Everything to Know About Topsoil for Gardening

If you’ve been wondering about how to start a garden or looking for ways to improve your existing garden, then you probably must have come across the term’ topsoil.’ Topsoil that is naturally found in the native soil of a garden is different from the topsoil available in local nurseries or home centers. 

topsoil for gardening
characteristics of topsoil for gardening

To help you better understand what role it plays in the effective growth of plants, first, let’s discuss what topsoil for gardening is

What is Topsoil for Gardening? 

Topsoil refers to the topmost layer of soil present on the earth’s surface and is found in native soil. The topsoil layer’s depth depends mostly on its location and can be five to twelve inches deep, with numerous variations in texture and material compilations.

For gardening purposes, slit, sandy, and clay topsoil must be avoided as they retain moisture easily and prevent air from reaching the plant roots below. However, loamy topsoil is an excellent option for gardening as they’re organically rich in matter, provide adequate moisture, and support an entire ecosystem of favorable microbial life that supply nutrients for plants’ healthy growth.

The best type of topsoil includes a loamy texture with a mixture of:

  • 7% t0 27% clay
  • 28% to 50% silt
  • Under 52% of sand.

These topsoils are easier to till and have a low water-retention capacity. In contrast to garden soil, topsoil is usually sold in greater quantities for extensive landscaping needs. Furthermore, topsoil is more of a general-purpose soil mixture and may not be blended with as organic matter or fertilizer as some garden soils.

Characteristics of Topsoil for Gardening


The key nutrients found in topsoil are:

  • Phosphorous: used to generate plant cells and DNA.
  • Nitrogen: promotes healthy leaves and stems and is mainly used for plant growth.
  • Magnesium: assist the plant in photosynthesizing and generating lush green leaves.
  • Potassium: aids in creating green leaves and helps in the photosynthesis process.

Each one of these nutrients has a crucial role to play in the soil’s fertility and is naturally found in topsoil but varying quality and quantity. All these nutrients can be added to increase the fertility or enrich the soil while also improving its structure.

Structure and Composition

Topsoil structure and composition vary significantly from area to area, and it’s continuously under the influence of the surrounding environment. Generally, individuals talk about using either sandy or clay soils in their gardens. However, clay soils are harder to work with because they usually harden up, and the essential nutrients are sealed up in sticky soil. Nevertheless, they do clench water a lot better than other soils.

On the other hand, sandy soil is loamier and is more suitable for gardening. It is nutrient-rich, dark in color, friable, and light in weight. To test its structure, it ought to be hard to roll up in a ball, but easier and quicker to break up.

pH Level

An ideal quality of topsoil must have a pH value of 5.5 to 7.5. In other words, it should be mildly acidic to somewhat alkaline. Having the correct pH level helps to ensure that the plants can successfully draw nutrients from the ground. Though several plants can cope with varying pH levels, numerous problems can arise if the soil is too alkaline or too acidic.

Keeping in mind that having a suitable pH value is not the only vital component of good topsoil; it also requires an open structure to ensure adequate drainage and aeration that stops nutrient lock-up.

Organic Topsoil

Some suppliers talk about organic topsoil, but this is usually very misleading. True organic topsoil requires to be acquired from a certified organic field, and that would be ridiculously expensive. Hence, a more appropriate decision would be to get screened soil that has been enriched by mixing organic composts to it to increase its organic content.

The method of screening topsoil includes working the soil over a big screen or mesh to sieve lumps and stones out of the soil and to aerate it. Screen size must be 25mm for infill soil and 10mm or less for high-quality soils.

What is Topsoil Used for?

What is Topsoil Used for? Topsoil purchased from the garden center can be an efficient and inexpensive way to amend your garden lawn and bed. There are many different topsoil kinds in the market, so make sure that you pick the best suited for your gardening need.

Provide Adequate Nutrients

Good topsoil includes the essential nutrients for the survival of your plants. It can greatly help protect seedlings and plants and solve soil problems like improper pH levels. This kind of topsoil is considered to be blended topsoil and is quite similar to garden soil. In many ways, garden and topsoil can be considered one-and-the-same as they perform uniform functions when amalgamated with native soil.

what is topsoil used for
Topsoil for Gardening

Improve Soil Drainage

Some blended topsoils can help to improve soil drainage. Mixing organic matter with sandy-blend topsoil and combining it into the native soil would help you achieve better drainage, letting water penetrate deeper and contribute to stronger root development.

In-Ground Applications

Blended topsoil can be used for several in-ground applications, such as:

  • Areas affected by soil erosion
  • New builds life new garden beds or lawns or replacing an old paved area with new plants.
  • Heavily used or damaged areas of lawns

Due to these benefits, you may need to use less water and reduce the use of pesticides, providing you with extra time to focus on the other facets of your garden, like harvesting, planting, seasonal swap-outs, and more.

