Topdressing the lawn

chitralekha(Z8 TX)November 11, 2010


I would appreciate it very much if you can give me some advice on when and how to topdress our lawn. We live in San Antonio (NW) area.

The lawn is in a bad shape due to weeds and we have succeeded in controlling the weeds now. The grass is not very healthy and sparse in the front yard. We were getting service from a lawn service guy and he suggested that the soil needs to be amended. Any input on this will be greatly appreciated. Should I amend the soil now or in spring?

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roselee z8b S.W. Texas

Hi chitralekha! Sounds like our lawn at the beginning of this year. I'll tell you what we did and the lawn is beautiful now. We're in San Antonio also.

It's usually recommended that compost be added in early Feb. If you add it now you'll just be tracking it in the house all winter because the grass will soon go dormant and will not be growing to cover it.

So this last Feb. we ordered several yards of the premium compost from Fertile Garden Supply, the one that has molasses in it - expensive but so worth it. Give them the approximate size of the lawn and they will recommend how much to order. We ordered enough to use in the flower beds and under the shrubs also.

Then in March for fertilizer we applied alfalfa pellets and soy bean meal that we purchased from Lockhill Feed Store by the 50 lb bag. Any feed store will have it. Water in well. We repeated the alfalfa and soy bean meal application in May.

With these treatments the lawn took off and has been gorgeous all summer. The meals work much better than chemical fertilizer because they feed the earthworms and soil microbes which in turn feed the grass. How much per sq. foot of lawn is recommended I don't remember. We applied 50 lbs. of each to a fairly small lawn area (I think it is about 1000 sq. ft.) which was probably more than needed, but I don't think applying too much is a problem.

Also I wouldn't recommend buying the compost from any other place other than Fertile Garden Supply. The year before I ordered from another place that used to be a good supplier and it was mostly brown colored sawdust. It did absolutely nothing to improve the lawn.

Lou is our lawn expert around here and it is he who recommended the feed store products. Maybe he will see this and chime in with his advice. Anyway,I'll be using the grain products again next spring. Cotton seed meal and corn meal can also be used.

Something else you might want to do is apply pre-emergent weed killer now to cut down on the sprouting of winter weeds. That bright green winter grass is the worst around here. If you get it in your yard pull it as soon as you see a little sprout.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2010 at 9:57PM
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First, lets eliminate two of the most common problems to establishing a good lawn-shade and moisture. If you have large trees in the front yard, neither Bermuda nor St Augistine will successfully compete. Bermuda needs to have at least 8 hours of direct sun and St Aug needs a minimum of 4. If either is not getting this amount of sun over the course of the day, they will look sparse. Second is moisture. Even in San Antonio, turf will benefit from occasional supplemental water.

After that, so long as you are not attempting to grow an exotic turf not adapted to our soils or trying to use organic fertilizers, amending the soil is not required. Simply fertilizing with a balanced fertilizer 4X a year should solve your problems.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2010 at 10:40PM
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re Fairview's comment on St Augustine grass....that's really odd b/c we have St Aug in front yard and the East part of the yard that is shady throughout the day, is the healthiest! The West side(full afternoon sun) suffers so much! Needs alot of water to keep it kind of decent during extreme summer temps.I just about gave up the last part of summer this year!
And we do have 3 large pecan trees in front.I'm always picking up pcs of broken branches.. so messy but the shade makes up for everything!

    Bookmark   November 11, 2010 at 11:13PM
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chitralekha(Z8 TX)

Roselee, thank you so much for the advice and the detailed instructions of what you did to convert a similar yard to a beautiful one this yerr. I never tried organic products in our lawn and will surely do it as suggested.
Thanks everyone for your input.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2010 at 1:11PM
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lou_midlothian_tx(z8 DFW, Tx)


Just simply spreading compost will jump start the process and keep it working with cheap molasses and generic animal feed like soybean meal, cottonseed meal and alfalfa pellet. No need to repeat compost ever again. Soybean meal is my preferred because it's the least messy and easiest to spread with rotary spreader. Apply at the rate of 20lbs per 1000 sqft.

Mow at least 3 inches tall. They seem to thrive at that height.

Water deeply only if needed. One inch of water will throughly saturate ground 6-8 inches deep. That's 600 gallons of water per 1000 sqft. YOu have to water a lot longer than you think to get that amount of water to make a difference. Use tuna cans to figure out how long it takes to fill up one inch. I only look at the grass to determine whether it's time to water or not depending on the weather forecast. I try to go as long as possible between watering and try to hedge a bet that rain will come. It can be 7-21 days interval during the summer. By the end of the summer, it seems that roots are grown deeper so i go a bit longer between watering compared to beginning of summer.

