Top Soil for Grass: How to Achieve a Lush, Healthy Lawn

Kenneth Wilson

If the idea of spreading synthetic chemical fertilizers on your lawn doesn't sit right with you... The good news is– you can naturally feed your yard to achieve lush, green turfgrass. This process involves top dressing a lawn with organic compost, which also provides long-lasting and slow-release nutrients that your grass needs.

While spreading a layer of compost or sand over your turfgrass seems silly, let's break down the benefits of following this organic lawn care strategy (and how to get the job done right). (Related: How To Keep Your Florida Lawn Green)

What is Topsoil?

True to its name, topsoil refers to the surface layer of your garden's soil. This may cover a depth of up to 2 to 8 inches. It is considered the most crucial section of your yard soil. Applying topsoil for grass seed (or top dressing) refers to putting a layer of rich organic topsoil mixes on your lawn.

Benefits of Topdressing a Lawn

So, when do you need topsoil for grass seed? This is usually required when the soil starts to be plagued with issues, so pulling all the grass away isn't a practical solution. On the contrary, opting to add topsoil to your grass (topdressing) is a simpler alternative that helps you achieve the following benefits:

  • It will reduce the need for fertilizing
  • It will smooth out any uneven terrain
  • It reduces the likelihood of thatch
  • It also builds up beneficial soil microbes
  • It boosts the soil structure and water holding capacity
  • It introduces organic matter to the topsoil, which improves the previously poor soil

What Topdressing Material to Use

When determining the best topsoil for grass, you must select the suitable topdressing material for your lawn. Experts recommend using a topdressing material that has a similar texture and composition to your lawn's underlying soil.

Meanwhile, choosing an unsuitable material may lead to severe problems. It may lead to having a distinct layer that may hinder air and water movement, which affects your turfgrass development. Commonly, the most popular topdressing material options include high-quality compost and a custom-blended mix.

  • Sand: This is commonly used on golf courses and other artificial greens. Some people also use it with heavy clay soils as it helps improve drainage. To get better texture, you may mix sandy soil with heavier soils. Sandy soil in itself can be easily blown away, and it may be susceptible to erosion. Experts do not suggest using fine sand if you have ground with a coarse texture.
  • Clay: This heavy soil is known to stay wet and cold even during winter. But, it may dry out during the summer. Clay soils often lack aeration and drainage, so they are easily compacted and may be challenging to dig in. You may need to make some adjustments to use clay for your gardening needs.
  • Loam: This medium-textured mixture combines sand, silt, and clay. But since it contains rich organic matter, it has a good texture for drainage and planting.
  • Silt: This fine textured soil has a light color and is known to have fair moisture retention. It also has neutral pH and is rich in nutrients.
  • Chalk: This light-colored, porous topsoil has a rich amount of limestone and calcium carbonate. As such, it is highly alkaline.
  • Peat: This lightweight, organic matter provides excellent drainage capabilities. It is rare to see peat soils in the country, so it is often exported in soil amendments and mixtures to improve the texture and drainage of your lawn's soil.
  • Topsoil (similar to your existing soil structure): This is an acceptable material that will help you even out the ground. But this may not contain as much organic material as you'd want.
  • Compost: This is the most recommended material regarding the best topsoil for grass. Just ensure it is finished and contains a few fillers.
  • A mix of the above materials: Usually, homeowners opt to blend the materials above to have a cost-effective solution that works well with their existing soil. Ideally, blend compost with either topsoil or sand.

Important Note: The above materials can be bought from your local nurseries or garden centers. If you're looking for topsoil or sand, you may drop by your nearest landscape or construction company.

How to Apply Topsoil to the Lawn

If there's a case you want to apply topsoil to the lawn yourself, here are the equipment that you will need:

  • Garden rake
  • Soil leveler
  • Wheelbarrow (to deliver the soil)
  • Shovel (if required)

Tips for topdressing your lawn:

  • Although topdressing your grass can be a DIY project, it requires a lot of labor. Rental motorized spreader devices are available at some home improvement stores, reducing manual work but raising costs.
  • Regular topdressing promotes soil development and thatch breakdown. It does, however, improve the quality of your yard. It's better to avoid routinely topdressing your entire lawn to ensure you don't raise it too much. Every few years, treat the whole yard and any bare spots.
  • Topdress the lawn more frequently: If the amount applied is shallow enough to be brushed into aeration holes, a very light topdressing application can be carried out more often.
  • Time depends on your grass type. For warm-season grasses, topdress lawns in the spring; for cool-season grasses, topdress in the fall. This allows three to four mowing before extreme hot and cold weather arrives. To grow new grass, combine with other cultural activities like overseeding.
  • Some lawn care companies offer topdressing services to clients if topdressing your lawn yourself sounds like too large of a task to take on. Demand will drive up the service's popularity, but it is still not widely accessible; it takes a lot of work and offers little return on investment for companies.

Important considerations:

  • Always select the right kind of topsoil. Ideally, it must be rich in organic material, free from weeds, and finely screened to ensure it will fill in the bare spots in your grass. Avoid using yellow sand as a top dressing material as it doesn't have enough nutrients beneficial to your grass.
  • Use the correct amount of topsoil. Ultimately, this will depend on the needed amount of topsoil to cover the entire area and the depth of your soil. For 1 cm deep top dressing, use one cubic meter of topsoil for every 100 square meters of lawn– which is enough to cover the surface without choking the grass. Homeowners with taller grass or deeper topsoil may want to add more.
  • Spread the topsoil in smaller piles. As you spread out the topsoil on your lawn surface, you can do so in small piles, one section at a time. This will make the distribution process much more manageable.
  • Lastly, spread out the soil. Use the back part of your garden rake to spread the topsoil from every pile roughly.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Should I fertilize the lawn before topdressing?

Yes, you can fertilize a lawn before applying a topdressing, but it's optional. If you choose to aerate, the fertilizer should be used after and before topdressing. The growth and health of the lawn will be improved with this additional fertilizer boost.

Does topsoil differ from garden or potting soil?

Yes, given that topsoil weighs more than potting soil. Vermiculite (also known as peat moss) is commonly introduced to solid soils to achieve a light, fluffy texture. This helps plants thrive in pots and can also be added to clay soils to lighten the texture. Many garden soils are added with extra organic matter to provide sufficient nutrients. Since potting soils are considered too light to hold in moisture, they may not hold together in a garden bed setting.

Do I need to water the lawn after topdressing?

Once you've completed topdressing your lawn, it is best practice to water it thoroughly. Keep in mind that plants often get stressed when dealing with new changes. Irrigating your yard helps the grass cope with the transition.

When can I mow the lawn after topdressing?

Experts advise against mowing the lawn immediately after topdressing. Instead, wait for at least a week or up to 10 days before trimming the grass.

Kenneth Wilson
August 1, 2022
2terra, Contractor Tips, Yard & Garden

Kenneth Wilson

Retired contractor. Currently residing in Southwest Florida. Now in semi-retirement, I write and manage this blog focused on helping home owners make savvy decisions when it comes to finding contractors and getting their projects done. I also operate remodeling design service for homeowners.

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