Ultimate Guide To Top Dressing Lawn For Homeowners

Ultimate Guide To Top Dressing Lawn For Homeowners

Having a beautifully manicured and luscious lawn is often a high priority for many homeowners. This is particularly true for anyone who owns a property in a neighborhood with a homeowners association.

However, it can be easy for your lawn to become run down and lack luster-looking. Things such as intense summer seasons and freezing winter seasons can wreak havoc on the health and appearance of your lawn.

Thankfully, there are a few things you can do to help restore your lawn to the stunning, thick, and healthy state that it should be with a few gardening tricks.

One of the most effective ways of doing that is by top dressing your lawn. In this article, we will look at the ultimate guide to top dressing your lawn.

What Is Turf And Lawn Top Dressing?

Top dressing can be a little bit of a daunting process if you have never done it before. It can feel a lot like you have made your lawn worse at first.

However, if you trust the process and let the dressing do its job, you will be left with a luscious-looking lawn that is super healthy. So what exactly is top dressing?

Top dressing is the process of applying a thin layer of material such as compost, sand, or topsoil to your lawn. It is often used in place of using large amounts of pesticides, insecticides, and fertilizers.

The application of the top dressing process allows for the slow release of nutrients into your soil. The slow-release method allows your grass to keep growing optimally for a longer period of time.

It is also completely natural and eco-friendly as it avoids the use of man-made or chemical fertilizers, insecticides, and pesticides.

It is important to note that top dressing shouldn’t involve applying a layer of material that is thick enough to suffocate and kill your lawn.

The layer should only be around a quarter inch thick and allow for your existing grass to grow through it while adding essential nutrients to the ground.

Most lawn experts recommend that you complete top dressing once every year or two years depending on the quality of your lawn. It is best when used alongside aerating and overseeding your lawn.

What Is The Best Top Dressing For Lawns?

Before we get into how to apply a top dressing to your lawn effectively, it is important to know what type of material is best for top dressing lawns. The material that you choose may have an impact on the results you see.


The most popular and commonly used material for top dressing is compost. It is a cost-effective and highly nutrient-dense material, especially when compared to other common top dressing materials.

Aside from the price tag and the nutrient density of compost, it is also able to move down through the ground in a relatively short time frame which can help speed up the results of this process.

Best of all, if you know how to make quality compost at home, you don’t even have to spend your hard-earned money on purchasing it from a gardening store.

High-quality compost can be made at home from grass clippings, dead leaves, and even food scraps. You can find tutorials on how to do this online. All of these materials are high in nitrogen which can help your grass to grow and remain a healthy green color.


Another great option for top dressing is sand. This can be particularly useful if your lawn already has some drainage issues.

It is common to see sand used for top dressing on football fields and golf courses. Using sand can also help to aerate your lawn and avoid aeration issues in the future.

Thanks to the texture of the sand material, it can make your grass smoother and help to dilute the thatch. It can also reduce the presence of algae in your lawn and can reduce sponginess. This will leave you with a beautifully clear and green lawn.

One of the best things about using sand for top dressing is that it naturally resists compaction and drains considerably better than other top dressing materials.

This is great for lawns that already have drainage problems or lawns where it will be difficult to keep people or animals from walking on the top dressing material.

Sand will be an unsuitable top dressing material for lawns that grow from clay soils. It also does not retain nutrients very well.

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Topsoil is another inexpensive and effective material for top dressing. This is a particularly useful material if your lawn has some leveling or grading issues already. Topsoil refers to the uppermost couple of inches of soil that can be used for top dressing.

Topsoil is incredibly rich in microorganisms and organic matter that have huge nutritional benefits for plants and grass. Topsoil is as easy to handle and distribute as compost, although the nutrient profile is slightly different.

Topsoil is a great option for lawns that are uneven as it can easily be used to fill in any holes or depressions to create a more level lawn. It can also be used to cover the entire lawn to fix any leveling or grading problems that you might have.

There is one major downside to using topsoil as a top dressing material though. Topsoil is commonly obtained from agricultural fields.

This means that there is a chance that it will contain fertilizer chemicals or weeds that can negatively impact your lawn and turf. Regardless of this drawback, topsoil can make a great top dressing material, especially if it is organic.

It also provides great drainage for your lawn.

