Top Dressing lawns on a large scale

Discussion in 'Organic Lawn Care' started by Five Diamond Lawns, Jan 2, 2005.

  1. Five Diamond Lawns

    Five Diamond Lawns LawnSite Member
    Messages: 197

    I realize by looking through the past posts that this subject gets covered a lot, but, there seem to be a lot of people pretty passionate about it, so here's my question.

    I want to start offering, on a big scale, top dressing for residential lawns. I'm thinking of having my topsoil distributer mix up a special mix with topsoil, compost and seed together, then top dressing lawns with 2 - 6 yards of the mix. I will do lawns of any size but I think the 2 - 6 yards will be my bread and butter.
    What I'm looking for is your ideas and experiences on
    1) the best delivery method from start to finish
    2) pricing
    3) mix formula

    My thoughts so far are a small dump truck with a custom back end to dump into a motorized compost spreader ( I've found a lot of info on spreaders in past posts ). This way I'll only need one person to do the work and not much shoveling. I think he could spread 3 yards an hour on site. I am looking at $65 per yard.
  2. Dchall_San_Antonio

    Dchall_San_Antonio LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 327

    It is my opinion that top dressing is unnecessary for an organic program; however, my opinion is not stopping the consumer demand for this service. Therefore if you don't provide it, someone else will.

    1. Equipment: Look into renting or borrowing a truck that does hydromulching, hydroseeding, or even blowing in dry insulation. This equipment can get in and out of 5 acres in a morning.

    2. Pricing: cost of top dressing mix might be as much as $15 per cubic yard. Retail to the client would be on the order of double your cost. You could also charge for delivery ($30) and application at a rate similar to what plumbers and electricians get in your area. So for a 5,000 square foot job, you would need 5 yards of top dressing, delivery, and 1 hour (minimum) for the application. That's 5x30+30+60=$240. Then you take out your expenses of 5x15+5+8=$88 or so plus administrative and overhead.

    3. Top Dressing Recipe: This depends on your area. If your local area is sandy Florida, you will have to use native sand for some of the top dressing. I'd probably go with 50/50 native top soil and compost. Wholesale cost for that mix should be significantly less than $15/cubic yard. Then for seed, if you normally seed at 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet (I really don't know how much your seed weighs), then you would mix 20 pounds of seed per cubic yard of material and apply at a rate of 1 cubic yard per 1,000 square feet. Mix it good.

    Having said all that, would you consider spraying compost tea? Let's work some numbers for that. First you would need a tea brewer. A 55-gallon drum and some parts cost about $150 and makes 50 gallons of tea per day. 50 gallons will cover 2.5 acres at 20 gallons per acre. That converts to 1/2 gallon per 1,000 square feet. This would be a springtime soil drench rate. Later in the season you can back off to 5 gallons per acre (one pint per 1,000 square feet. So at that rate 50 gallons will cover 10 acres. You'll also need an ag sprayer. Sprayers can cost as much as you want to spend. Cost of the tea to you would be about $0.05 per gallon. You might could charge $10.00 per 1,000 square feet??? If you had a $30,000 spray rig like ChemLawn uses you could apply 20 gallons per acre as fast as you could walk an acre (40 minutes?). A typical 5,000 square foot yard could be done in 10 minutes max with a 2.5 gallons of tea. I hope I got those numbers right. This tea thing doesn't do anything for seed but it does give you some cash flow throughout the season if you spray every other month. And I think compost tea does a lot more for the yard than annual topdressing.
    aotriple7 likes this.
  3. pema

    pema LawnSite Member
    Messages: 54

    Having said all that, would you consider spraying compost tea?

    To the best of your knowledge would an application of Pelletized compost give the same micro organisim boost to soils as compost tea?
  4. dishboy

    dishboy LawnSite Fanatic
    from zone 6
    Messages: 6,269

    I saw a interesting low dollar sprayer on another forum, 15 or 25 gal. tank mounted on a 36inch comercial lawn mower frame with a electric pump running off the engine electrics. It looks a fast easy way to apply compost tea at the rates described above. With a sulky it would even be old "Fart" friendly.
  5. Dchall_San_Antonio

    Dchall_San_Antonio LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 327

    Yes, but for the money, no. Compost tea, good compost tea, has 1,000 times more microbes in it than compost. Thus it can be diluted 1,000 times to get the same microbe boost. So your dollar spent on compost is boosted by a factor of 1,000 also.
  6. trying 2b organic

    trying 2b organic LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 566

    I've finally had to admit that even though topdressing is one of the best things you can do for your lawn I wont be pushing it as a service this yr due to my lack of a good supplier.

    What I really want to topdress with is compost. Light beautiful 100 % finished compost at 1 yd per k. Its incredible but here is what my nurseries have.

    - lawn sand (why i dont know, all our lawns are sandy already)

    - sea soil (a local product made with fish and forest fines, great for beds but it has chunks of tree bark which makes it not so great for lawns)

    - 3 way (sand, topsoil, manure- the manure is never fully composted -ug gross)

    I even looked into pelletized compost but is only made on the east coast now so by the time it gets here its not that cheap. None of my suppliers have it due to lack of interest. I was going to add it to my prgms as a soil amendment and spread it with a drop spreader.

    Its tough to make money with compost tea due to all the labour that is involved. Its not much if you are doing it for yourself but compared to other services you offer it will be time consuming and expensive. Hence only one organic gardener I know actually offers this service even though its a great thing for the plants. I know of a few who have a big custom rig who do ONLY compost tea at which point it becomes profitable.
  7. trying 2b organic

    trying 2b organic LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 566

    Have u applied compost tea to turf in a controlled experiment. (Not also the first yr you tried a new fert or corn meal). I would love to know what u saw. Not enough people here are educated about organics and would pay extra, or even the same amount, for compost tea. It would have to sell by word of mouth and to do so it would have to have an amazing quick effect. If you got great results I may get a bucket a sock and a small pump and try it.

    Sorry, I should read the thread before I start posting. In answer to the original question. I charge 100 $ a cubic yard for topdressing. I use wheelbarrows and rakes. I find it fun and profitable and on lawns with poor soil conditons the difference is amazing. Time it so your seedlings arent competing with the weeds to much if possible.
  8. ed2hess

    ed2hess LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 14,693

    We do commericial lawn maintenance. We started discussing lawn renewal with some of our commericial accounts, using organics. We see the lawns going down over the years due to compaction, use of chemical fertilize, and chemicial treatments for insects. This last year we had so much nut grass that we couldn't control we had to do something. One account has agreed to the use of composite tea, composite, and corn meal, medina, and organic fertilize. We are doing all this stuff in a very manual mode for experiment. I just finished using milk solution on rye grass for fungus. I have used total organics on commericial winter flowers and the results are best flower year. Over 65% of pancies in the area look very bad...even the TG accounts.
    We will keep posting in the future.
  9. Grassmechanic

    Grassmechanic LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,697

    David, please tell me that was a misprint. I never use more than 3#/1000 when seeding new lawns (KBG), 1# for overseeding.
  10. Beat me to it!

    Are you sure david?

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