Top Dressing and Compost Spreading

By Daniel Côté

One single application of one layer of quality compost fulfills between 50 and 100 percent of the annual fertilizing needs of a lawn. Compost is a slow-releasing soil amendment, and contains all of the necessary nutrients to maintain balanced nutrient levels.

Not long ago, finding good-quality compost was not easy. But times have changed. Now — and for the foreseeable future — good, affordable compost is readily available, partly due to the establishment of new legislation all across North America and partly due to market demand. Sustainable landscaping is the fastest growing business segment in the Green Industry. If you want to expand your market, you must offer a compost solution. If yours is an established business and you want to stay current, you need to offer an organic option.

Municipalities, institutions and businesses are already using the sorting/composting approach, or will be in the near future, and are committed to continuing with the green movement in the following ways:

By reducing their volume of trash that they send to the dump or incinerator through composting organic debris, such as vegetable peelings and fruit rinds, into a rich mixture that can be used to improve soil.
By reducing their use of chemicals and synthetic fertilizers by using compost to create rich, healthy lawns and plantings.

Because so many important and leading-edge customers, such as universities, are making green choices, the principle of supply and demand assures that you can now get high-quality compost at a good price.

This is excellent news for landscapers and assures a promising future with great business opportunities. Because legislation in many areas limits the use of chemical products and puts in place irrigation water restrictions for lawn care and landscaping, the need for compost — with its water retention capabilities — is increasing. Quality compost is readily available at garden centers, landscape suppliers and compost producers, and is a great tool for landscapers and lawn care professionals who want to grow their businesses. In the 11 years since its inception, LEED (leadership in energy and environmental design) certification has become a powerful force in the building industry. This international certification system was developed by the U.S Green Building Council (USGBC), and there are an estimated 150,000 LEED-certified professionals worldwide. At Ecolawn, we help many customers expand their business with LEED certification. You, too, can help larger clients establish new lawn seeding with organic matter (compost-compost mix) as they strive for LEED certification.

Some fundamental questions and answers are as follows:

1. What are the benefits of compost spreading?

Compost provides all the essential nutrients needed for a rich and healthy soil.
Increases resistance to all kinds of parasites such as fungus and harmful insects.
Helps the soil structure in retaining water.
Stimulates microbiological activity.
Neutralizes the pH of the soil.

2. How do we spread compost?

Top dressing. Top dressing with compost is the best way to maintain a beautiful and healthy lawn and landscape. In fact, this method is part of a professional, complete maintenance program, and it will improve the entire landscape environment. Top dressing with compost is perfect for grass, trees and shrubs. It provides all the essential nutrients for an excellent soil and healthy plants. Use the top dressing method in combination with other services such as reseeding, core aeration, corn gluten and/or organic fertilizer application; compost is spread at a rate of 1 cubic yard to every 2,000 square feet.
Turf renovation. To repair damage caused during winter months or during a drought, as well as damage caused by insects, or to improve poor density turf, compost is applied at a rate of 1 cubic yard to every 1,000 square feet.
Seeding with compost. Seeding with compost is more efficient than hydro seeding and can be done without the need for synthetic fertilizer. As a landscaper, seeding with compost generates more profit for your business. This service is highly in demand, and compost is applied at 1.5 cubic yards per 1,000 square feet.

3. How much do I charge for landscaping and lawn care using compost?

The best way to determine the cost you will charge your clients is by counting per cubic yard of compost. You need to measure the dimensions of the area to be top dressed or for turf renovation or for seeding, using the application rates mentioned above. For example, for turf renovation: 1 cubic yard of compost per 1,000 square feet area. Then you multiply the cost of the compost, including delivery, by 3, 4 or 5, depending on the client category, as follows:

$ x 3 for municipal (parks/ sports fields)

$ x 4 for commercial/institutional (universities)

$ x 5 for residential (or less than 10,000 square feet)

It is as simple as that!

Daniel Côté is president/owner of Ecolawn, a Norton, Vt., provider of top dressing and compost-spreading equipment.

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