Top Dressing Lawn

Top Dressing Lawn: Advice and Benefits

Most homeowners agree that lawns give more than they take. And the best way to reward them for this is by giving them a boost with dressing!

Sprinkling a thin layer of soil that is rich and fresh all over your lawn, whether you decide to do it manually or by using some sort of a spreader or roller, introduces a number of benefits. Top dressing a lawn will help it recover from heat stress, water stress, nutrient deficiency, and soil compaction.

In simple terms, top dressing is something that will help your grass grow into an idyllic expanse that is bound to make your neighbors jealous. It’s an ideal way to increase the beauty and health of your organic lawn without resorting to synthetic fertilizer or any dangerous chemicals.

If you’re all about proper lawn care and would like to know more about lawn top dressing, keep reading – we’ll be taking a detailed look at how this process is done and what are its benefits.

Benefits of Top Dressing a Lawn

Top dressing your lawn is never a bad idea – it’s a simple lawn-care process that comes with a lot of advantages and helps keep the yard in perfect shape year-round.

  • The soil becomes softer. Top dressing can thicken the layer of living grass and make it bounce back after being walked on.
  • Top dressing a lawn is an easy way to improve water retention. Small cavities that will develop in the soil retain water, and the top dressing material can block these and prevent evaporation from occurring.
  • Another benefit is reduced compaction, as well as increased porosity. A huge amount of small cavities in the soil, which we’ve mentioned above, helps the grass quickly grow roots. The overall soil structure is improved as well.
  • When you top dress a lawn, you also replenish nutrients in the soil. The organic matter and fresh nutrients replace all that has been washed out or consumed. Thatch breakdown is also improved.
  • A lot of people rely on fertilizers too much when it comes to lawn care. You won’t need those that much if you opt for top dressing instead – applying the mixture to the lawn around your home will force the organic material present in the mixture to break into basic plant nutrients.
  • You’ll also improve the biodiversity in the soil. The animals visiting your turf will have more water and food and, in turn, provide grasses with more nutrients.
  • Top dressing your lawn is a sure way to improve air circulation in the soil as well. Remember that plants, including grasses, breathe with their roots, too. Worms, insects, and microscopic animals present in the soil will find the environment more breathable. Learn how often you should aerate your lawn.

How Do I Top Dress a Lawn?

Steps for Lawn Top Dressing

Many homeowners want to give top dressing a try but don’t exactly know how to start. Here are the steps you need to take for proper topdressing:

  • Make sure to work on a dry day. The best time to top dress your lawn is when it hasn’t rained for a couple of days.
  • Before you apply the top dressing, you’ll need to mow the lawn. Try to cut the grass as low as possible. You may also have to dethatch the lawn, too. Always keep in mind that only a thin layer of thatch (1/2 inch thick) can be beneficial to the lawn’s health.
  • The next thing you’ll need to do is calculate the exact amount of the top dressing mix you’ll need. For a single square meter/yard of grass, you will typically need around 1/2 to 4 kilograms or 1 to 8 pounds of the mix.

Once you’ve done all these things, you’ll have to run three passes over the surface of your lawn.

  • During the first pass, you’ll have to regularly lump the topdressing mix over the grass. The result of this should be a yard dotted with “molehills”. Each of these “molehills” should be about half a meter away from the other one.
  • During the second pass, make sure to evenly spread out the lumps. Another thing that helps with proper top dressing is breaking up clumps into smaller bits.
  • During the third pass, you will have to rake the grass. The goal of this is to force the topdressing to reach the thatch and the soil surface but also to bring the grass blades out on the top.

Once you’re done, it would be a good idea to water the entire lawn. Water the grass as gently as possible – no runoff or flooding – in order to improve the topdressing’s ability to reach the soil structure. Don’t mow the grass for at least three days.

Top Dressing a Lawn Manually

Depending on the size of the surface a homeowner needs to cover, different types of top dressing equipment are available. Obviously, using a rake and a pail is the simplest method – everybody has these at home. To make carrying bags of top dressing mix around the turf easier, you can also use a wheelbarrow.

