Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day

Fall is the Time for Topdressing a Lawn

Topdressing with compost.

One of the great myths of lawn care is that feeding with commercial fertilizer is enough to keep a lawn in perfect condition. So many companies offer lawn fertilizers — often applied in 3 or 4 steps! —that it’s easy to believe that’s what you need for a perfect lawn. In actual fact, though, fertilizer will only give you mediocre results.

The truth is that even the best soil in the world will degrade over time if you don’t add organic matter… and fertilizer, even organic fertilizer, is essentially made up of minerals and contains very little humus (decomposed organic matter). So our habit of depending solely on fertilizer to maintain the soil quality in our lawns eventually leads to “mineralized” soil, that is one where minerals abound but where humus is almost absent. Without organic matter, the soil becomes hard and compact and grass roots suffocate.

If you really want a beautiful green lawn little prone to weeds and insects, learn to topdress annually with either compost or topsoil enriched in compost.

Compost will add organic matter to the soil. And being rich in nutrients as well, it will fertilize the grass at the same time. So as long as you leave grass clippings on the lawn (another source of minerals and organic matter), it won’t be necessary to apply additional fertilizer. A thin layer of 1/4 to 1/2 inch (1 to 2 cm) of compost or compost-rich soil, applied each year (in the fall if possible, if not in the spring) is enough to keep the soil rich in humus and thus to stimulate dense, healthy grass growth .

Oversowing with top quality lawn seed.

Always follow topdressing of with an application of top quality grass seed with added white clover seeds. Weeds tend to settle in areas where the grass is thin, but if you regularly oversow with a quality product, you’ll create a very dense resistant mixture of grass and clover where weeds will have trouble sprouting and thus will remain few and far between.

One final point: although North American gardeners have become used to repairing and revitalizing their lawns in the spring, the right season to do is always early to mid-fall, from late August to mid October in most climates. If you want good results with a lawn, you have to take care of it at the right season… and for almost any care a lawn may need besides mowing, that would be fall!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

2 comments on “Fall is the Time for Topdressing a Lawn

  1. Pingback: What to Do About Worm Castings in the Lawn? – Laidback Gardener

  2. Pingback: What to Do About Plantain in a Lawn? – Laidback Gardener

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