A buyer's guide to topdressers

With the latest models, topdressing can be done quicker and more accurately than ever before.

There are sound reasons why topdressing a sward is good practice. It is one of the best ways to restore a level surface and can also improve the soil by changing the particle size distribution. Indirectly, topdressing may also increase aeration and drought resistance, maximise the effectiveness of irrigation, aid drainage by improving the porosity of the soil and help reduce surface thatch.
To enjoy these benefits, quantities of an appropriate bulky material are applied during the growing season, so the grass can grow through it. But because of the volumes of material required, topdressing is not done nearly as much as it should be.
Sand-construction football pitches and sports facilities where sand-slit drainage needs to be maintained, can take as much as 100 tonnes of sand per year. Expense means topdressing operations are restricted to only the best of winter games pitches and to golf and bowling greens, tennis courts, cricket tables and high-quality lawns.
Traditionally, topdressing materials were applied by shovel, sometimes from the back of a tractor and trailer, but a wide range of machinery available today means we no longer have to rely on muscle power and skill.
There are two basic types of topdresser: the drop spreader, where the material is mechanically brushed from the rear of the machine to give coverage matching the width of the machine; and those with spinning discs, designed to throw material in a uniform pattern across an adjustable bout. The latter are increasingly popular where frequent topdressing of large areas is required. In the past 12 months, a number of new machines have been introduced. With angled twin spinners, the latest models offer consistent spread up to 9m and give a clearly defined edge to make it easier to match spread widths on subsequent passes.
New from Lloyds of Letchworth is the Pequea range of twin-spinner topdressers. Already proving popular is the GT100 low-impact model for light and frequent treatment of high-quality turf, including greens and fairways. Available in trailed or truck-mounted versions  with the option of hydraulic or independent engine operation, the GT100 has a hopper capacity of 0.75cu m. Prices start from £6,995 ex VAT.
From Charterhouse Turf Machinery come the DS Rink topdressers. The 0.8cu m capacity DS800 comes either as a trailed machine or body-mounted on to turf trucks. The 1.2cu m DS1200 is a trailed unit. All Rink topdressers have a continuous-loop belt.
There is also a new model in the Dakota range from Campey Turf Care Systems of Macclesfield. Dakota machines have the ability to transport materials, topdress, spread fertiliser, sow seed and fill bunkers. The new 414 model is intended for use with tractors of 35hp or above and has a hopper capacity of 3.2cu m. Spread width, using a spinner mechanism, is adjustable by means of electro-hydraulic controls.
Staffordshire-based Turfmech has introduced spinners to fit all ProPass 180 low-impact, broadcast-type topdressing machines. This dresser, with 0.5cu m capacity, is available in tractor-trailed or worktruck-mounted versions and is said to be easy to convert from one to the other.
Hopper size is a main consideration when comparing potential purchases.
A large hopper will mean less frequent filling, but it will result in a heavier machine. Large flotation types will help to distribute the weight and ideal ground conditions will help to lessen the risk of compaction.
It’s also important to know how the hopper will be filled. Usually, a tractor fitted with a front-end loader will be employed. To avoid spills and wastage, choose a topdresser that is wider than the loader. Also, check out the conveyor belt in the hopper. The belt is there to help move the material to the rear of the machine. Ribbed belts tend to be the most effective at doing this.
There are pedestrian dressers available for use on small areas, such as bowling greens. For larger areas, take a look at models that mount on to utility vehicles or trail behind a tractor.
Machines should be easy to calibrate to give a uniform distribution of material, though it is always worth considering halving the material and making passes from opposing directions to achieve full and even cover.
Don’t forget the material will need incorporating into the sward. Check that you have drag mats or other suitable equipment available for the job.

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