One prep step I've been doing is also Spackling over any roughness in the table next to my tracks. I had some areas with very distinct ramps over the table surface, no great elevation shifts, but still funny looking. In an effort to eventually end up with something more natural in appearance I've been smoothing out some of these edges. The more extreme ones, elsewhere, will get a retailing wall treatment, but these little guys just needed some filler.
I'm sorry about the image quality, I'm just using my phone here and not a real camera.
This nest pair show a WIP of my ballasting process. Pictured here are two 1' sections, the first has ground + full ballast, the second ground and track ballast only, but you can still see the black edges of the roadbed in the near section.
As I was working along here I literally ran out of my ballet mix. I use a 60/40 ratio of grey and black to get a salt and pepper mix that matches some reference photos I've chosen to use as a guide. I have to mix up a new batch to finish up here.
Here you can see the Spackle I've been describing. It's called DryDex, it goes on pink and dries white, and finishes rock hard. It's easily sanded and smoothed too. I've stuck a few plaster cast rocks in to add some details, they should work well with the rock wall I plan to build behind this scene. (Yes, I'm building front to back and I'm not sure why but I know it's foolish. I've been frustrated with this space and really want to make some progress here right now I guess).
Here's another image of a recently ballasted space. As you can see I'm giving the switches a really wide berth. I've found ballast about switches to be a huge problem elsewhere, so I'm just keeping things simple for now. When I've taken things to a generally good state, then I'll start fussing with the fiddly bits. For now there's still lots of low hanging fruit to address first.
Finally, here's an overview of this section of the layout, with highlights on the sections detailed above: