Top Dressing a Lawn – Steps and Aftercare

Weeds, fungus, grubs, summer heat and winter can take a toll on your lawn. The soil under your grass may start losing its nutrients, structure and microbial activity. This will negatively affect your grass and as time goes by you will realize that your once green lush grass has started growing thinner and weak.

Topdressing, aerating and overseeing is a quick way of bringing your grasses back to life. During topdressing a thin layer of compost, soil or sand is spread over a lawn without fully covering the grass blades. The process improves the soil condition and at the same time allowing grass to germinate and grow.

Benefits of topdressing a lawn

Topdressing comes with plenty of benefits that include the following

  • Addition of compost increases soil nutrients
  • It improves soil drainage by reducing compaction
  • Helps in breaking down excess thatch
  • Levels a bumpy or uneven lawn
  • Increases soil microbial activity
  • Enhances grass seed germination
  • A fast way of renovating a lawn
  • Top dressing incorporates organic matter deeper into the soil
  • Compost in lawn reduces traffic related stress
  • It helps in reducing lawn diseases
  • A well-decomposed composed helps in lowering soil pH.

When is the best time to top dress a lawn?

This entirely depends on the type of your grass. The ideal time for top dressing a lawn is when grass is actively growing and the weather conditions are prime for growth. Top dress warm season grasses in spring and fall for cool season grasses. This will allow enough time for grass to establish before sever heat or cold sets in.

While routine topdressing improves soil conditions for optimum growth of grass, overdoing it will raise the soil grade. Consider treating bare spots when needed and the entire lawn after few years. However, a very thin application can be done often as long as the compost or sand is able to be raked into aeration holes.

How to Top Dress a Lawn

To achieve a successful top dressing process, consider the following preparations and application steps:

Material choice and source

Begin by deciding and sourcing on the type of material to use. The most common options include a high quality compost, sand, top soil with same texture and pH as your existing soil or a blend of materials. Visit a nearby nursery and gardening center or landscape companies for a supply.

Lawn preparation

  • Get rid of any weeds including moss prior to your top dressing process.
  • Check if there are any unwanted grass clumps and dig them out using an edging shovel.
  • Mow the grass short and rake to remove excessive layer of thatch.
  • You may also aerate if the soil is heavy or compacted to create channels through which the top dress material will penetrate into the soil.
  • Remove all grass clipping, debris left after dethatching, and plugs of soil from aerating.
  • Check the soil pH and nutrients and make any adjustments needed.

By this time the lawn is ready for top dressing and you can order the material from the supplier.

Top dressing steps

  1. Using a wheelbarrow or a bucket make pour the material in small piles and use a rake to spread it over the grass to a depth of ⅛ to ¼  inch. Ensure most of the grass is visible after raking.
  2. Apply a starter fertilizer to give immediate nutrients for root development and early growth. Nutrients from compost are released slowly from a microbial activity and it may take longer before you see the results.
  3. If you plan on overseeding, spread the grass seed using a broadcast spreader. Do this after the topdressing is down, so you don’t bury the seed too deeply.
  4. Irrigate your lawn daily for 3 to 4 weeks until the grass germinates and establish.


Top dressing a lawn is an involving process if you opt to do it yourself. A professional lawn care service uses specialized machines and spreaders which takes less time and guarantees satisfying results. Once your lawn is successfully top dressed, it will take some time for you to see the results.  

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