Compost Topdressing

In Article, Yard Care by Mike Comstock

Compost topdressing your lawn or garden is a great natural way to add organic matter and nutrients to your soil. Most new homes have soil that has a very low percentage of organic matter in the soil due to the construction process. Compost topdressing these soils has many advantages as a natural soil amendment and it is less likely to cause pollution of the local and regional environment than traditional fertilizers. Incorporating compost improves turf, shrub and shade tree performance especially in marginal or poor soils. Good quality compost improves soil structure, reduces runoff and compaction, enhances biodiversity, increases water and nutrient retention, increases microbial activity, supplies nutrients, helps suppress and prevent plant diseases, detoxifies certain pesticides, and inactivates and kills potential human pathogens. The benefits to the plants are: improved establishment of turf, ornamentals and shade trees; improved color; increased root growth; and reduced need for fertilizer, pesticides, and irrigation.

Making Your Own Compost

Composting is easy. For home use, buy or make a compost Leaves and Grass Clippings Ready for Composting[/caption] bin that is about 3’ x 3’ x 3’. Put about 1’ of leaves, hay or dry grass in the bottom. As you start putting in your kitchen scraps, add three parts “browns” to one part “greens” and away you go!

Leaves and Grass Clippings for Composting

Leaves and grass clippings ready for compostingCompost after one year. Compost after one year.

Browns are materials high in carbon, like fall leaves, straw, shredded paper, paper towels, cardboard, chipped brush, sawdust, pine needles etc. Greens are materials high in nitrogen, like fresh grass clippings, weeds (not seeds, vines or roots), vegetables, fruits, seaweed, eggshells, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags, manure (horse, cow, rabbit, chicken, goat, guinea pig etc.). You can layer these materials as you add them, and/or turn the pile every few weeks to keep it oxygenated. Add a bit of soil or finished compost to increase microbial diversity now and then. Keep it damp. If you turn it regularly, it should be ready in a few months. If you layer it and leave it, it might take a year.

In the end, you’ll have beautiful finished compost you can use in your gardens, as mulch, or sprinkle on your lawn. It can be applied to your lawn in early spring and late summer by top-dressing to 1/4” depth.

Compost Topdressing

Topdressing a lawn is the process of adding a thin layer of material over the lawn. Typically 1/4 inch – 1/2 inch of compost or other soil amendment is spread across the lawn with shovels, in a throwing action. The material can be worked into the thatch area by raking, washed in with rain or sprinklers, or allowed to settle on its own. It is labor intensive and may be a reason for its lack of popularity. Motorized topdressers and compost spreaders are available but are costly for a rarely used machine. As organic lawn care gains popularity, so too will the act of topdressing the lawn on a regular basis.

No-Mess Compost Topdressing

Our no mess compost topdressing is a great way to add organic matter to your lawn without all of the muddy mess and the work of using traditional compost. The product we apply has all of the benefits of traditional compost but it contains up to 40% less moisture than traditional bulk compost. Less moisture equals less mass which means the product is smaller and can fall between the grass blades to the soil where it is needed and out of sight. No more muddy paws or feet after topdressing.

Compost Tea

Compost tea is a liquid made from adding a relatively small amount of finished compost to water, pumping air through it to aerate it, and adding a source of “food” to increase the numbers of beneficial bacteria and fungi. While compost tea may be easier to apply than compost, and typically provides some nutrients and an abundance of beneficial microbes to the soil, it does not substantially increase the organic content of the soil, as compost does. There are few scientific studies on its use, and it is tricky to make properly. Since it is still more an art than a science it’s hard to recommend to the homeowner just now.

Soils that are low in organic matter can be greatly improved with compost topdressing. Adding compost to your soil will improve its ability to hold nutrients and water, will reduce effects of compaction and will lead to a more beautiful and healthy lawn.

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