Best way to topdress a lawn?

1111gd1111July 12, 2013

Looking for typical of many folks I don't have an unlimited budget. :)

Have 64,000 sq. ft. (measured it) of actual lawn that is approx. 4 yrs old (we have been here 1 year). The house was built in an old hayfield and the base soil is pretty much beach sand. It appears that the original owner (who had it built for him) of the house had much of the topsoil scraped in some areas so that it could be used closer to the house. Where the septic system was installed it looks like little if any topsoil was replaced after it was installed.

If I had an unlimited budget I'd start over on the whole lawn...but I don't. The quality of the KBG/fescue in the front of the home as actually responding well to the TLC I've been giving it. The grass in the back looks like it's mainly some type of thick bladed fescue and is not filling in like the front is.

So my thought is to topdress the entire lawn (now?) then overseed using a verticutter (if I can find one up here) in late August. So my questions are:

1. How thick should I topdress? 1/2"? 1"?
2. What material should I topdress with? topsoil?
3. What's the most efficient way to spread it? I have a big Agri Fab spreader but I "think" it might take me forever to spread the material.

Thanks in advance for any help you can give!

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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Topdressing won't thicken up the back yard. The front is filling in nicely because you have KBG in it. The back is thin because you don't have any KBG in it.

When I need to fix the drainage in my yard, I use beach sand. Otherwise there is no reason to topdress. When you do it, and I know you are going to do it anyway, it will change your drainage, so be careful where you put it. The worst case is you will build a moat around your house and all the rainfall off your gutters will flow back into your basement or under your foundation.

The best grass I have is in 9 inches of beach sand. I love that stuff.

This video shows how they do it at a golf course.

Golf courses top dress to try to stop hydrophobicity caused by too much organic matter at the surface. You don't have that problem. I would not top dress unless I needed to change the drainage.

Why do you want to topdress?

What is your watering regimen (frequency and duration)?
How high/low are you mowing?
When were the last two times you fertilized and what did you use?
Have you used any herbicides or insecticides?

    Bookmark   July 12, 2013 at 2:08PM
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I'm glad YOU answered because I wanted to give you some friendly grief about San Antonio. Our oldest son graduated from Lackland and we visited SA for 5 days in late March. How can you get anything to grow in that humid desert (oxymoron I know!) is beyond me! :)

Now to the topic at hand. Why do you say "and I know you are going to do it anyway". What have I ever said to you or on this forum where you would say such a thing? I thought that a thin layer of topdressing would help my situation.

Why do I want to topdress? = won't topsoil or ?? hold moisture better? In the very sandy areas I can't seem to water enough to keep the grass nice and green. I would prefer a lush green lawn vs. a dormant yellow one.

Watering = 1" once per week in the AM or evening. I know the evening isn't the best but I've got so much to water and I don't like to water during the day.

Mow height = 2.75" - 3.0". I'm anal about mowing and I like mow patterns in my lawn with my Simplicity. I mulch as well.

Fertilized? = about 5 weeks ago with a 27-0-7 then back in mid-April with a crabgrass preventer. Don't remember the numbers but the phosphorus content was 0 for sure.

Herbicides? = crabgrass pre-emergent fertilizer as noted above. Spot treatments for small brown ants. Have not yet used a liquid weed herbicide (WBG Max) yet as we had a very late spring and just when I was going to spray the lawn, hot weather set in. I will likely spot treat until fall arrives. But if I overseed, I may not be able to spray the entire lawn.

I know you're an organic guy....I think I want to try your shampoo deal sometime.

Just FYI - I know about drainage as I've put in lawns at two other houses of ours. I'm no pro but give me a surveyors laser level and I'm comfortable with my abilities on simple jobs. Our current house has ample amounts of pitch.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2013 at 6:03PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Now to the topic at hand. Why do you say "and I know you are going to do it anyway".

Sometimes I get a feel for a poster's convictions by the depth and breadth of their original message. I just got a feeling that you were not going to be swayed away from topdressing. And if that was so, I wanted to help you do it with as much information about the possibilities of doing it the wrong way. Sounds like you have more information and a better situation than I anticipated.