Hope this helps.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2010 at 1:31PM
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roselee z8b S.W. Texas

After my experience with organic lawn fertizer I will never use anything else. It works THAT good! :-)

    Bookmark   November 12, 2010 at 1:44PM
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chitralekha(Z8 TX)

Hello Roselee,
Since February is around the corner, I would like to know a few more information about top dressing. When I order compost from the people you suggested, will they spread the compost in the yard for you? If they would, I like them to do it for me. I will follow your advice on this to get our yard in shape.
Thanks a lot.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2011 at 4:56PM
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roselee z8b S.W. Texas

No they don't spread it. Compost is pretty light weight stuff so my hubby and I spread it ourselves after we have them dump it in the driveway. We have no problems spreading a load of three to five yards in one day. (We move the cars out of the garage before it's dumped just in case we don't get it all done that day.)

When we've had 10 or more yards delivered it takes us a couple of days. Bob shovels it into a wheel barrow, wheels and dumps it sort of wiggle waggling it to help spread it around as he goes and I rake it in using the flat back side of a metal rake. We like to apply it fairly thick, but so that a few blades of lawn grass show above the compost so it gets some light and is not smoothered. We water it in well after it's spread. A day or two later I go out and smooth out any little hills of compost that is too thick.

The grass really takes off with the help of the nutrients in the compost, but takes a few weeks for the grass to completely fill in. However, it's not like mud that gets tracked in the house. The consistency is more flaky and can be knocked off your shoes pretty easily.

We're retired so we have the time, but you could certainly hire someone to do it. I have the name of a great yard man here in San Antonio who does all sort of odd jobs; yard work, trims trees, paints, builts small structures -- just about anything you want done. Send me an email through my page and I'll give you his phone number.

Hope this helps. I don't remember now if it was mentioned above, but if you have had a lot of weeds I'd spread some preemergent weed killer before applying the compost. This will keep a lot of the weeds from coming up from seed.

Maybe some others have some tips to add if I've forgotten anything. It's a little bit of a job but definitely doable.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2011 at 1:36AM
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chitralekha(Z8 TX)

Roselee, thanks a million for your response with every details specifically clarified. I'll follow your advice exactly and let you know how it goes. We are also retired and love to work in the yard. Since you mentioned every step so clearly, I feel that we can do it. Yes, you mentioned to take care of the seeds before spreading the compost. I did that and there are no weeds now. Once again thank you so much for all the help.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2011 at 5:09PM
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icon7(TX 8B/9A)

Great information. For the greater Houston Areas (Sugar Land) the closest place where I can get enriched compost in bulk, that i know of, is living earth technology. How does this place rate? Are there any other places in the Houston area that anyone would recommend? I have a landscaper that can do the grunt work, only because I just don't have the time.


    Bookmark   January 8, 2011 at 1:43PM
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Lynn Marie

It doesn't seem that money is a problem, but if you'd like to save money, your municipality may have compost for free. The compost we've gotten from ours is excellent quality and you can't beat the price!

    Bookmark   January 9, 2011 at 12:37PM
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Hello all,

I'd like to get on the organic bandwagon, and I believe our lawn could benefit from some topdressing as well. Right now it is January 18th, so, if I plan to do a pre-emergent in early-mid February and top dress by the end of February, does that work for a Central Texas (Austin) lawn? Also, maybe I missed it, but what is the most effective organic pre-emergent I can use? Thanks in advance.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2011 at 4:10PM
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roselee z8b S.W. Texas

Hi JS! I haven't used it so can't testify to its effectiveness, but corn gluten is the product that a lot of organic gardeners recommend.

Lynnmarie, the city of San Antonio SELLS its compost that is made using sewage sludge. It's less expensive than what the private companies sell, but it seems the jury is still out on it's safety health-wise because of heavy metals and viruses it may contain. The city does have free mulch which consists of ground up brush and tree limbs. You just have to load it yourself. But if you can catch them when they are driving by, and have a place for it, the city or private companies are glad to dump their ground up limbs on or near your property. I'm fortunate that I have a place for it so I can load up the wheelbarrow and use when needed.

Happy gardening organically with whatever product you choose to use!

Here is a link that might be useful: Corn gluten ...

    Bookmark   January 19, 2011 at 4:40PM
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chitralekha(Z8 TX)

Thank you Roselee and Lou for the expert advice on lawn care. I bought Premium compost with molasses from The Fertile Garden Supply and top dressed the lawn yesterday. I took the measurement of the entire yard, including the flower beds and the compost needed was 5 and 1/2 cubic yard to apply 1 inch thickness in the yard. I watered the lawn after spreading the compost and today it is drizzling a bit in our area.
The grass we have is St Augustine and there are a few patches with no grass runners in it. Can I fill it with St. Augustine sod now or have to wait till spring? I would also like to know if I have to use any weed control products now. At present there are no weeds in the lawn.
Any advice on this will be much appreciated. Thanks once again, Roselee and Lou.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2011 at 11:37AM
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roselee z8b S.W. Texas

I don't know if you can even buy St. Augustine sod right now, but whether to fill bare areas with sod now or later when St. Augustine is actively growing would depend on how large an area is bare. The St. Augustine will grow very quickly to fill in small bare spots, or you could take a few runners from actively growing areas and plant them in the bare spots. They take root and grow very quickly. Years ago before sod was readily available this is how we started St. Augustine lawns.

As for applying preemergent weed killers now; if you had weeds before that are likely to have dropped their seeds it sure wouldn't hurt in my estimation.

