The Secret to a Lush Lawn Next Spring: Top Dressing This Fall

a photo of a man with fertilizer spreader

by Patrick Geraty

(This article was first published in The Gateway Gardener October 2010 issue)

a photo of a man with fertilizer spreaderWant the secret to a lush spring lawn?  It’s autumn top dressing!  Fall might mean your harvest is slowing down, but it is prime time for lawn and garden care that reaps bountiful benefits next planting season.  Top dressing with a nutritious diet of compost is the key to the best lawn and garden on the block in 2011 – and it is core to every seasoned gardener’s care program.

An industry standard for golf course ground crews, top dressing is the process of applying compost over the surface of a lawn. An annual application of nutrient-rich organic material promotes healthy root and soil structure by

  • infusing soil with beneficial microbes and essential minerals,
  • increasing soil aeration,
  • improving drought resistance and,
  • relieving compaction problems.

For best results, it’s recommended to top dress your lawn and garden with Seal of Testing Assurance (STA)-certified compost, which allows soil to be more porous while furthering its water retention capacity by up to 30 percent.

Application is quick and easy with top dressing equipment (we have them available for rent by homeowners at St. Louis Composting, or you may be able to rent them at lawn equipment rental centers).  Top dressers also stimulate the microbial activity in soil, which is particularly important for the health of a lawn.

To get country-club quality growth next spring, here a step-by-step guide to top dressing this fall.

1.     Core aerate the lawn, concentrating on the most heavily trafficked sections.
2.     Apply a ½-inch layer of compost, using a top dressing unit or manure spreader
3.     Smooth the surface using a rake or a weighted drag mat to break down the soil plugs and backfill holes.
4.     Spread grass seed, lightly rake, and water – making sure all seeds are covered with the soil/compost layer to guard against winter damage.
5.     Water as needed, keeping the soil moist until seeds germinate.

Using compost won’t cause noticeable changes overnight; however, the difference between improved and unimproved lawns and garden beds will be noticeable by the end of the first growing season.  Top dressing in the fall is the key first step to a greener and healthier lawn and/or garden next spring.  If that’s your dream, it’s time to get hands-on with compost.

Patrick Geraty is President of St. Louis Composting (, which operates the largest yard-waste composting facility in Missouri and Illinois and is the largest compost-maker in the St. Louis region.  It operates processing centers at.; 39 Old Elam Ave. in Valley Park, Mo.; 11294 Schaeffer Dr. in Maryland Heights, Mo.; 560 Terminal Row in St. Louis, Mo.; and 3521 Centreville Ave. in Belleville, Ill (near Millstadt).  It holds the Seal of Testing Assurance from the United States Composting Council.