Top dress­ing will help sow health­ier lawn

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - HOMES - By Ger­ald Filip­ski

QUES­TION: I would ap­pre­ci­ate your ad­vice on how to get a fuller, health­ier lawn. The lawn is five years old, a lit­tle patchy and has an in­con­sis­tent colour. I sus­pect a lack of top­soil, and would wel­come your feed­back.

AN­SWER: Top dress­ing and over­seed­ing will def­i­nitely help. Top dress­ing is sim­ply adding soil to the top of the lawn. It should be done in small in­cre­ments be­cause adding too much soil in one ap­pli­ca­tion can kill the grass. I would not add more than one inch (2.5 cen­time­tres) of top dress­ing at a time. The top dress­ing can be just top­soil or it could be com­post or a com­bi­na­tion of the two. I strongly rec­om­mend us­ing pure com­post or the com­bi­na­tion rather than straight soil. The com­post will help im­prove the or­ganic con­tent of the top­soil and this will help a great deal with adding the abil­ity to re­tain more wa­ter.

You sim­ply rake the top dress­ing into the grass. Make sure that you do not smother the grass. Knock off any soil that is at­tached to the grass blades. This can be done with a rake or by sim­ply wa­ter­ing the lawn. Top dress­ing is nor­mally done in the sum­mer or early fall when the grass is tall and ac­tively grow­ing, but could also be done in late spring. Adding this top dress­ing will, over time, build the level of the ex­ist­ing top­soil and should help to make the lawn health­ier. To in­crease the ben­e­fit of top dress­ing, you could con­sider aer­at­ing the lawn be­fore ap­ply­ing the top dress­ing. This will help to work the top dress­ing down more deeply as you rake it in.

By adding an inch of top dress­ing each year you can get a nice thick layer of top­soil in a few years. The bonus in us­ing this method is that the lawn will ben­e­fit im­me­di­ately from the nu­tri­ents in the soil/ com­post and this re­duces the need for fer­til­izer ap­pli­ca­tions. It is a very nat­u­ral and ecofriendly way to fer­til­ize the lawn.

Af­ter top dress­ing you can seed the lawn. This makes for a thicker, richer-look­ing lawn. This tech­nique is called over­seed­ing. Ap­ply a goodqual­ity grass seed mix right over the top dress­ing. Very gen­tly mix the seed with the soil so the seed has good con­tact with the soil, and keep well wa­tered. Top dress­ing and over­seed- ing is an ex­cel­lent way to re­ju­ve­nate an old lawn or to keep any lawn in top con­di­tion.

QUES­TION: What’is the best way to start a new gar­den plot? I have placed black plas­tic down to kill the grass as per a sug­ges­tion in a pre­vi­ous col­umn. Can I add soil on top of land­scape cloth, or should we dig it up? And if we did, how deep down do we go? I see lots of top­soil for sale, but how do you know if it’s good qual­ity and not weedy?

AN­SWER: The plas­tic is a great way to kill the grass with­out chem­i­cals. I would not add land­scape fab­ric af­ter the grass has died, though. What I would rec­om­mend is to re­move the dead sod to help im­prove the drainage. If the ex­ist­ing soil is of good qual­ity, you may only need to add or­ganic mat­ter such as com­post to the bed. If it is poor qual­ity, then re­mov­ing it and adding new top­soil is the best way to go.

It is your choice on how to add the new soil or or­ganic mat­ter into your bed. You can rent a tiller and till it in to a depth of 35 cm. I should warn you that till­ing into a new bed will be a rough ride. If you have a lot of clay be­low the top­soil, till­ing into clay is a bumpy ad­ven­ture, to say the least. But it can be done.

The al­ter­na­tive is even more labour­in­ten­sive, but is an age-old so­lu­tion to the prob­lem. It is called dou­bledig­ging. With this method, start with a 30-cm-wide strip and re­move the top­soil from this strip, plac­ing the soil into a wheel­bar­row or con­tainer. Next, add five to 7.5 cm of or­ganic mat­ter to the sub­soil and work it in with your spade into the ex­ist­ing clay. The next step is to dig an­other 30-cm-wide strip right next to the first one, but in­stead of putting the top­soil into a con­tainer, you put the top­soil on top of the or­ganic mat­ter in the pre­vi­ous trench. You con­tinue along us­ing this method un­til the whole bed is done.

Find­ing good-qual­ity top­soil can be a bit of a chal­lenge. Look for a dark soil that is free of rocks and other de­bris. Put some in the palm of your hand and smell it. It should smell clean and earthy. The best tex­ture for gar­den­ing is loam, or sandy loam. This type of soil will have equal pro­por­tions by feel of sand, silt and clay.

Squeeze a hand­ful of damp top­soil. If it is loam, it will form a ball that eas­ily breaks apart.

Next, you add a lit­tle wa­ter to the hand­ful of top­soil. If the soil forms a sticky mass in your hand, there’s too much clay. If it feels gritty and wa­tery, there’s too much sand.

Ask the sup­plier if they have a guar­an­tee that the soil is weed-free. Fi­nally, choose a rep­utable sup­plier.

— Canwest News Ser­vice

Above: Top dress­ing will make your lawn health­ier over time. Right: Sea soil is a top-qual­ity soil prod­uct to use in your

yard.

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