If you have plenty of pitch (being more than 6 inches at 10 feet from the house), then you can topdress to your heart's content.

Still, by putting roots in the ground and using organic fertilizer, you can have a growing medium that will retain moisture.

Would you mind posting a picture of this acre and a half that you are working with? I have an acre lot, but that includes a long driveway and about 2,000 square feet of house and concrete. My actual yard is about 30,000 square feet and that is a bunch!! I have about half of it in grass but the grass is spreading to the areas which are not irrigated. This year I have about 400 more square feet of grass, so that's a good start.

Part of the reason my sand soil works is I'm organic. If you look at the soil it looks black. As soon as you drop that soil into a jar of water, the white beach sand sinks to the bottom and all the black organic material floats to the top. That is what helps retain the moisture. You don't get that fertilizing with chemicals.

If you have sand you should not need to use shampoo. I have only used it in the part of my lawn that is not sand.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2013 at 9:18PM
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It will take more than one picture to give you a feel for my situation. I won't be able to take them until Sunday (now gone until then) and will post them at that time.

Thanks for taking time to reply!

    Bookmark   July 12, 2013 at 10:46PM
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Good topsoil is sand, clay, silt and about 7% OM. That 90+% sand, silt and clay will only raise the level of your lawn. Unless you need to level or change drainage, it's counter productve. I've found sand to be a great base for growing turf. You just neeed to reduce fertilizer and watering amounts and increase applications. Topdressing doesn't necessarily need to be liomited to toopsoil (or sand) you can topdress with OM (this would include organci fertilizers). to improve the quality of your sand soil. I suggest you adjust your fertilization and watering rates and application schedules and overseed (with a verticutter if you don't have a poa triv, quackgrass or barnyard grass infestation) and topdress the seed with 1/4" of peat moss this Fall.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2013 at 1:41AM
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1950 - you suggest I water and fertilize LESS than I already am?

And living in the area that I do, I'm 100% sure I have some type of "other grasses or ?" infestation. The house was built on an old hayfield and I have acres of "field grass" all around me. Pictures to come.

(I don't think I'm EVER going to use the word TOPSOIL again here! :) )

    Bookmark   July 13, 2013 at 8:36PM
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For sandy soil I'm suggesting you fertilize less per application but more applications. Clay and OM have aboundant cation sites. Think of these sites as little magnets that can hold nutrients for the turf roots to pull N,P,K , etc. from. Sand has huch fewer of these "magnets." and the nutients in fertilizer that is not captured by the "magnets" or drawn up by the roots as the water carrying the fertilizer passes by the roots, quickly leaches through and below the root zone and the nutients are lost. To make sure fertilizer is available and not wasted in sandy soil conditions, it is best to make smaller but more often applications. i.e, rather than drop 1# of N for the month of May on May 1st, it is better to drop 1/2# on May 1st and another 1/2# on May 15th. Hope that clears up the confussion.

This post was edited by grass1950 on Sun, Jul 14, 13 at 12:39

    Bookmark   July 14, 2013 at 12:55AM
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1950 - now I understand and it makes sense. Thanks!

    Bookmark   July 14, 2013 at 12:07PM
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image 1 taken on my Android in panoramic mode.

This is one of the front corners of our lot.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2013 at 3:13PM
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Image 2 also in panoramic mode. This is one of the rear corners of the area that I am mowing. There is another acre of fieldgrass to the right.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2013 at 3:15PM
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Last image taken from the other corner of the mown area. Extra acre of fieldgrass would be to the left.

In one of 1950's comments he brought up something that I am concerned about. If I overseed with a KBG/fine fescue mix using a verticutter (or any method) will the KBG/fescue be able to ward off the fieldgrass seeds that will blow into the "good grass"? I have this fieldgrass on 3 sides now....2 if I choose to mow down the extra acre if/when I get a bigger mower.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2013 at 3:23PM
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d_schall - you wanted to see the pictures...

grass1950 - any comment on my concerns about fieldgrass overtaking a KBG/fescue mix lawn?

You guys still out there?