  • This method is the best choice for lawns that are no larger than 50 square meters in size.
  • When using the rake, make sure to use its backside to spread the top dressing.
  • To pull up the grasses from under the top dressing, use the tooth side of the rake.
  • To spread the top dressing material around the turf, many people like to use lutes and brushes with stiff hair. If you have these tools, it would be a good idea to give them a try.
  • Alternatively, you may also use a snow shovel to simply thrust the top dressing material over your yard. Keep in mind that this is hard physical work, though, and that it can take some practice to learn how to properly apply the topdressing in this way.

In summary, if your yard isn’t that large, there’s no need to purchase expensive equipment (like the motorized spreader, for example).

Using Small Equipment to Top Dress a Lawn

For lawns that are no larger than 500 square meters in size, homeowners can use simple tools that can help speed things up. These include:

  • Have you ever heard of hand-operated top dressers? These tools come with hampers and are exceptionally easy to use. Hand-powered push top dressers are well known to anyone interested in lawn care, as they’re often used to spread grass seed over the existing soil.
  • Another tool often used to apply the top dressing material to lawns is the battery-powered topdressing dispenser. As its name suggests, this is a cordless device and a good alternative to hand-operated tools like the one mentioned above.
  • A particularly popular homemade solution is a wire-made roller that features holes that are about 1/4-inch big. You can simply fill up this roller with the top dressing material and drag it over the surface of your turf.

Use this tool to load the top dressing organic material into the soil and then simply criss-cross over the yard. The combination of spinners, which turn together with the wheels, and gravity turn this simple tool into a very efficient top dressing spreader.

Spreading organic matter with a device of this type is easy. They are equipped with spinning blades that spread the top dressing material over the grass in an even manner.

Most of these tools won’t only spread the top dressing and push it into the soil but also break up the clumps. To pull the grass blades back up, you can simply use a rake.

Top Dressing a Lawn With Motorized Devices

When it comes to larger lawns (over 500 square meters in size), the use of motorized devices is mandatory. This is especially true for golf courses, where the grass needs to be taken care of through the use of modified trucks and special tractors. Self-propelled dispensing wagons are smaller variants of these vehicles and can be guided around the turf.

In most cases, a simple attachment to your rototiller or tractor lawn mower can do the trick (a “tow-type spreader”). Try to determine what types of accessories can be attached to your tractor and then used for topdressing.

  • Topdressing dispensers are typically very similar to fertilizer and seed dispensers.
  • For raking, wide-brush accessories can be of great help. You can use these after applying the top dressing material into the soil.

What’s the Best Top Dressing to Use on My Lawn?

Top dressing should always be as close to the existing soil as possible, whether we’re talking about soft soil or heavy clay. However, the top dressing should also improve the soil by making it better-draining, less compact, and richer in nutrients.

Still, it’s very important to prevent the so-called transplant shock from occurring. As we said, the top dressing you’re planning to apply should never be too much different from the existing soil.

Those who are planning to add just a single type of amendment (such as river sand) to their soil should always divide amounts by half. Making a half-and-half mixture of original lawn soil is another option.

The Best Materials for Top Dressing Your Lawn


Out of all the soil amendments we’ll list here, none is as rich in nutrients as compost. A lot of homeowners consider compost to be the best approach to clay soil management. The best kind of compost to use for top dressing is compost that was exposed to high temperatures.

As you can already guess, this type of compost contains no pests or weeds seeds. People who opt for this type of top dressing usually apply 1/4-inch of compost in a thin layer over their lawns.


The best types of sand you can use to enhance your lawn soil are quarry sand and river sand. Using seaside sand is not recommended, as its salt content can create all sorts of problems for your lawn.

If you decide to go with sand instead of compost, choose coarse sand instead of fine. It is guaranteed to enhance the structure of your soil and increase drainage.


