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Top dress and fertilize

Plan ahead for spring. In the early fall, top dress your lawn with a thin layer of compost or topsoil. It is also the preferred time to add grass seed to your lawn.

Using compost or slow-release fertilizers will help promote vigorous lawn growth the next spring.

Dress for success

Rebuild your existing soil by top dressing with a 1/2 cm (1/4 inch) layer of soil containing equal proportions of loam, sand and organic matter such as compost or peat moss.

The benefits of top dressing include:

  • Adding a light layer of sand improves drainage, loam increases nutrients, and organic matter improves moisture retention.
  • Providing effective thatch control when done in combination with aerating.

The 411 on fertilizer

There are two types of fertilizer – organic and synthetic. Each have their advantages and disadvantages. Choose the type that best suits your lawn's needs.

The major nutrients found in fertilizer are: nitrogen (N), which promotes leaf growth, phosphorus (P) for root growth, and potassium (K), which is essential for stress resistance. Plants require these major nutrients in greater amounts than secondary nutrients such as iron, zinc, copper and magnesium.

A good ratio for a lawn fertilizer would be 4-1-2 (the numbers can be higher, as long as the proportion stays the same).

Organic fertilizers

Compost is a great organic fertilizer that supplies both major and secondary nutrients needed for plant growth, and adds organic matter to your lawn.
You can apply compost at any time of the season. Mix it into the soil before seeding or laying sod, or spread it in a thin layer raked over the existing lawn.

Synthetic fertilizers

Synthetic fertilizers are sold as granular and water-soluble, and there are a variety of formulations available. The three numbers on the package represent the proportions of the nutrients in the formulation. For example, a 21-7-7 fertilizer contains 21% N, and 7% P and 7% K.

Fertilizers with a slow-release form of nitrogen are preferable as they provide more uniform feeding for a longer period and there is less risk that excess fertilizer will burn the lawn. It is recommended to water the lawn after applying fertilizer.


Source: Lawn Maintenance brochure, Health Canada, 2002.

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