    Bookmark   July 16, 2013 at 4:59PM
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Still around. Thought you might want to elicit some opinions from others. Really not much I can say about your sittuation as you are basically a lamb in a den of wolves. The best defense will be developing a thick lawn and persistent weed control. Regular spot spraying and use of pre-emergents both fall and spring. I back up to a horse pasture and through diligence--each year my lawn has become thicker and the weeds less. It's rather expensive (about $35/5000 sq ft) and you have a lot of yard, but I'd use Scotts starter with mesotrione as my pre-m when seeding or overseeding.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2013 at 7:26PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Glad this got bumped back up. I disappeared most of last week and over the weekend to go puppy shopping at the Humane Society.

Those pix are exactly what I was looking for. Thanks. So drainage is not an issue if you wanted to topdress.

Many field grasses cannot tolerate being mowed down every week. Many other field grasses look better than a turf grass when mowed every month or so. Do you know what that grass is?

The lawn is clearly gigantic. Have you considered doing something besides lawn?

    Bookmark   July 17, 2013 at 1:00AM
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Attached is a scissor full of the fieldgrass. I have no idea what it is. A local farmer cuts and bales it and feeds it to his horses. He just cut and baled it in the past few days.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2013 at 1:00PM
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This picture shows a representative cut of the grass in the back and on the lower sides of the house. There is significant fluctuation in the density of the grass depending on where in the yard you are. Makes me think that my mulching is carrying KBG seeds to the back and sides and it's filling in....slowwwwwwly.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2013 at 1:04PM
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This last picture show a cut of the grass found primarily in the front of the house. The grass is very dense and fine. A KBG/fine fescue mix of some type. This is what I'd like the rest of the lawn look like.

BTW - lawn is getting mowed today @ 3" high. About 4" now.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2013 at 1:07PM
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grass1950 - I've watched this forum long enough to trust dschall and your opinions. If others chime in that's great. If it's only you two...I'm more than good with that.

dchall - lots of lawn but I like being outside and taking time to mow 1 or 2X per week is OK. I also don't mind walking around with a gallon sprayer and spot treating problem areas. I'd rather be outside than inside listening to my wife complain and kids fight. :)

Oh yeah - the extra acre I have I'm thinking about planting perennial native flowers to attract butterflies and hummers. I don't want it to turn into a new feeding area for our local deer population however!

More thoughts in no particular order:

1. The type of soil (topsoil, sand, etc) in the grass root zone seems very inconsistent in the yard. I base this on how I have to water some areas more often than others. If I could have the soil in some areas hold water longer, the lawn would be more consistent in color. Maybe I'm asking too much out of a big lawn?

2. It seems that using organics is more costly than chemicals. If that truly is the case, I am forced to stay with chemicals.

3. I have the time to work on the lawn to keep weeds from spreading from the fieldgrass.

So do I top dress or not? If yes...with what medium? Overseed with a verticutter? Use starter fertilizer? ANy other thoughts or tips?

Thanks much !

This post was edited by 1111GD1111 on Wed, Jul 17, 13 at 13:26

    Bookmark   July 17, 2013 at 1:24PM
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People say KBG "LEAPS" in the third year of growth. Sounds like a bunch of BS, but it is true. If you keep overseeding the thin areas or plant new with KBG, it will thicken and block out unwanted weeds. Once it is established it's itself like a weed--pain in the rear trying to keep it out of the flower beds. At least that's my experience, but it takes persistence and patience to get it established. To really give it a kick start, winterize with 46-0-0 urea.
Very simplistically, adding organic matter will improve water and nutrient holding capacity. I'd suggest topdressing those areas that are not holding water very well with something in the way of well aged compost or mulched leaves--hopefully, dchall can give some other options. If you are going topdress new seed, you shouldn't cover the seed with more than 1/4" of topdressing. Otherwise 1/2-3/4 inches of compost would be the max I'd recommend at any one time followed by a drag and watering.
I love slitseeding but in your situation, although I'd probably use it if that was my property--I'm a gambler and willing to start again, I'm hesitant to advise its use per the weed/wild grass issues. If you do slit seed use the mesotrione or siduron--maybe to save money just do smalerl ares (spot seeding) over a couple years.
Btw, I don't see much KBG in the last pic.

