Topdressing a lawn is done for a couple of reasons…
- Topdressing mixes are used to help get a smoother lawn by filling in some of the lower areas. Not only does this make your lawn look a lot better, it also makes cutting the grass easier too – especially when using a reel mower.
- Secondly, topdressing is done to improve the quality of the soil by adding organic material.
While its labor intensive, it’s not hard to do although you may want to hire professional help if you’re doing this on a large scale. Leveling a large lawn will be a lot of work!
The best time to topdress…
The best time to topdress is going to be when your grass is growing strong and this will depend on your grass type. For warm season grasses, the best time to topdress will be during the summer. For cool season grass types, you’ll want to do this in the spring or the fall.
Of course, topdressing is only one part of a full lawn maintenance program and should be done alongside other practices.
It’s most common for topdressing to be done after aerating your lawn and overseeding. In conjunction, these three practices provide excellent conditions new grass growth to really thrive.
The topdressing mix debate…
There’s a lot of debate to which materials should be used in a topdressing mix and in what ratio.
There’re quite a few choices out there but much of this should be dictated by what your goal is. If you’re trying to improve the quality of your soil, it’s more advantageous to choose a material with organic material. If your goal is to level the lawn, it’s probably going to be better to choose a material like sand that doesn’t break down. You do have to be careful with this though since applying sand year after year can cause infertility.
Topdressing mixes can vary a lot but most commonly the main materials used in topdressing mixes are:
- Peat moss
What is peat moss?
Peat moss is a natural product harvested from peat bogs all over the world.
It’s essentially accumulated biomatter and the majority of it in the US comes from the many millions of hectares of peat wetland in Canada.
It’s a super acidic medium. Used by itself, it has a very low pH in the soil which is why you might see lime added to bring the pH up a little higher.
Peat typically comes compressed in a large bag. You can often find it in big quantities for a reasonable price although it is a little more expensive than compost.
Let’s look at some of the benefits of using peat moss as a topdressing for your lawn…
Benefits of peat moss
- Peat moss holds water well
Peat moss works well to retain moisture and keep the new seeds moist. In fact, peat moss holds up to 20x its weight in water. This is useful because it reduces the amount of water and mix you have to put down. Although compost is pretty good retaining moisture too, peat moss is better.
- Great source of organic matter
Organic matter breaks down and improves the quality of the soil. It creates a great habitat for the microbes. This reduces the need for fertilizing too.
- The added benefit of peat moss
The advantage of peat moss over other topdressing materials is that it changes color when it dries which makes it easy to see if you need to add more water. This is useful in letting you know if you need to add more or not.
- It usually doesn’t have any weed seeds in it
The cheaper bags of compost can contain weed seeds which you definitely don’t want to be putting in your lawn. The last thing you need is a full lawn of weeds as a result of making your topdressing application.
- Provides good soil aeration
If you have really compacted soil then you might want to consider choosing peat moss for your topdressing mix. Since it doesn’t compact, it can provide great aeration. Also, since it doesn’t break down, it can have this effect for many years.
One drawback of using peat moss
One environmental concern is that peat moss is not very renewable at the current harvest rate from peat bogs in certain regions. Some governments have actually started to prevent the harvesting of peat.
Alternatives to peat moss
Compost is a cheaper than peat moss. It’s rich in nutrients which makes it great to use as a topdressing. The one down side of using compost is there is a chance that weed seeds are mixed in.
This compost spreader by Seymour (link to Amazon) works great for putting the stuff down.
Topsoil is the most common material for topdressing jobs. If you’re buying garden soil or topsoil, it’s probably going to have a lot of wood chunks in it which is something you don’t want. It’s better to go with a potting soil that is more finely screened.
Sand is often recommended when you’re trying to level out your lawn. It works well for this because it settles when it gets wet. When you water over sand it tends to seek its own level so it works great as as leveling agent in your yard. Sand works better than topsoil for leveling your lawn because it doesn’t break down like the organic material found in topsoil.
It’s important to note that its best not to use a 100% sand mix. Pretty much all professional companies will use a mix that at least has some organic matter and for good reason. You never want to just dump a load of sand on your lawn.
How to topdress with peat moss
Step 1: The first step would be to aerate your lawn. I’d recommend renting a mechanical aeration machine to do this. You’re going to be left with plugs on your lawn if you’re using a core aeration machine. Once these dry out, I’d recommend coming back and pick them up rather than leaving them on your lawn.
Step 2: Break up the compressed peat moss bale. This will allow it to spread on your lawn easier.
How much peat moss do you need per 1000 sq. feet?
I’d recommending getting 2-3 bales to cover 1000 square feet of grass. You want to try to cover a quarter of an inch of the lawn.
Step 3: Spread the contents of the bale around the area as evenly as you can. This spreader (link to Amazon) is great for spreading the peat moss. It can also be used to spread compost or any other fine ground topdressing material.
If you’re not using a spreader, you will need to rake the piles of peat moss to spread them out evenly over the lawn. I’d recommend using a level lawn tool for this (I like this one).
So…should you use peat moss as a topdressing?
I think peat moss works fine if you want to use it. It does have its advantages over other common materials that are used.
If my goal was to improve the soil quality i’d personally prefer to put something down that has more natural nutritional value. In this case i’d rather go with a high-quality compost mix.
Here are some of my favorite lawn care products
Thanks a lot for making it to the end of this post! I hope you found it useful. Here are some lawn care products that I use and that I think you’ll also find helpful. These are affiliate links, so if you do decide to use any of them, I’ll earn a commission.
In all honesty, these are some of the basic products that I use and recommend to everyone.
This Scotts Elite dual rotary spreader is not a professional grade model but it’s excellent for homeowners.
I really like the edge guard on it. It’s really easy to switch on and off so it’s great for going around my driveway and flower beds.
If you’re not looking to spend hundreds of dollars, I’d definitely recommend this model. It spreads out a wide path and is great quality for the cost.
This 4-Gallon sprayer is my absolute favorite. It sprays for a really long time. I’ve had this sprayer for quite a while and I’ve never had the battery run out.
The adjustable pressure switch is a really import feature to me.
You can order a lot of accessories for this model but I’ve never really found much of a need for it.
Hand aerators are great for small spots if you’ve got construction debris or a spot that constantly dries out.
You can also fill these holes with organic matter that will hold a bit more moisture.
This one by Yard Butler is an absolute bargain. It pulls nice long cores. I also use it for taking soil samples around the yard!