that beautiful finish while still adding some nutrient value back into your soil.
Some of the benefits of using a top dress are as follows:
- You get an even lawn – In your average lawn the space between your stems and leaves varies causing your ground to be uneven. In the golf world this can affect the roll of the ball, making it inconsistent.
- Thatch reduction – As your lawn develops season to season, dead organic matter and debris can build up between your grass blades causing brown spots and causing unplanned mower scalping. Applying a top dress will avoid these issues by protecting your root system, encourage new grass blade growth and hold your lawn in place for a more even look.
- Disease and wear protection – Top dress can prevent disease by cushioning and protecting the roots and blades of your turf. This cushioning also gives your turf a spongy surface making it more hardy and able to recover from high foot traffic.
- Improved Rootzone – The greatest secret to having a lawn that looks healthy year-round is to improve its root system. Root systems will go where the moisture goes so the deeper you get moisture to penetrate your soil the better root system you end up with. Top dresses have a higher sand percentage than normal soils and sand drains well and is resistant to soil compaction.
When to top dress?
One of the added benefits of top dressing is that it will encourage your grass blades to grow evenly and will allow for a denser lawn. Because of this, it is important to get your top dressing done in spring while your lawn is in its new growth period. The timing of this growth during spring is very much dependent on the state you live in. It heats up faster in Queensland so you might need to top dress early to mid spring while Victoria you might be looking at mid-spring as prime time.
Top dressing is not recommended in the Winter months as your turf is in a dormant phase where top dressing can actually damage your lawn rather than improve it. Now that you have an idea of why top dressing is a great idea, let’s go through the steps to make your first top dress a raging success.
Step 1: Fertilise your lawn before top dressing
Before you start the process of top dressing, try giving your lawn a boost with some fertiliser. It is best to do this early in the season and before top dressing so it can really penetrate. Two weeks before you top dress is a sufficient amount of time for your fertiliser to start working it’s magic.
Step 2: Mowing, dethatching, and aerating
When you apply your top dress, you want to be able to evenly disperse it and want any nutrients to be able to be taken up by your soil quickly; this is why dethatching your lawn and clearing it from debris is essential. Once your lawn is dethatched, give it a once over with the mower. Mow your turf short but not too short as this might cause damage. Remember to remove any grass clippings before applying your top dress.
Some people also like coring and aerating their lawn before applying their top dress. this step reduces soil compaction, improves fertiliser absorption and use, increases oxygen movement, and enhances water absorption.
Step 3: Top dressing application
Once all the above steps are complete, it is time to apply your top dress. To get an even spread, pour or shovel the top dress out into even piles around your lawn. Now that you have your piles sorted, it is time to spread those piles over your lawn to finish off with an even look. You can do this using the back of a rake or even better, by using a topsoil spreader. Your top dress should be applied 1-2cm deep so it can get down to the roots. Make sure you don’t bury your turf.
Step 4: Water it in
You last step is use a sprinkler or hose to water your top dress in. Once you have given it a good soak, try not to walk on your lawn or mow it for at least a week. You should start noticing some improvement after a month or even sometime after the first week.
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