Blended Mix

Blended Mix

The final most popular top dressing material that you can use is a blended mix. This is a mix of the three materials that we have mentioned above.

You can purchase a pre-mixed blend from most gardening stores and online marketplaces. This is a better option than mixing it yourself.

A blended mix combines all of the properties, nutrients, and benefits of the three main materials to provide you with a well-rounded and effective top dressing material.

With all of these components, you can improve the drainage of your soil, the fertility of your soil, and the overall structure of your soil.

Many lawn experts suggest that using a blended mix is the best top dressing material that you can use. This is because it provides the benefits of all three types of top dressing rather than focusing on just one benefit.

How Should You Apply Top Dressing?

Whether you apply a top dressing to your lawn once a year or once every two years, it is important to only apply the material when the grass is dry. Late spring and early summer are great times to treat your lawn.

Test The Soil

Top dressing your lawn is designed to help fix issues that you are experiencing that are affecting the growth and appearance of your lawn. Therefore, it is sensible to begin the top dressing process by testing your soil.

You can purchase simple home testing kits online which can help you to identify any nutrient deficiencies or pH imbalances. Once you have identified any problems, you can purchase a top dressing material that can help fix the problem.

You can also apply other treatments to your lawn if necessary.

Remove Weeds From The Lawn

Once you have tested your soil for any problems or deficiencies, it is time to remove any weeds from your lawn. This should be done at least a couple of days before you are planning to apply the top dressing to your lawn.

If your lawn only has a few weeds growing in it, then you can remove them by hand. However, if you have weeds covering the majority of your lawn, you can use herbicides to help remove them from your turf.

Dig Up Poor Portions Of Turf

Once the weeds have been removed, you will be able to clearly see the types of grass that you are working with.

If you have any areas of bentgrass, poa, or another type of nuisance clump-forming grass, it is important to dig them out with a shovel before beginning the top dressing process.

Clump-forming grass is difficult to treat with herbicides so digging them out is your best option. Leaving them will affect the overall appearance of your lawn.

Purchase Quality Materials

Once the ground has been prepared for the top dressing, it is important to make sure that you purchase quality materials. This means that your compost should be free from weeds and pests.

These can both be detrimental to your lawn. If you are making compost yourself, it is easy to ensure that it is free from weeds and other unwanted matter.

If you are using sand as a top dressing material, it is important to make sure that it is coarse to get the most benefit out of it. If you have opted to use topsoil for your top dressing, ensure that it is organic and free from harmful chemicals.

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Arrange Materials In Small Piles

The next step is to apply the material to your lawn. The easiest way to do this is by adding small amounts of the material to your lawn. To begin with, put your top dressing material in a wheelbarrow. This will make it easier to distribute across your lawn.

As you take the wheelbarrow around your lawn, dump out small piles of the material. This method makes it easier to spread the material effectively later on. It also helps you avoid accidentally creating a thick layer of material on your grass and suffocating it.

Rake The Piles Of Materials

Once all of the material has been dumped in piles across your lawn, it is time to begin distributing it into a thin layer over the grass. For this step of the process, you can either use the back of a shovel or an actual rake.

Simply rake or spread each pile out into a layer that is no more than a quarter of an inch thick. During the raking process, make sure that you are filling in any holes or fixing any bumps in the surface.

Keep going until all of the materials have been spread out. If you have a significant amount of leftover material, this should be removed rather than distributed as you could risk suffocating your lawn.

Apply Starter Fertilizer And Seed

As we mentioned above, top dressing your lawn works even better when it is used in tandem with aeration and overseeding. Combining these two techniques will provide you with a healthy, thick, and luscious lawn in no time.

If you are going to use these treatments in tandem, now is the time to overseed your lawn. It is important to remember to treat the seeds with a starter fertilizer to give them the best start and to get the best results.

Water The Lawn

Once you have applied the top dressing and the seeds if you are over-seeding, it is time to water your lawn. Avoid over-saturating the lawn but make sure that you are applying enough water to allow the material to settle.

The lawn should be watered daily during dry periods. It is important to avoid mowing your lawn until the grass has grown 2 – 3 inches after applying the top dressing.

What Are The Benefits Of Top Dressing?

What Are The Benefits Of Top Dressing?

Now that you know how to apply a top dressing to your lawn, it is important to understand all of the benefits that this practice can give your lawn.

