Top Dressing Lawns

Improve your soil for a healthier lawn.

What is Top Dressing

Top dressing refers to the application of a thin layer of soil, compost, or sand to the top of a lawn or grass. This practice started on golf courses to keep the turf green and healthy. There are many benefits to top dressing your lawn, including:

â—Ź     Introducing organic matter to the topsoil

â—Ź     Enhancing the soil structure by increasing its ability to hold water and store nutrients

â—Ź     Promoting the growth of beneficial soil microorganisms

â—Ź     Reducing thatch accumulation

Whether you need a sand, soil, or compost top dressing will depend on your soil’s current structure. You may even consider creating a blend of materials to fit your lawn goals and needs.


Top Dressing vs Topsoil

Top dressing and topsoil are similar in that they top the lawn with new material and add nutrients. Top dressing has the added benefit of improving soil composition. Topsoil can be used as part of a top dressing mix. These two lawn toppings might also require different steps for effective application.


When to Top Dress a Lawn

The best time to top dress a lawn depends on the type of grass in your yard and your geographical location. For warm-season grasses like St. Augustine or Bermuda grass, it’s best to top dress in the spring. Cool season grasses such as Kentucky bluegrass or perennial ryegrass should be top dressed during the fall. This allows for three or four mowing cycles before the most extreme temperatures: summer heat for the south and winter cold for the north.


How to Top Dress a Lawn

First, determine what type of top dressing you need, whether a soil, compost, sand, or blended top dressing. This will depend on the current structure of your soil. A pH test will help you determine what your soil needs to improve. For example, if your soil’s pH is low, it might benefit from neutral to slightly alkaline compost top dressing. Peat moss top dressing can help lower your soil’s pH.


Once you have selected the best top dressing for your lawn, prepare the area. Dethatching and mowing the lawn will help clear the way for the top dressing’s nutrients to reach into the soil. Also remove grass clippings and debris. If the soil has poor drainage or is heavily compacted, consider aerating the soil. If you’re overseeding or using fertilizer, apply before adding a layer of top dressing.


The most common method to apply top dressing is to use a wheelbarrow and shovel to toss top dressing across your lawn. Use a sweeping motion to spread as evenly as possible.


The easiest way to top dress is with a spreader. A spreader will allow for a more even application and save you time and effort. For granular top dressing, you can use a regular broadcast or drop spreader, such as the Scotts® Turf Builder® Classic® Drop Spreader or the Scotts® Turf Builder® EdgeGuard® Mini Broadcast Spreader. Other top dressing materials can clog these spreaders, so it’s best to use a spreader for top dressing, such as a compost spreader or peat moss spreader.


Apply a 1/4 - 1/2 inch-thick layer of top dressing evenly across the lawn. Rake it into the soil to ensure an even distribution. Water the area.


Top dressing a lawn can be a labor-intensive and messy process. Foot traffic can also lessen the effectiveness of top dressing. Plan for a hard day’s work, and avoid stepping on the lawn for the next couple of days.