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Beware! Top Dressing Incorrectly Can KILL Your Lawn!

Sep 18, 2019

Top dressing has benefits such as helping nutrient retention, helping level uneven lawns, and helping with drainage and decreasing thatch build up.

We are often advised here at Cobbitty Lawn Turf, that our customers have been told “You have to top dress your lawn!”   

This isn’t always the case. 

If your lawn had all its preparation completed correctly, with adequate and level soil underneath and you have fertilised well – then you won’t need to top dress. 

Though, keep in mind that top dressing does have benefits such as helping nutrient retention and helping to level uneven lawns, while also helping with drainage and decreasing thatch build up. 

Top Soil on a Shovel

So, when does a lawn need top dressing?

Applying a top dressing to your lawn is appropriate when;

  • It needs a boost of nutrients
  • It has had poor preparation back when being laid
  • If there is a lack of soil underneath your lawn
  • It is uneven or contains holes/low spots


So, if your lawn is even, healthy and well fertilised, then you don’t need to worry about top dressing.

How does top dressing help?

Top dressing can also help to reduce the accumulation of dead grass clippings within your lawn, known as ‘thatch’.

It helps to increase nutrient retention, improve drainage and increase disease and pest resistance.

The right time of the year to top dress your lawn

“Can I top dress now?” is a question we often get asked here at Cobbitty Lawn Turf.

The answer is…

You must top dress in the growing season, NOT in Winter. 

It is usually best to top dress in Spring or as soon as you have reached your regular weekly mow.  

The earlier in the growing season the better. Generally late Spring to early Summer is best.

If you top dress in Winter when your lawn is in its dormant phase, you run the risk of damaging or even killing your lawn entirely.

TIP: Also avoid top dressing if rain is predicted, as the wet weather will make the dressing difficult to work with and make levelling troublesome.

Spring Lawn Care Preparation

How to top dress your lawn

So, “How do I top dress my lawn?”

Firstly, make sure you fertilise a few weeks prior to top dressing to aid in getting maximum growth. 

Top dressing your lawn is done with a mixture of river sand and top dressing soil mix.

Top dressing to give a nutrient boost

When top dressing your lawn to give it a boost with vital nutrients, you should apply a thin layer of the organic soil mixture over the area of your lawn.

Prepare the day before applying the top dressing by mowing your lawn, and raking up and removing any debris to allow the nutrients to effectively penetrate the soil. 

Firstly, shovel the top dressing into even piles around the area of lawn and then rake the mixture into the lawn until it looks as if the lawn has been lightly dusted.

Top Dressing Piles Lawn Turf

TIP: At this stage, ensure that the tops of the lawn blades are still visible above the dressing.

Rake in a figure eight motion so that the top dressing mixture is spread evenly, and then hose the lawn thoroughly so that the dressing is then barely visible.

Applying a top dressing for nutrients will encourage the production of new shoots, and result in a thicker lawn with the added benefit of hindering moss and weed infestations.

This thin layer of top dressing will also help your lawn to improve drainage and break down thatch and grass clippings easily.

An added bonus is that top dressing allows the soil to retain moisture better during drier conditions as well as allowing excess moisture to drain away during heavy rainfall. 

How to top dress an established lawn

Top dressing established lawns needs to be done a little differently. 

Firstly, give the lawn a mow and make sure you have the catcher on. 

You can then evenly spread your top dressing mix over the area, and use the back of a rake or broom to gently level it into your lawn’s profile. 

Spread Top Soil with Broom or Rake

Make sure that you never cover more than a third of the leaf of the plant (roughly 1cm from root base only) while doing this. 

TIP: The tip of the plant needs to be exposed to keep growing, so please don’t cover the whole plant!

Top dressing to fix holes or uneven lawn

If your new lawn is a little uneven or has a few gaps, just leave it a couple of months and then if it doesn’t fix itself you will need to just lightly fill in those gaps. 

Once again, mow your lawn the day prior to applying the top dressing.

The longer the grass, the more sand required to cover the area, and as mentioned – a deeper layer of soil will make it harder for the grass to grow through it.

For the repair of a hole deeper than 5cm, use a shovel to raise the grass on top of the hole, and place the top dressing underneath to elevate the level of the lawn.

Then, apply the top dressing on top of the lawn as per usual to address any remaining unevenness.

TIP: Speak to your local landscape supply company for a recommendation on the amount of loam or sand required for the specific area you need to address.

Soil Preparation for Healthy Lawn Establishment

To finish off

Once you feel that your application is perfect, you will need to water it all in. 

We would usually say that you can use a sprinkler or reticulation system to do this, though now due to water restrictions – you will need to use a hose to water it in well. 

Now, it’s time to stop people walking all over it for a week! Leave it a week to 10 days before mowing, and after a few weeks you will notice a much healthier lawn.

Watering in Top Dressing to Finish

Where to get your top dressing

Bags of top dressing mixtures are readily available from turf farms, lawn care centres and nurseries and provide all the relevant handling and application information. 

TIP: Work out the size of your lawn before you buy; as a general guide a 2kg bag will be enough to top dress a square metre of lawn.

For more tips and a great summary of the things we’ve outlined in this article, check out this video from Lawn Solutions Australia:

For more helpful lawn top dressing tips, give our friendly team here at Cobbitty Lawn Turf a call today on (02) 4651 0000!