Hopefully Lou will offer his take on your questions too.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2011 at 12:24PM
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chitralekha(Z8 TX)

Roselee, I am already seeing a few green grass tips sprouting from the bare spots! I'll wait till spring to see the results as advised. About the weed treatment, I'll wait for Lou's expert opinion. Thank you so much.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2011 at 10:45AM
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chitralekha....check out the Garden Forum on Organic Lawn Care. I started maintaining my lawn organically last April and I'm amazed at the results we've had so far. Be prepared for information overload, but the folks on that forum know their stuff and I am convicted that they'll not steer you wrong......

    Bookmark   March 30, 2011 at 4:20PM
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chitralekha(Z8 TX)

Roselee and Lou, the yard is responding to our effort (topdressing with compost in Feb and fertilizing with Soya bean meal and Alfalfa pellets)and looking nice. But the new grass sprouts are looking pale due to iron deficiency and the areas where we placed a few pieces of St. Augustine sod is dark green in color. What should I do to treat the Iron deficiency? Also should I apply Soya bean meal again at this time? Thank You.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2011 at 8:57AM
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roselee z8b S.W. Texas

I'm glad to hear your yard is doing well! The organic method for treating iron deficiency is to spread a natural product called green sand. I haven't looked for it this year, but have found it at garden centers in 40 or 60 lb. bags in the past.

You might email Lou from "My Page" which appears beside his name above. I'm not sure how often he checks this forum and I'd like to see what he has to say.

Adding soya bean meal now would probably do the lawn good, but with this warm weather be prepared for a stinky smell for a couple of weeks. That was my experience last year when I applied it later in the spring. It was not all that bad and didn't both me, but if you are planning a pool party your guests may not appreciate it.

Some rain would sure do our lawns good too! It hasn't rained at my house for over three months.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2011 at 10:41AM
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chitralekha(Z8 TX)

Thank you Roselee for the information on how to treat Chlorosis. I'll send an email to Lou as advised.
We too didn't get any rain since February. The sky is cloudy this morning and hope that it rains.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2011 at 1:03PM
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lou_midlothian_tx(z8 DFW, Tx)

Greensand would be a good one to apply. However, if it's wet, they actually act more like clay that are hard to break apart so to fix that I mix it with lava sand. Lowe's used to have both at great price. I haven't seen them at Lowe's for quite a while. I must have applied maybe 100 lbs per 1000 sqft over 3 years span.

You apply soybean (or others) every 3 months.

A good soaking rain sure would help a lot. Grass always seem to have better green color compared to tap water.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2011 at 3:55PM
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chitralekha(Z8 TX)

Thank you Lou and Roselee, for the expert advice. I'll follow your suggestions as soon as I can.
I really appreciate all your help.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2011 at 10:47PM
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chitralekha(Z8 TX)

I would like to know when to apply Corn Gluten Meal to the yard. After the application of Greensand the grass is looking normal now and not yellow. I am applying Soya Bean meal as advised as fertilizer.
Roselee and Lou, help on this will be much appreciated. Thank you.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2011 at 9:37AM
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Howard Garrett's ( organic yard and garden care calendar suggests applying corn gluten meal in September. That's my plan...

    Bookmark   August 2, 2011 at 1:55PM
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chitralekha(Z8 TX)

Thank you Julia for the response. I started organic lawn care this year after getting advice from Roselee and Lou. So far the lawn has improved and really looks nice and green. For weed control, I don't want to miss the most appropriate time to spread CGM. Thank you once again.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2011 at 2:32PM
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I'm also new this year to organic lawn care. I applied CGM in the early spring and was disappointed to see a number of weeds pop up soon after. However, in general, my lawn has been pretty healthy and weed free all summer, despite the terrible drought conditions, so I'll be keeping up with the program!

I've read a certain amount of speculation that CGM works less like an anti-emergent but rather builds the health of the lawn so well that weeds can't thrive. Either way, it seems to be working for me.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2011 at 5:26PM
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We're getting ready to top dress our lawn and I thought there might be some new people who could use the info in this thread. I refer to it often and finally copied/pasted it into a word doc to make it easier for me to find.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2012 at 9:47AM
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Just arrived!
It isn't 'hot' and doesn't smell.

ahhh...aged, exactly what I asked for.


    Bookmark   February 15, 2012 at 9:49AM
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Lin barkingdogwoods

Wow, Mel, what a beautiful mountain! I hope you have help spreading it!

    Bookmark   February 17, 2012 at 7:51PM
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carrie751(z7/8 TX)

I told her it looks like my dynodirt...............

    Bookmark   February 17, 2012 at 10:59PM
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I didn't spread any of it.

We paid our lawn guys got spread it. They did a really good job. 3 guys worked for about 4 hours. They even cleaned off the driveway when they were done.

One bed (the roses) didn't get any. :(

But after they left I walked around and noticed the other beds got way too much. So I'll be scooping some out and putting it on the rose bed. I think I can manage that amount of work. :)

I need to get the molasses spread too.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 8:46AM
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