When should you put topsoil down?

When Should You Put Topsoil Down?

Putting down topsoil is an important step when starting a new lawn or garden bed. The timing of when to add topsoil depends on several factors. Here are some quick answers about when to put topsoil down:

– Spring and fall are the best times to put down topsoil, when temperatures are moderate.

– Avoid putting down topsoil in summer when it’s hot and dry or in winter when the ground is frozen.

– For grass seed, put down topsoil just before seeding your lawn.

– For gardens, add topsoil before or after planting transplants or seeds.

– Topsoil takes time to settle, so allow a few weeks before planting or seeding if possible.

– Adding organic matter like compost along with topsoil improves drainage and nutrition.

Why Add Topsoil?

Adding a layer of quality topsoil provides several benefits for new lawns and gardens:

– It improves the texture and drainage of native soils. Topsoil is loose, friable and full of organic matter.

– It contains nutrients plants need to establish roots and grow.

– It allows for easier planting and root establishment.

– It helps level and smooth out bumps and divots in the existing soil.

– It provides a fresh start for planting beds and lawns.

How Much Topsoil Do You Need?

The amount of topsoil needed depends on the depth you want to apply:

– For lawns, apply 2 to 4 inches of topsoil over the area.

– For garden beds, a depth of 8 to 12 inches of added topsoil is ideal.

– To calculate cubic yards of topsoil needed, multiply the area (length x width) by depth in feet. Then divide by 27. For example, a 50′ x 20′ area with 6 inches (0.5 feet) of topsoil would need about 11 cubic yards (50 x 20 x 0.5 / 27 = 11).

– When ordering topsoil, get 10-15% extra to allow for settling and irregularities in the soil surface.

Preparing For Topsoil Delivery

Proper site preparation is key before topsoil delivery:

– Remove any grass, weeds or plant debris from the area.

– Mark sprinkler heads and utility lines to avoid damage.

– Install any edging or borders along beds or driveways.

– Plan for drainage away from foundations and structures.

– Have any equipment ready to move and spread the topsoil.

Spreading and Leveling Topsoil

When the topsoil is delivered, here are some tips for spreading:

– Keep the topsoil moist during spreading to prevent dust and make leveling easier.

– Use a rake, shovel or loader to move topsoil into place and remove any low spots or uneven areas.

– Optimal topsoil consistency is moist but not muddy for smoothing and grading.

– Create a slight grade from high to low areas to facilitate drainage.

– Compact gently with equipment to density soil without overly compacting.

– Leave soil surface about an inch below walkways, driveways or foundations.

When to Seed or Plant after Adding Topsoil

Ideally, wait 2-4 weeks after topsoil application to plant or seed into the bed. This allows time for:

– Natural settling and compaction of the loose soil.

– Rains to dissolve any clods and consolidate the layer.

– Nutrients to precondition the soil.

If time is limited, you can plant immediately after topdressing, but be prepared to:

– Rework the soil surface to prepare for planting.

– Expect more settling around transplants over time.

– Allow for weeds that will germinate and need removal.

– Irrigate lightly but frequently until plants establish.

– Replenish mulch that sinks into the soil over time.

Spring Topsoil Installation

Spring is an excellent time for topsoil projects to establish summer lawns and gardens. Here are tips for spring topsoil installation:

When to Apply Topsoil in Spring

– As early as soils can be worked in spring when temperatures warm above 40 degrees F.

– 4-6 weeks before the expected last frost date in your region.

– When nighttime lows stay above freezing and the ground has thawed.

Spring Lawn Topdressing Steps

For spring lawns:

1. Conduct soil tests if needed and add lime or fertilizer.

2. Eliminate any weeds and unwanted vegetation.

3. Lightly till soil to 4-6 inches depth if needed to loosen compacted soils.

4. Spread topsoil evenly to desired thickness.

5. Rake smooth and level the surface.

6. Roll lightly to compact just before seeding.

7. Seed the new lawn as desired for the grass type.

8. Water gently daily until grass is 3 inches tall.

Spring Garden Topdressing Tips

For planting beds:

– Test soils and make any pH adjustments 2-4 weeks before topsoiling.

