Top Dressing: How to Profit from this Add-On Service
Top dressing is the latest landscape technique to make the jump from sports fields and golf courses to residential and commercial properties.
Bulky, tractor-driven applicators and inefficient, old technology used to make top dressing a prohibitively expensive option for smaller jobs. Contractors rightly reserved this service for the upper crust of landscape customers . . . no longer.
Recent improvements in application technology have finally made it possible for landscape professionals in all sectors of the business to provide this valuable service. Top dressing is already considered essential in the maintenance of athletic fields and golf courses. Daniel Cote, owner of eco Lawn, Norton, Vermont, sees this service growing to assume a place of equal importance in the residential and commercial markets. “Customers want a sustainable substitute for chemicals and fertilizers,” says Cote. “The organic matter in top dressing prevents weeds, increases water retention and neutralizes pH.” With all of those benefits wrapped up in one ecofriendly bundle, it’s no surprise that contractors who offer top dressing have seen an increase in demand.
Top dressing is defined as the direct application of a layer of soil mixture onto grass. The contents of this organic panacea are more mundane than you might expect. Topsoil is the main ingredient in the mixture added to athletic fields and golf courses. For commercial and residential properties, Cote recommends a 75-percent compost mixture. The thickness of this soil layer varies, depending on the needs of the site. A good target range to use as a reference is 1/8 to 1/4 inch.
The restorative powers of top dressing stem from its capacity to increase lawn density. A denser, healthier lawn will naturally retain more water and result in a neutralized soil pH. unsightly weeds get crowded out by thriving grasses, flowers, trees and shrubs, though Cote cautions that top dressing is not 100-percent effective as an herbicide.
On problematic patches of turf, application of pre-emergent herbicides or corn gluten meal may be necessary to supplement the top dressing’s effect.
Cote cautions that noxious pesticides and chemicals may still be needed to achieve that perfect, emerald lawn, though top dressing will reduce the amount.
“You always need to fertilize and use pesticide for a perfect lawn,” says Cote. “Top dressing is just the first step to minimizing pesticides and chemical fertilizers used.” As far as Cote is concerned, every drop of chemical herbicide or fertilizer that landscape professionals keep from entering the food and water supply is a step in the right direction. environmental purists should be able to cope with the inevitable emergence of a few unwanted weeds. ethical pragmatists fixated on that picture-perfect lawn will have to settle for a reduction in the amount of chemical applied to their lawns, rather than its complete elimination.
One layer of compost fulfills between 50 percent and 100 percent of fertilizing needs. In addition to increasing water retention and lawn density, a mixture that includes at least 75 percent organic compost improves soil structure, stimulates microbial activity and breaks down thatch. Over the course of a single season even dilapidated, struggling lawns will see improvement.
Until recently, high margin businesses were the only ones capable of absorbing the costs of top dressing. By foregoing the use of high-capacity, tractor-drawn equipment and limiting site application to once or twice per year, you can make this process affordable and attractive to your residential and commercial customers.
The only measurement you need to prepare a reliable estimate for a customer interested in top dressing is the area of the lawn or site. For turf renovation, the application rate is one cubic yard of soil mixture per 1000 sq. ft. of lawn. For regular top dressing, the application rate is half that: one cubic yard of soil mixture per 2000 sq. ft. of lawn. To generate a price estimate, simply multiply the cost of your compost, including delivery, by four for commercial properties and five for residential.
As environmental concerns continue to occupy an increasing amount of real estate in the minds of the public, organic services like top dressing are bound to occupy larger and larger shares of the market. It doesn’t take a prophet to realize that legislation banning phosphorous from fertilizers is the beginning and not the end of government intervention in the field. American landscape professionals need only look a few miles north to Canada to see just how far the regulatory arm of government can reach on environmental issues. Top dressing is a versatile service, well adapted to the coming sustainable age. Any contractor would be wise to add it to his or her company’s repertoire.