Top dressing and overseeding is the absolute best way to renovate your lawn. If your lawn is showing signs of weakness, consider these steps to have your best lawn ever.
It happens to the best of us. Despite your best efforts, some years your lawn just goes to complete junk.
A lot of times things may look good in the spring, but as the heat of the summer sets in you can be overwhelmed with problems.
The cooler weather is around the corner and that means it’s the perfect time to top dress your lawn.
Top dressing your lawn, especially when combined with core aerating and overseeding, is the best way to renovate your lawn.
What Is Lawn Top Dressing?
Top dressing is the process of spreading a thin layer of material (usually compost or sand) over your lawn, or sections of your lawn. This layer is only about a 1/4″ and is meant to amend the soil of your lawn while letting the existing grass grow through the top dressing material.
It is important to be clear that when top dressing your lawn you don’t want to cover your lawn in a thick layer that suffocates it.
Instead, you are looking to improve soil conditions for your existing lawn while providing a good environment for new seed to germinate.
Benefits of Top Dressing
1. Improves Soil- Top dressing adds nutrients to your lawn organically and improves drainage.
2. Breaks Down Thatch- The top dressing material helps to break down the thatch layer in your lawn.
3. Levels Lawn- If you have areas of your lawn that are bumpy top dressing is a great way to smooth out these areas.
4. Helps Seed Germinate- If overseeding your lawn, top dressing allows seed to make direct contact with soil which is best for germination.
5. Helps In Renovating Distressed Lawn- If there are bare spots in your lawn, or if your lawn is being crowded out by weeds, top dressing is your best bet for correcting soil conditions and incorporating new seed.
Top dressing is even more effective when done after core aerating.
When Is the Best Time to Top Dress
The best time to top dress your lawn is when it is actively growing and you are heading into prime growing conditions.
For cool season grasses late summer/early fall is best.
You hear a lot of talk about fall being a good time to seed your lawn, but in colder climates you have to be careful. In some regions if you wait until fall, the soil temperatures will likely be too cool for germination.
For warm season grasses the best time to top dress is early summer. This is when warm season grasses begin to take off.
How to Top Dress a Lawn
1. Test Your Soil- If you’re thinking of top dressing your lawn, chances are you had some lawn issues come up. Now is a great time to do a soil test to make sure you correct any nutrient deficiencies or to see if your lawns ph needs a tweak.
2. Kill Lawn Weeds- A couple of days before you top dress, go around your lawn and spot treat any weeds using a good herbicide that kills weeds without killing your lawn.
3. Dig Out Bad Sections- If you have any areas of poa, bentgrass, or other clump forming nuisance grasses then it is best to manually dig these out using an edging shovel. These grasses can be tough to control with herbicides.
4. Purchase Quality Material- Purchase quality compost to add nutrients to your lawn. Purchase coarse sand if you want to add drainage. You can also mix compost and sand together to receive the benefits of both.
Make sure you don’t get a screened sand with a lot of fines, it could actually make your drainage problem worse.
Don’t skimp out and try to save money on this step. The whole reason you are doing all this work is to amend your lawns soil, so make sure you are doing so with a quality product.
5. Make Small Piles- Fill your wheelbarrow with your material and dump a bunch of small piles over your lawn. Dumping small piles will make it a lot easier to rake out later on and ensure that you are creating a thin layer.
6. Rake In Piles- Any rake should do the job but an aluminum landscape rake is best since it does the best job of creating a smooth layer. This is especially useful if you are trying to smooth out a yard that is bumpy.
Be sure to break up any clumps of compost and make sure you thoroughly rake out each area so it is no more then a 1/4” thick. There should be plenty of grass visible once your material is raked in.
7. Apply Starter Fertilizer- Apply a starter fertilizer. Starter fertilizers have a higher middle number which is phosphorus. Phosphorus helps in root growth and early development.
When applying fertilizer use a good broad cast spreader and apply twice in opposite directions. Just make sure you decrease the settings on your spreader accordingly.
For example if the bag of fertilizer says to set your spreader at a 3.5 then I set the dial to a 2 (rounding up) and apply twice in opposite directions. For a better understanding of fertilizer application rates check this out: Fertilizer Application
8. Apply Seed- After applying your starter fertilizer it’s time to apply your seed. Once again, use a broadcast spreader and apply twice in opposite directions.
Do some research before just purchasing any bag of seed.
Here in the northeast, you can’t go wrong using this northeast mix. It is definitely not the cheapest, which is good. You don’t want the cheapest! Stay away from the cheap stuff, especially anything that says contractors mix.
9. Irrigate- Don’t forget to setup irrigation! If you don’t have an irrigation system then check out this battery operated irrigation controller. You can schedule them to come on multiple times a day.
You can set up to 4 zones per controller and get atleast 2 sprinklers per zone. This will cover a lot of square footage and get you out of moving sprinklers all day.
The early to late summer weather can be unpredictable. Really hot days can pop up. Be sure to monitor the weather and plan for these hot days. New seed needs to be constantly damp to germinate.
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