Can You Overseed Without Top Dressing?

When you start to look at Overseeding, many people talk about it along with Top Dressing. You may be wondering if you can skip that extra step, or if there is something better out there for your lawn. 

You can Overseed without Top Dressing, but it has many benefits like increased soil aeration, easier seed germination, and increased soil quality. If you want a green and thick lawn that has a chance to grow without as many diseases, then it is worth adding the extra layer. 

While most of the time Top Dressing works well and provides benefits for lawns, there are some disadvantages too that are worth checking out before starting the process. 

Top Dressing is just a thin layer of soil or organic mix that goes on top of or below your seeds. While it works well with Overseeding, it can also be used to improve your lawn quality by reducing soil erosion and increasing proper water drainage. 

Is Top Dressing Required for Overseeding?

While you don’t have to Top Dress with Overseeding, it is highly recommended by professionals. It is a little extra work, and sometimes a bit more money, but it is well worth it. 

Top Dressing makes it more likely for your grass seeds to sprout and grow healthily. Top Dressing can be any thin layer of soil or organic mix that goes over where you want to plant grass. You want it to be thin to avoid suffocating your grass or it will be more hurtful than helpful. Usually, no more than 0.25 inches (0.6 cm) is required. 

The most common types of Top Dressing are organic materials like compost. Sand is also a common option. You can make your own or buy some online. 

What Is the Point of Top Dressing?

Top Dressing is designed to give your grass seeds the best chance. They will help you to make sure that your grass is getting the nutrients and water it needs. It can also help to reduce the chances of disease or pests getting to your grass. 

If done correctly, you can even get a thicker lawn with little to no weeds or moss that might usually take up some of the space. Top Dressing should always be done in the growing season, so when you would Overseed. 

What Are the Advantages of Top Dressing?

Dry, brown and green grass
There are many advantages to Top Dressing when you are Overseeding: 

  • Adds air into the soil. If you have soil that easily gets compacted, Top Dressing can help to aerate the soil to allow your grass seeds to actually push their roots down. 
  • Breaks down organic matter. Specifically, topsoil helps a lot with thatch, which is just another name for a thick layer of dead plant material like leaves, roots, and stems. Thatch can reduce air and water getting through the soil, so having something that can break down this thatch can be helpful. 
  • Increases seed germination. It helps to make seed germination easier, which is why it works so well with Overseeding. 
  • Helps to level a lawn. By creating an even lawn with Top Dressing, you can reduce any areas of your lawn where water sits or even reduce erosion. This can help your plants stay healthy and grow equally in all parts of your lawn. You also reduce the chances of any fungal disease. 
  • Increase the quality of the soil. Top Dressing adds plenty of necessary nutrients to the soil. This includes the main three, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which help to increase the thickness and greenness of your grass. 
  • Brings in necessary microbes. Having the right microbes in your soil can help make the soil healthier and safer for your garden. Additionally, the right microbes can also fix nitrogen, control any pests that are in the area, reduce how diseases affect your plants, and break down organic materials. 

What Are the Disadvantages of Top Dressing?

While Top Dressing is beneficial most of the time, some problems may make it unsuitable for everyone:

  • Attracts certain pests. While Top Dressing can get rid of some pests and diseases, it also attracts some. Depending on your area, Top Dressing can increase the number of pests you have around your lawn, which can make it harder for your grass to grow. 
  • Doesn’t always reduce erosion. While Top Dressing can reduce soil erosion, it doesn’t always do what it needs to do. Sometimes it can increase soil erosion, or just not add any benefit to making it better. 
  • Can smother current grass. If not put on correctly, or added too thick, Top Dressing can block the light for current grass or smother new grass that may be trying to grow. So you may actually make your grass worse for a time. 
  • Isn’t one and done. Top Dressing only lasts for a couple of years, so it has to be reapplied fairly often. This can make it a pain and it doesn’t always feel like it is worth it. 
  • Can make drainage worse. While Top Dressing has the potential to improve your water drainage and stop water from sitting in certain parts of the yard, that’s only if it is put on correctly. If it isn’t done right, you may make your drainage problems worse, or just be hiding the fact that the problems are still there. 

How Quickly Does Top Dressing Work?

Top Dressing isn’t a quick solution. You can see the effects of Overseeding fairly quickly, as the grass will grow there faster and healthier. However, that still takes a few weeks as the grass begins to grow. 

If you are adding Top Dressing just to improve the health of your lawn, then you may not see results for a couple of seasons.

Should I Overseed Before or After Top Dressing?

It depends on what exactly you are doing. If you are using Top Dressing to fix up the levelness of your lawn, reduce erosion, and fix water drainage problems, you will want to Overseed after because you will likely be putting a thick layer of the Top Dressing on in some places which could smother the seeds. 

If you are wanting to only add a thin layer of Top Dressing specifically to help with Overseeding, or if it rains or is cold in your area at the time you are seeding, you will want to put the seeds down first. 

Applying Top Dressing last allows for insulation and protection from rain and pests. However, too much can smother the seeds, so be careful when applying Top Dressing so that you aren’t adding too much. 

What is the Best Top Dressing for New Grass Seed?

Replanting new grass seed
Compost is often considered the best Top Dressing for Overseeding. All Top Dressing should have a good mix of sand, peat, compost, and loam, and you want them to have a similar mixture of these four that your lawn naturally has. 

The Top Dressing can also change if there are things you want to fix. Having more sand is beneficial for reducing any bumps. Coarse sand is best because it still allows for aeration. Sand also increases the firmness of your lawn by reducing sponginess, increasing drainage, and making the lawn smoother. 

Compost is ideal when you need a boost of nutrients and beneficial microbes. It is easy to spread over the lawn and breaks into small pieces to reduce the amount of work you have to do. Compost is also cheaper. 

Topsoil helps to repair lawn damage like erosion or poor drainage. It also allows for better absorption of water from the soil, so your plants get the water they need without being too wet. 

Sometimes you may need more of one of these than the other, but you should rarely ever go with just one, as they don’t have the benefits by themselves that your lawn may need. 

How Much Top Dressing Do I Need for Overseeding?

You don’t need much Top Dressing for Overseeding. In fact, too much can lead to more problems than benefits. Usually, nothing more than 0.25 of an inch (0.6 cm) is required. Sometimes you can go up to 0.5 inches (1.25 cm) but that is it. 


Top Dressing is a great addition to almost any lawn. It provides benefits by increasing the chances of your grass coming out healthy and thick, and provides plenty of nutrients and necessary microorganisms.

You can Overseed without Top Dressing, but it has many benefits like increased soil aeration, easier seed germination, and increased soil quality. While it works for most gardens, always research to make sure that you are using a good Top Dressing for your area, or you may actually worsen the situation. 

Be sure to use a thin layer of Top Dressing around 0.25 of an inch (0.6 cm), to ensure you don’t smother your grass or seeds.