Topsoil vs. Garden Soil – What’s the Difference?

Many novice gardeners think topsoil and garden soil are one and the same, but that simply isn’t the case. Understanding these two types of soil and when to use them can make the difference between achieving your landscape goals and wasting your time and effort.

Whether you’re filling raised bed planters, creating container gardens, topdressing your lawn or embarking on another gardening project, you need to use the right landscaping materials.

Topsoil Garden Soil Differences

What is Topsoil?

Scientists consider topsoil to be the uppermost layer of soil. In the landscape materials industry, however, topsoil refers to earth that has gone through a screening process to remove debris and create a consistent texture.

Landscape professionals often call topsoil fill dirt – but it’s really not actual dirt. Dirt is what you find when you excavate a basement or attic. No plants thrive in dirt. Topsoil, on the other hand, contains natural organic matter from leaves, grasses, weeds and tree bark that can help sustain plant life. However, topsoil is not enriched or amended at all, which limits its use as a growing medium.

What is Garden Soil?

Garden soil is topsoil that has been enriched to make it better suited for plant growth. Amendments may include compost or other organic matter, and some soils – like perennial potting mixes – have added ingredients to encourage growth of specific types of plants.

Generic soils vary greatly in quality, as do many of the options at local big box stores. When selecting a bagged or bulk soil blend, check to make sure it contains no chemicals or fertilizers. For the greatest gardening success, look for an organic blend that is formulated for the growing conditions in your region.

Deciding Between Topsoil and Garden Soil

Topsoil is more of a general-purpose landscape material. Gardeners use topsoil to:

Level low spots in the lawn in preparation for sod installation
Add organic material to an existing lawn as a means of reducing thatch and increasing pest and weed resistance
Fill the lower layer of raised bed planters

Garden soil is a growing medium, designed to provide much-needed nutrients for improved plant health. Gardeners turn to this landscape material for:

Hanging flower baskets and window boxes
Raised bed planters and container gardens
Vegetable, herb and flower garden beds
Rose bushes and other ornamental shrubs

High-quality enriched soil tends to cost more than topsoil, but the needs of your garden – and not the price of the landscape material – should be the deciding factor. Keep in mind, too, that if you have a large area to cover, you can consider combining the two soils.

Do you need help choosing the right type of soil for your northern Utah garden project? The Dirt Bag specializes in bagged and bulk landscape materials, and our team can give you expert advice regarding which products best meet your needs. To learn more, or to schedule delivery of topsoil or garden soil, contact our West Jordan office today.