Restoration of species-rich grasslands on ex-arable land can help the conservation of biodiversity but faces three big challenges: absence of target plant propagules, high residual soil fertility and restoration of soil communities. Seed additions and top soil removal can solve some of these constraints, but restoring beneficial biotic soil conditions remains a challenge. Here we test the hypotheses that inoculation of soil from late secondary succession grasslands in arable receptor soil enhances performance of late successional plants, especially after top soil removal but pending on the added dose. To test this we grew mixtures of late successional plants in arable top (organic) soil or in underlying mineral soil mixed with donor soil in small or large proportions. Donor soils were collected from different grasslands that had been under restoration for 5 to 41 years, or from semi-natural grassland that has not been used intensively. Donor soil addition, especially when collected from older restoration sites, increased plant community biomass without altering its evenness. In contrast, addition of soil from semi-natural grassland promoted plant community evenness, and hence its diversity, but reduced community biomass. Effects of donor soil additions were stronger in mineral than in organic soil and larger with bigger proportions added. The variation in plant community composition was explained best by the abundances of nematodes, ergosterol concentration and soil pH. We show that in controlled conditions inoculation of soil from secondary succession grassland into ex-arable land can strongly promote target plant species, and that the role of soil biota in promoting target plant species is greatest when added after top soil removal. Together our results point out that transplantation of later secondary succession soil can promote grassland restoration on ex-arable land.