Seeds germinating in bag


If you are importing amendments or soil into your yard it is unreasonable to expect them to be weed free.  A wise gardener with an established bed of perennials will hold their breath for two weeks after they have top dressed a lawn or filled their garden. There would be a daily weed patrol, sometimes even at night with a miner’s helmet. This gardener will know to nick out any unwanted growth immediately.

This gardener will also know that even perfect diligence can miss one…there under the Hosta leaf is that bit of green gout that has now grown into the plant.  Now the poor guy will either have to pull the weed for the rest of his life or get rid of the Hosta. If he is a nice gardener he will not gift this plant to a friend.

If you do not think this is important than the point of this article is to get you to see.  In fairness you may not have had to deal with Bishop’s Weed, Mare’s Tail or Creeping Charlie before, your naivete is pardoned but be warned.  It is not even possible to rationalize the cost of an infestation, how long the sentence is in hours or the cost in plants.  

The ideal way to make using soil for top dressing and amending garden beds safe is to create a “soil nursery” garden or an annual bed. The logic of this is simple.  Monitor the soil for a year before using it in an established garden.  Use this garden for gifted plants like split Hostas and Irises etc. These gifts can prove very expensive if they have weeds growing in them.

Practicalities.  A bag of dirt (a yard) would create a garden 15’ by 3’ x 6” deep.  You could fill about 17 four foot window boxes. The following spring you can use this soil to top dress lawns or add to established gardens.  Get a new bag of dirt and replenish your “soil nursery”.  On small city lots this is hardly feasible but you could work through a half yard of soil and buy 10 smaller bags.  

Many people will buy baskets and at the end of the year throw them out with the dirt still in them.  Why not dump them on the lawn and rake it in. The soil has no best before date after all and every little bit helps.

Pause before reacting to your garden. Spring is crazy explosive and full of energy but you are the parent of that two year old, you do not have to have the same energy. Just enjoy it.  

Why exactly are you buying dirt and do you really need it?  I have been consulting for years and it amazes me how people in the spring do too much and do not understand garden techniques, think “helicopter parenting”. Garden tips are not difficult and by becoming gardener you ironically become more relaxed.


Some Useless Info


Bagged dirt is amended dirt. It is not magical. Consider amending your own. This could save time. If your dirt is clay sand is needed.

Bagged dirt is good dirt and is more consistent, it is not a “pig in a poke”.  If you order from another local supplier look into what he has to offer and talk with people.

Cheap top dirt?  You get what you pay for.

Part of the unseen costs of the large bags is it takes longer to shovel out.  It takes a solid hour to unpack a bag using muscles you never knew you had. (use a shorter spade) To unload a truck would take 20 minutes, to pick up from drive and clean up 35 minutes. (all using muscles that are practiced)

See point above. Price in a massage therapist if you do not shovel often.

Returning the bag to supplier takes time and makes a mess in your car.

Consider that about 17 bags (2 cu feet) has the same volume of soil.  Price out getting these delivered and do a cost comparison. (The large bags we unpack generally have more than a yard for those who are doing the math) (the same thinking about weeds is needed for any soil)

For some reason I think of Fanny Mae and how she changed recipes by defining a pinch and dash, changing them to teaspoons and cups.  Here are some conversions for you.

A bag will top dress a lawn 40’ by 20’

There are 11 wheelbarrow loads in a bag (4 cu ft barrow two thirds full)) (plus 3 shovel loads)

It takes 55 minutes to unpack and move 180’

the last three barrow loads are the most difficult on one’s back.  Consider throwing a child to the bottom with a bucket to niggle out corners.

…and yes I know how many spade fulls of dirt there are.  How many do you think?



Schepers Property Maintenance has a motto. “Keep it simple”. Our best work has been the simplest and as an added bonus it is also the easiest to maintain. There are times when this position feels like apathy or laziness but we get over it when we see the work we have done sitting smugly next to a complicated landscaped yard. There is a neatness to our work; a quiet confidence that makes it stand tall. Simple tricks come out of minimizing. Today I am sharing about rolling your lawn and frankly my hope is that you will do it yourself. If not Schepers Property Maintenance will gladly do it for you. (519 820 6507) ( Our price will of course be reasonable except for those reading this post in a city other than Guelph. There are readers in Holland and Nigeria for instance. Though I would love you to contract with us the travel costs are yours to pay. In the spirit of this post my advice to these out of towners is to not engage us except for our garden design service,

Lawn rollers on a small yard are pretty ridiculous. The border shrubs and plants cringe when the roller approaches, many many times.  When one rolls one has to do many many many 3 point turns. These plants have visions of broken limbs and overly compacted soil. The noise and the exhaust also bother them though it is mostly psychosomatic. We have to remember that they have witnessed the roller has chipped of a section of concrete from the walk. They hear the worms scream. It is traumatic to say the least and one must remember that a small yard also has a smaller community of support and fewer collective memories to reassure themselves with. When I used to run the roller I remember the dirty looks I got as I rolled by whistling repeatedly “Rolling Rolling Rolling”. In fairness it might have been my singing. The question is, what is an effective way for one to do it themselves without having to store a lawn roller in the garage and without being irritated by searching Google for me every year. Well good news. There is a solution.