Reduces Thatch Build-Up

Thatch is something that forms naturally on grass that is actively growing. There is no natural way to stop this from happening.

However, when the layer of thatch becomes too thick, it can prevent water, air, and nutrients from reaching the grass which can end up suffocating and killing your lawn.

Routinely top dressing your lawn can help to reduce the amount of thatch that builds up on your lawn. This can help to keep your grass looking much healthier for longer.

Improves Soil Quality

One of the main reasons for applying top dressing to your lawn is to improve the nutrients that are absorbed into the soil for the grass. This is a great way to improve the overall quality of your soil.

Using top dressing as a means of improving the quality of your soil means that you don’t have to apply fertilizer to your lawn as often. This can be a great way to reduce the amount of chemicals that are applied to your lawn.

Not only is the process of top dressing natural and free from chemicals, but it also helps to improve the structure of your lawn soil which helps it to hold onto moisture and nutrients better going forward.

Levels The Lawn

Over time your lawn can develop depressions, bumps, and leveling issues. This is particularly true if you use your lawn as an area for your family to socialize and play.

Not only does this affect the appearance of your lawn, but it also can become a safety hazard if the bumps and dips become too prominent, especially when mowing the lawn.

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The top dressing process is a great way to fill in any depressions and even out any bumps. This can help your lawn to maintain optimum levels of drainage, improve the appearance of the lawn, and make mowing easier.

Top dressing can also be used to help grade your lawn over time to improve drainage in the long run. This is a slower process that requires multiple top dressing processes over a few years.

Aerates The Soil

Compaction is one of the most common reasons why grass begins to struggle and lose its vitality. Compaction occurs as the soil settles into itself.

It is exacerbated by people and animals walking over the lawn and pressing the soil down more. When soil becomes compacted, it is difficult for the roots of your grass to penetrate the soil. This can affect water and nutrient take up and can result in weak roots.

The process of top dressing helps to avoid soil compaction. Compost is especially useful for this. Compost contains microbes that can break down organic matter within the soil.

This breakdown results in tiny pores being created which allows air, water, and nutrients to penetrate the soil. It also allows room for the roots to penetrate deeper into the soil.

Reduces Fertilizer Requirements

Fertilizer is often used to help promote the health and growth of grass. However, because the materials used for top dressing are so rich in nutrients themselves, there is less of a need to apply fertilizer to your lawn throughout the year.

This means that you can replace some of your fertilizing costs and routine with a top dressing routine every year or two.

Reduces Lawn Stress

Both hot and cold weather can put stress on your lawn. Temperatures that fall outside of the ideal range for grass on either end of the scale can cause your lawn to become dormant.

This is a survival mechanism that preserves the grass when conditions aren’t ideal. When grass becomes dormant, it becomes pale and appears to be dead.

Top dressing can help to reduce the stress on your lawn during hot and cold periods. Applying the top dressing to your lawn can provide it with a small amount of immunity to temperature stress.

This is because it provides insulation between the ground and the air temperature.

Improves Seed Germination

Applying top dressing to your lawn can help to provide the soil with all the nutrients that it needs to support healthy grass. This also provides a nutrient-dense environment for seeds to grow.

This is why top dressing and overseeding work so well together to vastly improve the appearance of your lawn in a short space of time.

The aeration and nutrients provided by top dressing your lawn can help your seeds to develop strong roots and allow the new grass plants to reach their full potential.

It will also help to improve the soil’s water retention capabilities which are perfect for keeping germinating seeds moist enough.

When Is The Best Time To Top Dress a Lawn?

It is best to top dress your lawn when the grass is actively growing although there is no precise time scale. When your grass is in an active phase of its growing cycle it can massively benefit from the extra nutrients that are introduced into the soil through top dressing.

Other times when it is a good idea to think about top dressing your lawn is when you are having drainage problems in your garden, or when you are overseeding your lawn.

If you are using one of these times to top dress your lawn, it is important to make sure that you are using appropriate material as your top dressing.

You should never top dress your lawn when the grass is dormant as this can put added stress on your lawn and ultimately kill it. You should also try to avoid top dressing when rain is predicted.

Final Thoughts

Top dressing is a great way to maintain your lawn and keep it as healthy and luscious as possible. There are multiple different ways to top dress your lawn to get different benefits or fix different problems.

This guide can help you to get the most out of top dressing your lawn.