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3 Types Of Top Dressing To Use After Lawn Aeration

by Emily Durgan | Thu, Jun 25, 2015

Our Florida Panhandle landscaping clients want their residential and commercial lawns to look their best, as in green, lush and with a consistent look. As summer gets into full swing, some of our clients are asking us whether they should aerate their lawns and add top dressing.

Before we answer that question, we thought it would be helpful to explain a bit more about how top dressing works and when aeration is helpful.

Why Is Aeration And Top Dressing A Lawn Important?

lawn aeration allows water, nutrients and oxygen to get to the root areaThink of lawn aeration as way for the soil to breathe and take in more food. Aeration is a process of removing soil plugs to allow water, nutrients and oxygen to get to the root area. It helps soil become less compacted, which can happen from foot traffic and also from thatch.

Some believe in aerating yearly to maintain the health of their lawns. Others wait until their lawn is looking a bit more run down, no longer thriving the way it once did. Golf courses are often aerated yearly due to their heavy foot traffic.

Once it’s aerated, you would use top dressing, the material you put on the soil surface to add organic material. Soil is made up of living organisms, including beneficial microorganisms that make plant nutrients. That top dressing might be compost, soil or even sand (or a combination).

Once the lawn has the aeration holes, applying top dressing means that the nutrient-rich materials can add an extra layer to the soil while also seeping into the holes to help the soil and plant growth in both places. This is especially helpful if your soil quality isn’t ideal.

Using the right top dressing can reduce the need for fertilizer, reduce thatch and reduce lawn disease.  

Types Of Lawn Top Dressing

early summer is a great time to aerate and top dress Bermuda grass Okay, so now you understand why top dressing is helpful, but there’s a big difference between compost, sand and soil. Which do you choose and why? Here are three types of top dressing to consider.


Compost is a great way to improve your soil structure, and it can help balance the soil pH. Since compost is by definition decayed organic matter that is used as a plant fertilizer, what better to add to your soil than that?

Compost is often credited with fixing much of what ails a lawn, including thatch and lawn disease. Compost can be pricey and you need to get it from a quality dealer.


The same topsoil you might use when starting a new landscape can also be used to supplement it when top dressing your lawn. The topsoil is nutrient rich, with a loose structure, which helps with drainage.

You have to make sure the soil matches what you currently have, or you could damage the soil’s ability to take in water.


Sand is commonly used on golf courses, and it seems like an odd choice as a top dressing. But sand helps with water retention, especially for lawns with heavy, clay soils which can have drainage problems.

When using sand after aeration, the sand fills the holes and helps change the soil structure, improving its drainage and increasing the growth of healthy grass. Masonry sand is a great option because it’s free of debris, weeds and pebbles.

Some lower the cost of their top dressing by mixing sand, topsoil and compost. This is a good option as long as you match your soil with what you’re adding, so they’re compatible.

How To Top Dress A Lawn

topsoil is a lawn top dressing that is rich in nutrientsAfter you’ve finished aerating, you’re ready to apply the topsoil. Doing so is a physically demanding process. While there are machines that can help, the process works best and most economically when done by hand.

You’ll need a wheelbarrow, shovel and rake. Use the shovel to distribute the top dressing, spreading it around as best you can before using the rake to even it out. Some find that the back of the rake works better.

You only want to apply a quarter to a half inch of top dressing at any given time, otherwise you could bury the grass you’re trying to grow.

When Is The Best Time To Aerate Your Lawn?

The best time to aerate lawns St. Augustine, bermuda, zoysia and other warm weather grasses is early summer, so consider doing it now! You want to aerate before the grass begins its big growth phase.

Let GreenEarth Help With Lawn Aeration And Top Dressing

At GreenEarth, we can evaluate your lawn and let you know if it would benefit from aeration and top dressing. If it will, we can do the hard work for you.

If you’d like a consultation on the health of your lawn and what can be done to improve it, give us a call at our Panama City Beach office at (850) 236-1959, or call our Santa Rosa Beach office at (850) 267-0010 to set up an appointment.

You can also fill out the online form on our website to schedule a consultation or download our FREE Landscape Planning Guide below and start turning lush landscape dreams into reality.

free landscape planning guide from GreenEarth

Images: Aerating a lawn, Bermuda grass, Top dressing a lawn with topsoil

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