Read my whole post before you go out. There are jobs I would suggest first before lawn rolling.

Buy a tamper. It is simply a piece of wood with a flat plate on the bottom.  You could make this tool from wood if you were really ambitious. If you cannot find one at your local hardware store go to a Rental Store that services the construction industry. In fact you may even get to just rent it. When you acquire this tamper remember that the smaller the tamper area the more compaction you end up with. A 2″ square tamper will send the worms to China and will leave these neat square dimples in your lawn. This actually is very cool looking until you go to cut the lawn. I use an 8″ square tamper.

Tamp the lawn in stages. There are muscles in your body that will speak to you rudely if you push too hard. Think about it. If you are worried about how plants feel with a lawn roller you are allowed to listen to your muscles when they worry. They are apart of a very intimate garden called “you”. Do it in stages if necessary. Remember it actually is quite easy and you will be tempted to keep going. Do not RAM done and do the human thing of feeling like these muscles have to be driven. The repetitive lifting, though easy, is using muscles that are not used often. Light touch and stages is what I am saying over and over because I have trained many people and the tendency is to get too enthusiastic….

Before starting pick up a bag of grass seed and sand/ top dressing soil. Please don’t make me ask if you have a garden rake. The seed will not germinate for awhile but it doesn’t hurt to put down now. Gently rake your lawn removing any dog poop first. If your lawn is very bumpy the tamper is not the tool to use first. Rake in sand or Top Dressing first. After this spread grass seed (read instructions on bag and read my blogs on grass seed.) Now walk over your lawn and gently tamp the worm holes down and minor frost heaves. Overlap slightly these pats. Smile as you see how effective this is. Dream about a lawn that does not make the lawn mower vibrate and shake apart.  Have a coffee in a place that overlooks your accomplishment.

Lawn Roller

My old Roller. It was so awkward to drive and to get around. It was a pretty good machine.

 If you are interested the following our links you may want to track.  (yss I deserve 1 like for taking the time to write this…it won’t kill you)  I also dabble sometimes in Haiku and poetry.  You can follow me on Twitter for this  

Grape HyacinthThis post may be the most important one you read. If you read up on crab grass and the tips there for general weeding you should have grasped the various ways weeds can be spread. Now you are about to learn one of the worst ways weeds can spread. What makes it the worst, besides introducing exotic weeds you had never seen before, is that these weeds come as a result of something good.

Compost and top dressing. Applying these to your lawn without taking into account the possible work and cost you are creating for yourself is naivete. Not being able to see the seed does not mean it is not there. Seeds can last for years and though a perfect compost pile eliminates most of them it does not eliminate all. There are few perfect compost piles. Compost, commercially processed, is far better than top dirt and has fewer weeds.  It is also better for your lawn. What follows are some suggestions when top dressing your lawn.

Expect there to be weeds. Different suppliers will have a different level of infestation. Even a reputable supplier with a great track record is unlikely to make promises. Bagged products are better than bulk and it is certainly more easy to test. (Not the large bags dropped by truck)
When you read what follows remember that small bags allow for more controlled testing and have not been exposed while sitting in a pile to more weeds after processing.

Test your product. If you are planning on top dressing your lawn it would be wise to take a wheel barrow or two and spread it on the edge of a shrub bed. If you have no annual bed or shrub bed to test it, then try and find somewhere other than your lawn to apply a sample. The main aim of this practical advice is that IF there are weeds in the product they can be identified and eradicated easier on your annual bed and the borders of a shrub bed than they can from the midst of your lawn.

When you are satisfied and you do apply to your lawn it is still imperative that you keep a close eye on weed growth. Be prepared to “nit pick” or what my crew has learned, “to be pernickety”. If there are strange weeds that sprout do not put off dealing with them. When they are very young they can be pulled out quite easily, not having roots long enough to bind and entwine with the existing grass. When we top dress the cost includes weekly visits for a month and bi weekly visits for the next month. Very important.

A few more general tips are simple. Do not spread the compost or manure too close to shrubs, perennials and young trees. At the trunk/ stalk is not where the nutrients are needed anyway. Weeds once mingled in the root system of the existing plants are much harder to eradicate.  Lawns may be the hardest and most time consuming but a close second is weeding a perennial bed.  This is why, when gardening, the base of the perennials is the most critical place to check and to keep clear of weeds.  Our crew is instructed to check there first. The weeds between the plants are obvious and will eventually annoy you enough to remove them so, in a sense, they will take care of themselves. The least qualified employee would get the obvious, the best qualified knows the overall aim is the plants. There is nothing worse than grass in Day Lillies or Dandelions in a clump of Daisies. Most times the perennials have to be ripped out and the roots “purged” in order to separate the weed roots. Check the base of your plants first.

Though this article is done the suggestion to be apply product to a shrub base first in the latter paragraphs gave me an idea that perhaps is useful. Remember, slow gardening is better than reactionary impulses. It is up to you to be informed too. The idea? Create an annual bed that is empty from late fall until May.