A very popular alternative to sand and compost is manure. What turns this type of top dressing into one of the best options available is the fact that it’s very rich in microbial life.

Dry manure needs to be cut up into smaller pieces so that it doesn’t form clumps. An important thing to keep in mind here is that a layer of manure can and will give your lawn an awful smell that won’t go away for some time.


Weeds that grow under the sea are now commonly used for lawn top dressing. In fact, many homeowners prefer this new type of soil amendment over compost because it has lots of nitrogen.

If you’re harvesting sea-borne weeds at home and would like to use them as your top dressing, make sure to remove the sea salt from them before shredding them (rinse & dry).

Other Top Dressing Materials

Alternatives to marine weeds, sand, manure, and compost are just as popular and work well on most lawns without causing any major problems. These include used coffee grounds, forest soil, garden soil, topsoil, and peat.

When’s the Best Time of Year to Top Dress a Lawn?

Now that you’ve learned a thing or two about devices and materials used for top dressing, you may be wondering – when is the best time of year to do this thing? As it turns out, the best time for top-dressing a lawn is just before a growth spurt.

These are the best seasons for enhancing your lawn with compost, sand, manure, or other soil amendments:

  • Beginning of the spring season
  • Middle of the spring season
  • End of the summer season
  • Middle of the fall season

You may want to top dress your lawn in the middle of summer or even at the end of the fall season, but that’s something you should definitely avoid. The overall slow growth of the grass will prevent it from growing atop the new layer. This often results in smothered patches.

In addition, knowing when’s the right time of the day to top dress a lawn is just as important as knowing when’s the best time of the year. Moisture at dusk and morning dew in the morning make the process more difficult – top dressing over the afternoon is a much better idea.

Lawn Top Dressing Precautions

Weeds Sprouting After Top Dressing

In case this happens, you’ve probably had more than one weed seed in your top dressing mixture. This may happen if you decide to go with forest soil or even compost.

  • Purchase sterilized topdressing mixture. You can also sterilize compost on your own – it needs to reach the temperature of 60°C/140°F during the composting process.
  • Resume lawn mowing a couple of days after you’ve applied compost or other top dressing material. A majority of new weeds won’t survive low-cutting.
  • To eliminate low-lying weeds such as clover or dandelion, you may have to resort to manual weeding. Always keep in mind that dandelions can be particularly problematic – each seed of this pesky weed has its own little parachute that allows it to reach far corners of your garden.

Don’t Smother Your Lawn with Top Dressing

A vital thing to keep in mind while topdressing is to make sure you don’t put too much of it on your lawn.

  • Always topdress your turf with a recommended quantity of topdressing. For example, people who opt for compost typically spread a layer of compost that is about ¼-inch thick, as we’ve mentioned above.
  • Whether you decide to top-dress your lawn during spring or fall, don’t do it more than once every two to three weeks.
  • You have to be especially careful about the quantity of applied top dressing when you’re leveling out holes in the clay. This can easily kill the grass and result in an ugly, bare patch.
  • Keep an eye out for clumps and make sure to break any you see. This is because each clump can create an inch-deep hole in your lawn. For the best results, go with a very dry top dressing mixture.
  • If you plan on overseeding, it’s important that you do this only after the topdressing is down. In this way, you won’t bury the seed too deep into the soil. Use the backside of a rake to gently comb over the seed once you’ve spread it over the topdressing.

Grit or Gravel in the Top Dressing

Sometimes, a top dressing mixture will contain grit or gravel that is too large.

  • Sieve your top dressing mixture
  • The best sieve grade is 0.5 to 0.75 cm or ¼ of an inch

Top Dressing Lawn – The Conclusion

Top dressing is a fantastic way to manage a beautiful, healthy lawn by using organic options – it’s a phenomenal alternative to chemical fertilizers.

Hopefully, this article has helped you learn more about this simple yet extremely useful process. To get a feel of how it should go, practice it by hand on a small area before you start top dressing your entire lawn.

Read my post on other landscaping trends as well.

Scroll to Top
Scroll to Top