This post was edited by grass1950 on Wed, Jul 17, 13 at 17:04

    Bookmark   July 17, 2013 at 4:45PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Your picture posted today at 13:04 shows grass with fungal lesions on some of the blades...the dead blades.

If you overseed do you have the ability to lightly water the overseeded area 3x per day for 5 weeks?

For your areas that are not holding or taking water well, you might try spray with 3-10 ounces per 1,000 square feet of any clear shampoo. I like generic baby shampoo or Alberto Vo5. Spray right before watering (or rain) and let it work its magic. Spray again 2 weeks later and see if that helps the water soak in. You can test how hard your soil is with a screwdriver. Try to poke it into the ground and measure how deep it goes. Do that around the yard after it is moist. Then do that same test in 3 weeks after the second shampoo app.

I'm not big on top dressing. If you were going to spend the money to topdress with compost at a rate of 1 cubic yard per 1,000 square feet, then I would save about 5/6 of the cost and scatter alfalfa pellets (rabbit chow) on the yard. You get tons more bang and it costs a lot less. Alfalfa is my favorite organic fertilizer for the past 2 years.

Here is a picture of a lawn that was being tested for many things but in this case he was fertilizing with milorganite and soybean meal every weekend. The picture is from July 2010.

If you stare closely at that picture for 30 seconds you can start to see the edge between his lawn and the neighbor ;-)

If you decide to do something else with your acreage, like turn it into a park, here are some fun projects that will get you out of the house.

privacy fences,
accent fences,
formal and informal walkways,
spa/hot tub,
barbecue/picnic area,
retaining walls,
overhead sunshades,
screened rooms,
sun room,
swimming pools,
garden pools/ponds,
tool shed,
potting bench,
dog run/kennel,
accent lighting,
storage units,
sports courts,
jogging track or parcours,
decorative gates,
drives/parking areas,
remote party room (for games, TV, pool table, etc.),
shade trees,
accent trees,
play yard,
screen shrubs,
accent shrubs,
ground covers,
ornamental grasses, and beds (perennials, annuals, bulbs, herbs, ferns, roses, hostas, container plants, rock, and fruits),
private outdoor movie theater.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2013 at 9:03PM
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If I read your question correctly, you are saying your soil is not "holding" water. If that is the case I would advise against using shampoo or any other surficant. I think dchall miss-read it. Short of adding clay and silt to change the soil profile, adding OM is probably the most cost effective way of improving water holding capacity. Others may know of other alternatives, but shampooing sand is not going to help.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2013 at 10:22PM
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OK I'm back from biz travel.....
Still digesting all of this but my gut tells me to waive the white flag, throw in the towel and incrementally improve where ever I can, when I can. Don't have the funds to end up where I want to end up.

grass1950 - a. you are right about the holding water thing. I need areas to hold the moisture longer....not let it though.

b. about the "not much KBG" comment. I THINK the KBG/fescue/rye combo that's there now is in the range of 50/30/20 but I'm guessing. I would love to have a 70/20/10 ratio. That would be what I'd overseed with.....something in that range.

dchall - I hope you cut and pasted that list. If you typed it I owe you a cold beverage some day. There a several things on your list that I want and are going to do as funds allow.

I think I need to find a local source of alfalfa much/1000 sq. ft.?

    Bookmark   July 19, 2013 at 4:34PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

20# per 1,000 square feet.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2013 at 9:35PM
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1,200 pounds of alfalfa pellets......not going to happen....sorry.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2013 at 11:07PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

That is why texas-weed was organic at home but not on his grass farm.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2013 at 12:37PM
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organic texas weed???

    Bookmark   July 22, 2013 at 2:14PM
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Texas-Weed is a member of this and other lawn care forum, likes the organics and i think a former sod farmer?

