Time to Top-dress Turf!
Spring is literally around the corner, and our attention turns from the brown of dormancy to the green of new growth. It’s my favorite time of year as plants become a focus of our human attention.
Turning our attention to green, the mainstay of most urban landscapes in central Florida is the turf/grass/lawn. This landscape element is often the most expensive of the features when considering the inputs: labor, equipment, fertilizers, and pesticides. In my previous job as a professional landscape manager, I learned to value landscape maintenance by the cubic foot rather than the square foot. When viewed through that lens, an investment in a tree that only needs occasional structural pruning or a mature shrub bed needing only mulch at the edges are a particularly good value compared to the flat field of green.
Turf in Florida-Friendly Landscaping™
A Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ move is to reduce the turf area to only functional space in your landscape, such as enough area to kick a ball, walk a dog, or for party guests to overflow from the patio. A reduced lawn area will save on the input expenses. If changing your landscape is not in the plan this year, perhaps you’ll be interested in another approach to reduce your inputs and improve your environmental footprint: topdress your turf.
Top-dressing turf with a quality compost product has the potential to improve soil quality, nutrient and water-holding capacity, and plant health. Good soil quality allows more robust plant root structure, higher organic matter helps the soil hold onto water and nutrients better, and soil active microbes from the addition of compost may improve the quality and appearance of the grass. A recent field study conducted in a local development showed an average increase of soil organic matter of nearly 60% with compost topdressing. Anecdotally, some of the participants reported a reduced need for irrigation and fertilizer, and an approved appearance of their lawn.
Topdressing is usually accompanied with an aeration that allows the biologically active soil amendment to work its way down to the turf’s root zone. Watering in after application is a good practice to kick the microbes into action. Aeration and an application of ½ to ¼” of a fine screened fully composted product can be done by a landscape professional with mechanized equipment, or can be done by a homeowner with a bag of compost, a shovel to toss it around and a leaf rake upside down to get it near the soil.
More research needs to be conducted to validate and quantify the environmental benefit and economics of a compost top-dressing to existing turf areas. In the meantime, consider giving this a try on your lawn. Do your own “citizen science” and see if you are able to enjoy a beautiful lawn with fewer inputs this year. It’s time to top-dress your turf!