– Add 2-3 inches of compost tilled into the native soil to increase nutrition and drainage.

– Level beds and spread 8-12 inches of quality topsoil. Allow to settle.

– Just before planting, rake beds smooth and create planting rows or areas as needed.

– Transplant seedlings or seeds at correct spacing and depth.

– Use cloches or floating row covers to protect plants if late frosts are expected.

– Install drip irrigation if possible to maintain optimal moisture levels.

– Apply 2-3 inches of organic mulch around plants to conserve moisture and suppress weeds.

Fall Topsoil Installation

Fall can also be an excellent time for topsoil projects when conditions are right:

Ideal Timeframe for Fall Topdressing

– At least 6-8 weeks before expected first fall frost.

– When daytime temperatures are consistently below 85 F and nighttime lows are 50-60 F.

– After the main heat of summer has passed and conditions are cooling.

Fall Lawn Topdressing Tips

Advantages to fall lawn seeding include cooler, moister conditions. Follow these tips:

– Conduct soil testing in early fall and amend soil nutrients.

– Control any existing weeds or vegetation in the area.

– Lightly till to prepare a seedbed if soils are compacted.

– Spread topsoil to required depth. Allow to settle for 1-2 weeks if possible.

– Rake smooth right before seeding. Roll lightly to firm the surface.

– Select seed mix suitable for your climate and sun exposure.

– Seed at the rate specified for the grass varieties.

– Water gently to keep top 1/2 inch moist until established.

– Allow grass to grow to 3 inches before final fall mowing.

Planting Beds with Fall Topsoil

For fall gardens, watch the calendar and allow plants to establish before frost:

– Test and amend garden soils 4-6 weeks before topdressing.

– Remove any spent summer plants and weeds.

– Layer compost and topsoil over beds.

– Let settle before raking smooth for planting.

– Transplant fall vegetables and flowers suitable for your fall climate.

– Use season extending covers to protect plants from cold conditions.

– Install supplemental lighting if natural daylight hours decrease too much.

– Continue watering until freeze damages plants.

Topsoil Types and Quality

Choosing the right topsoil is key to project success. Topsoil falls into main categories:

Screened Topsoil

– Passed through a screen to remove rocks, debris, weeds.

– Creates a smooth surface for lawns and beds.

– Can lack organic matter to nourish plants.

– Quickly usable after application.

Unscreened Topsoil

– Not filtered and contains some natural mineral chunks.

– Provides organic matter for soil structure.

– Needs raking and smoothing after application.

– Slightly lower cost than screened.

Topsoil Mixes and Compost

– Manufactured blends of topsoil, compost, manure, etc.

– Excellent for gardening with high organic content.

– Can be expensive compared to unamended topsoil.

– Quality and components can vary.

How to Assess Topsoil Quality

Characteristics of quality topsoil:

– Dark brown or black color from organic content.

– Crumbly texture that’s easy to work with.

– Earthy, fresh smell.

– Feels cool and moist.

– No viable weed seeds or invasive plants.

– Nutrients suitable for intended use.

– pH suited for desired plants.

– Low percentage of large rocks, roots or debris.


The ideal time to add topsoil is early spring through mid fall when conditions are optimal for establishing plants. Allow new topsoil to settle before planting or seeding into the bed if possible. Select quality topsoil suited to your project, testing and amending it beforehand if needed. With proper timing and technique, adding topsoil can greatly enrich your garden or lawn.

Season Ideal Timeframe Lawn Topdressing Tips Garden Topdressing Tips
Spring 4-6 weeks before last frost when ground thaws
  • Test and amend soil
  • Eliminate weeds
  • Spread topsoil
  • Level surface
  • Lightly compact
  • Seed lawn
  • Test and amend soil
  • Add compost
  • Spread topsoil
  • Level beds
  • Plant transplants
  • Use row covers if needed
Fall 6-8 weeks before frost when temps cool
  • Test and amend soil
  • Control weeds
  • Spread topsoil
  • Allow to settle
  • Seed lawn
  • Allow grass to establish before frost
  • Test and amend soil
  • Remove spent plants
  • Spread topsoil
  • Level beds
  • Plant fall crops
  • Use season extending covers

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