    Bookmark   July 22, 2013 at 2:49PM
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hi. beautiful pics you guys shared. I like other people huge lawns. but man, why? to each his own, but being a new semi young retiree I am absolutely loving gardening. all annuals. I will never have a perennial again. except for 2000 sq feet of lawn. ryegrass is the grass of choice here in western Washington and the seed is grown in Oregon. I love having the time to do what I knew I would love doing but always viewed it as work. wouldn't trade the moments ive already had eating cukes, zucchini and fresh everbearing strawberries eaten with my 1 year old granddaughter :-). I know you know what you want to do and I see someone else suggested other things to do with your beautiful property (this message is for original man that asked about topdressing. have you considered leasing it to a farmer and letting them grow whatever would be best in that area for profit? I would enjoy watching someone making money on that land, watching things grow and making a few bucks too. that's pretty common around here. people with land leasing to farmers. all berries, orchards, grapes, pumpkins, onions, you name it. lots of horses and dairy in area so hay is also a big deal. im just throwing this out there because for me..what you are doing looks like too much work. for what? so others can say "my that's nice!"?

    Bookmark   July 26, 2013 at 9:12PM
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rockstar74 - thanks for the thoughts and suggestions! When we bought this house a year ago I wasn't looking for a huge lawn...this is what I ended up with. The school district that we wanted to be in offered VERY FEW houses for sale and once this house came up we jumped on it. I knew the large yard was going to present challenges in "what I want it to look like" vs. "what I can afford".

While I have the "time", more large, higher maintenance planting beds with annuals/perennials isn't what I want to spend my time on. I said in a previous post that the extra acre of unmowed grass that I have, I would like to turn into large areas of native wildflowers that attract hummers and butterflies.

The extra acre is now being cut by a neighbor who uses the grass for his horses. A local farmer plants corn/soybeans in the fields that border our property. I doubt that my extra acre offers anything appealing to him and for insurance purposes I don't think I want "others" doing anything on our property.

Going back to my original question, I still haven't decided what I'm going to do with the lawn. If I'm going to do something like overseed, I need to start in the next 2-3 weeks.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2013 at 12:52PM
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hi. I understand. I just retired at 57 and am really enjoying my basic yard in an average subdivision in Vancouver wa. kids are grown. when one of them made me a grandpa I let them rent my home and after living in a studio rental for a year ive moved back home and bought a huge rv and have it plumbed and wired and in back "yard". i used to really enjoy lawn and garden but lost all interest about 7 years ago and everything went to hell. haha so i have entire front lawn, much to the amusement of my neighbors grass free and am loving growing annuals, veggies and flowers. now i am almost to the point of planting 2000 feet in lawn in back and next spring will garden in the area not in lawn back there too.

how old your kids? do they get to go to school where you wanted? i hope i didn't come across wrong and apparently i didn't but man you got lots of work no matter what you do don't you? lol. i used to love yard work so much that in addition to working at port of Vancouver for 35 years, i bought a lawn aerator and did yard work for others on the side. probably didn't make a nickel looking back on it. i bring that up because i never used a verticutter (?) as you said you might to reseed. i always wonders how they worked. when someone wanted a complete lawn makeover , and they were never as huge as yours is, i always rounded their lawn up, thatched, aerated and then reseeded and top-dressed with some grass mulch stuff they sell in bales around here. its a by product of the huge Oregon grassed industry and is seed free and i wither dispersed by hand or rented a caged roller thing that worked great for that. im really interested in what you do. so when you get a minute down the road email me and send pics if you like. im keith dahl thanks for getting back. oh by the way, here we are having one of the driest July's on record. no measurable rain since June, with no end in sight. im a heat wimp anymore so i get my stuff done in the morning and enjoy the AC in the RV as i please. life's good. im divorced so i don't have a "honey do" list. my neighbor dude says i have a "homie-do" list haha pic of grand daughter sleeping on me. im pretty crazy about her. :-)

    Bookmark   July 28, 2013 at 1:26PM
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74 - retired at 57, divorced and have grandkids. To me you're batting 1.000!!! :)

In short we got the kids at the schools we wanted so it's all good. We're a little isolated for my wife but hopefully she'll get used to it.

More later.....

    Bookmark   July 28, 2013 at 8:43PM
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