When the wife and I bought our house a few years ago, the garden was an over grown mess. We hacked it down to make it presentable short term. When we came to sort it properly last autumn, budgets were tight and we probably didn't do what was best.

We had a handyman use a machine (a verticut?) to rip up the old turf (and seemingly about an inch of the topsoil) that was then skipped. They then went over the dirt with a rotavator to make the garden flatter.

We then had a friend come and sow grass seeds onto the soil. He raked the dirt and pulled up loads of little stones before sowing the seed and fertliser.

This has resulted in some beautiful grass, but I think because of the poor quality of the soil, the grass it pretty patchy and the soil is very hard and quite bumpy. Image]: ([![Garden You can see a bit of the patchiness here where it has just been cut. It is worse near the bottom of the garden. I have tried seeding the patches but the ground is so hard any little bit of water just pools and the seeds float off.

The grass is really high quality so i'd rather not dig it up and start again if possible.

My plan is to cut the grass a short as possible (2cm?) and then get some half decent topsoil and just rake it on top of the existing grass, gradually building up a decent layer of topsoil that will be easier to sow where its patchy, but also a little softer to be on.

I suppose my question is;

Is putting Topsoil on-top of existing grass a safe and effective way to to level the ground and help combat patchy grass?


  • 1
    where are you in the world? Looks remarkably like the UK, is it?
    – Bamboo
    Jun 23, 2016 at 14:34
  • I ask because I'm trying to work out what type of grass you have - in the USA, there's a much wider range of grasses in use for lawns.
    – Bamboo
    Jun 23, 2016 at 14:57
  • 1
    Is there pavement under the grass? Jun 23, 2016 at 16:23
  • What is sold as topsoil here in the US is often silt from lake or river bottom. Its properties are similar to what you describe. Jun 23, 2016 at 22:20
  • Black Thumb...great observation!!
    – stormy
    Jun 23, 2016 at 23:25

3 Answers 3


I think that the problem is that you don't have a layer of thatch built up yet. Most lawns have too much thatch and they have to work on removing it. If you can just stay the course, I think that it will work out for you. Eventually you will have a thatch layer. Also, it would help to not bag your lawn clippings when you mow.

But to create thatch, I would just apply some straw. Also, for unknown reasons, I find square bale straw to be superior (for this purpose) to straw from round bales.

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  • This is exactly what has happened, the gardener has removed the Thatch layer. Just to clarify, when you suggest adding 'straw', you mean like the kind I might get from a farm in a big square bale? How long does that take to break down normally? Jun 24, 2016 at 13:07
  • @user3400 Decomposition is a funny thing, when do you call straw thatch? Maybe after a year... but hopefully you notice an improvement after just few months. Rain/moisture is a factor in decompositon. Also, stormys advice to water, fertilize, aerate, and to not mow under 3" is all true (generally good lawn care practice). Use straw in addition to good lawn care practices. In a couple weeks the straw should be settled in so that you can mow over it. But if you do chop it up, it's okay- you just want to kick any clipping piles around instead of leaving clumps. Jun 24, 2016 at 13:48
  • I've never used straw for a newly seeded lawn bed. Straw takes forever to decompose, well not forever but it would have to be applied 'just so' it doesn't block water or light. Decomposition happens the minute something dies and all the little decomposers need lots of nitrogen for energy. I am very careful with fertilizer and newbie plants...and this would make me think too hard, grinning widely. Using sod would just make the little extra cost worth every penny. Straw is not thatch, thatch is non decomposed grass clippings and roots.
    – stormy
    Jun 25, 2016 at 19:32
  • 1
    @stormy I speak with conviction because I have studied chemistry, biology, biochemistry, botany, plant physiology, ecology, genetics, metagenomics, molecular ecology, and so much more than I care to divulge, and I have made a career of dirt. Jun 28, 2016 at 1:47
  • 1
    @stormy You know, the war on thatch is pretty crazy right now; lot's of money talking. It used to be a war on weeds. But please know that the internet is powered by advertisements. The real truth isn't worth much and unless most people hear it a few times, they have trouble accepting it. The truth is, it's complicated and poorly understood, and his lawn will probably work itself out with regular maintenance. And straw helps struggling new lawns. Jun 28, 2016 at 1:47

I would try putting some fertilizer on that part of the lawn and providing enough water to see if that helps. That should help with the overall health of the lawn and getting it to look like the right side (I am assuming they are the same type of grass). For the patchiness, I would first loosen the soil (you mentioned it is hard) and then add some fertilizer/soil/sandmix with the right type of seeds in the bare area so that you get new growth there. Keep that area well watered for a few weeks till the seeds germinate

  • How does one 'loosen' the soil in a lawn bed? No soil can be improved by adding sand, gravel, gypsum, fertilizer(!)...the only frickin' way any soil can be improved FOR USE BY PLANTS is the addition of DECOMPOSED ORGANIC MATTER. And we do not and should not mix it manually into the soil. Especially clay soils. We are missing some basic basic rules here.
    – stormy
    Jun 27, 2016 at 21:49

If I had your problem I would: Rent a SOD CUTTER. Get rid of that mess, the lighter colored what ever. Use that debris turned upside down for a new plant bed somewhere. Get some topsoil from a local outfit to get the soil leveled to the soil of the healthy lawn. ROLL, ROLL, ROLL....keep adding soil until that new level is the same height as the soil of the old lawn. (4" new material= sq. ft. divided by 81...2" divide by 2...8" multiply by two...you get it).

Make sure that that entire piece slopes slightly towards the fence or somewhere. That lawn and soil are TOO CLOSE TO THE BOTTOM OF YOUR FENCE. So it looks as if you get that level of at least 2" (better at 4")below the bottom of your fence you'll have some slope for drainage of water. There are other solutions but that would be the easiest not necessarily the best.

Did I say ROLL? Rent a drum to fill with water that you can easily walk behind and compact your soil for the new lawn. Keep grading (use a 2 - 3 foot grading rake), adding topsoil where you get depressions and raking down any hills. ROLL again. This is so critical for new lawns I just have to emphasize rolling. And make sure that lawn is 2" below your fence. (4" below siding on one's home)...

Go get SOD. It is grown in your local, easy peasy to do, snuffs out weeds, discourages any weed seed AND WON'T WASH AWAY.



FERTILIZE AT LEAST 3x PER YEAR WITH PROPER SEASONAL FORMULATIONS (organic extended release to include thatch eating bacteria is best and only done 2X per year)

AERATE using an aerator that pulls plugs of soil/lawn out of your lawn and deposits them on top of the lawn...leave them to disintegrate. Good stuff.

SHARP BLADES! Bagging clippings is best, I've never found a real mulching mower. Allowing your lawn to get to 3" and stay at that height, obviously controls weeds, reduces evaporation, the weekly mowings are so easy as there is little top growth per week to remove. You'll just be brushing the tops. Use on the back of your plant beds as mulch...spread thinly.

Using sod will solve the problems you are having, the rest will help you be successful with this creature we call a lawn...grins.

  • Shoot, aeration should be once per year (or more) but once per year is just fine.
    – stormy
    Jun 23, 2016 at 23:30

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