The beneficial results of compost top dressing make it fundamental to a professional, sustainable lawn care program. Daniel Cote of Ecolawn answered some frequently asked questions about how to effectively top dress to build healthy soils and grow healthy lawns.
Q: What is top dressing?
A: Top dressing is an application of compost or a blend of soil/compost/sand on a landscape or field. For best results on residential lawns, a top dressing blend should have a higher content of compost.
Q: What material should I use for top dressing?
A: Quality compost is best. The compost must have a fine, crumbly structure and a homogenous texture. It must be well screened and have a high content of stable organic matter. Finally, but not least of all, it must be weed/seed free. For efficient and easy application, the compost moisture should be maintained around 50 percent.
Q: Why is top dressing with compost so effective?
A: Compost significantly increases soil’s water retention, improves the overall soil structure, stimulates microbial activity, breaks down thatch, and neutralizes the soil’s pH.
Q: What are the steps involved in compost top dressing?
A: After you have mowed the lawn (2 inches is an ideal height for top dressing) and, when needed, performed core aeration or over seeding, fill up the spreader’s hopper with compost or compost blend. Propel the spreader to the farthest section of the lawn and spread the material in a consistent pattern. Repeat this process until the entire lawn is amended. For quick activation, water the lawn for the next two days. The recommended top dressing rate is 1 cubic yard over 2,000 square feet. For renovating a lawn, use 1 cubic yard over 1,000 square feet.
Q: How much should I charge for compost top dressing?
A: Price the service according to how many yards of compost or compost blend you will need to top dress the lawn. Follow the recommendations above to determine the cubic yards needed based on square footage. Example: a 6,000-square-foot lawn needs 3 cubic yards for renovation. Next, multiply the cost of the compost or compost blend by 4 or 5, depending on the total square footage of the area to determine the final price:
For areas of more than 10,000 square feet, cost x 4.
For areas less than 10,000 square feet, cost x 5.
(Note: Exercise common sense in order to determine what your market can bear.)
Q: When should I top dress, and how frequently?
A: You can top dress at any time during the year. Usually, top dressing is recommended during the growing season, but not during extreme heat waves. As a general rule, compost top dress at least once a year. However, there are two factors that determine frequency of top dressing: 1) the amount of use that a lawn gets, and 2) the health of the soil in which it is growing. Heavily used lawns and unhealthy soils may benefit from more frequent applications.