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Understanding The Basics of Top Dressing

 

The use of mulch in many landscapes is increasing dramatically. Mulches are widely used for weed suppression, water conservation, improving the nutrient content of the soil, and for ease of care. There are two categories of mulches available. Inorganic mulches, such as gravel or crushed rock, offer low maintenance but over time weed populations increase and they lack the benefit of enriching the soil. Organic mulch comes from a wide variety of sources, including tree bark, animal manure, pine needles, grass clippings, composted yard waste, etc. While typically mulch is placed around trees and shrubs, applying mulch to your lawn can have the same benefits when done correctly. This process is called top dressing.

Top dressing is the application of fine particles of organic material over the surface of turfgrass (lawn). A thin layer of fine mulch evenly applied over the turfgrass settles down into the thatch. When properly applied, water conservation, moderation of root temperatures, enhanced soil quality, and weed suppression can be seen as the results.


Effects of Top Dressing on Soil Moisture

 

Conservation of soil moisture and moderation of root temperature are significant advantages that top dressing offers. The top dressing mulch slows evaporation, thereby increasing soil moisture content. As a result, moisture fluctuation at the root level is decreased. With a more constant level of moisture, healthy root development is encouraged. In communities where water restrictions are a concern, this is especially important for a healthy lawn that can endure dry, drought-like conditions.

Top dressing your lawn is like putting a layer of insulation down over the root system of your grass. The mulch aids the roots by insulating them from temperature extremes. Root zone temperatures under mulch are cooler during summer and warmer in the winter than under bare soil. With less root zone temperature extremes, damage is minimized.


Soil Quality Improvement

 

Organic mulches can dramatically impact soil quality. Mulch can improve soil aeration, drainage, and structure, as well as soil fertility. As the fine particles break down, the nutrients contained are then available for the root system of the lawn. For areas with dense soils, like clay, these particles help break up their compact nature. With a soil that is lighter in density, aeration and drainage will improve, resulting in a more vigorous lawn.


Weed Suppression

 

While top dressing does not kill weeds the way chemical applications or manual extraction does, it does help suppress them. Top dressing provides the benefits of water conservation, moderation of root temperatures, increasing soil fertility, and improvement of soil aeration, drainage, and structure. All of these benefits have the direct result in producing a vigorous, dense lawn with a strong root system. As the lawn becomes more dense, there is less space for weeds to take root and grow. Grass and weeds are in direct competition for the same space, nutrients, water, etc. If the grass is healthier, the weeds have a tougher battle ahead of them.


Summary
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The use of mulch can have many benefits. When used properly, top dressing lawns can suppress weeds, improve soil quality, moderate soil temperature extremes, and conserve soil moisture. Top dressing can help achieve healthier lawns without relying on excessive watering, fertilizing, and chemical weed control.