Top-Dressing for Damaged Areas

Topsoil is most commonly used as a top-dressing for the damaged areas of your garden or lawn. For this purpose, bagged topsoil is generally used as it typically involves little nutrient value but works great as a filler or top-dressing. It works excellently to fill in low spots, bare spots, or beaten down areas that have been heavily trafficked.

Topsoil should be several inches deep; hence if your topsoil is slim or nonexistent, it would be good to apply topsoil in your garden. However, before purchasing, check the topsoil ingredients, and look for garden soils or specialty blends if you require pH correction, improved drainage, or more nutrients.

How to Know If a Topsoil is Good?

Good topsoil should be mineral and nutrient-rich and must support plants’ growth in your garden or lawn. When searching for good topsoil, you can consider the following things to ensure its quality before making a final purchase. To examine the topsoil quality, you should:

Choose a Soil with a Darker Tone 

The more organic matter in the soil, the better will be the chance your plants thriving. Topsoil that is light in color shows that it lacks this organic material and would ultimately hamper the growth of all plants you’re trying to grow.

Moreover, be sure to check the surface of the topsoil for a white or light residue. This may denote the presence of lime or salts, both of which can lead to toxic effects on a lawn or a garden.

  • Black topsoil shows a lack of minerals in the soil. Therefore, search for something that is dark brown and not black.
  • If the topsoil you want to purchase has already been packaged, request the owner if there’s any sample soil to look at.
  • If the topsoil is gray or blue-green, it indicated that it had been continuously saturated or wet, which is not good. Therefore, avoid purchasing soil that looks like this.

Touch the Soil

Always touch the soil to ensure it has a good texture and is crumbly. A swift run of your fingers through the topsoil will provide you with a good idea of what it is made up of. Good topsoil must always crumble in your fingers.

You must feel the grit in it, which shows that essential minerals like calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium are present in it. Never buy soil that is hard because it indicates a low level of organic matter.

  • Soil that easily clumps up into large chunks or balls is too rich in clay.
  • Make sure there aren’t any weed roots or large stone as they’re bad for topsoil.
  • Topsoil rich in clay impedes the plant’s ability to aerate and prevents water from effectually reaching the roots. 
how to know if topsoil is good
how to know if topsoil is good

Wet Sample Soil

Always wet a sample of the topsoil to determine what it is made of. Topsoil should ideally be a combination of sand, slit, and clay.

  • Take a portion of wet topsoil in the palm of your hand. 
  • Rub the soil around with your fingers and pour a little more water onto it while it is in your hand. 
  • As it becomes wetter, you can physically feel fits properties. 
  • Smooth soil means it has high silt, gritty soil denotes high sand, and stickiness signifies high clay. 
  • The ideal topsoil must be dark in color and possess a combination of grittiness, stickiness, and smoothness. You must not want anyone element dominating the topsoil rather it needs to be an equal amalgamation of all three 

Smell the Soil 

Good topsoil would always smell sweet, hence avoiding any soil with an off-odor or smells like a chemical such as gasoline. Such smells indicate unnatural and unwanted chemicals that can hamper plants’ growth and make for terrible topsoil.

Good topsoil requires hundreds of years to develop naturally. If the topsoil smells like rotting material, ensure to stay clear of it.

Topsoil Myths and Misunderstandings

If you have ever found yourself in a garden store, staring in confusion at all the bags of soil amendments, then there are some things you must know. Here are a few topsoil myths and misunderstandings that can trip you up.

what is topsoil used for
what is topsoil used for

Myth #1: All Topsoil is Same

Topsoil can vary severely even in the same lawn and from one garden bed to another. All the soil in your garden is made up of clay, silt, and sand in different amounts and substantial decomposed plant matter i.e., organic matter.

The ideal mix of soil offers nutrients and lets adequate air reach the roots and allows better drainage to create a perfect place for plants to thrive. Often topsoil includes weed seeds, so do not be surprised or worried if you need to work on eliminating them for a few years after you start a new bed or plot.

Myth #2: Yard Dirt Can Be Used for a New Garden Bed Instead of Topsoil

This isn’t entirely wrong, but, in most cases, you should not. Soil contains varying amounts of organic matter that helps to provide topsoil with good drainage, loose, and easy to dig quality. Whereas soil lying around the yard does not include sufficient organic matter.

This is why gardeners usually opt for topsoil or use other soil amending products like compost to increase organic matter. Buying topsoil is the easiest and quickest way to ensure great garden soil.

Myth #3: Good Topsoil Requires Annual Tilling

Once you raise a new garden bed or create a garden from scratch using good soil, simply avoid stepping and compacting it. If you make sure this is followed, you will not have to till it each year. To help you achieve this, build a raised garden bed, and avoid stepping over them.

Moreover, if your garden isn’t elevated, build permanent pathways to ensure no one compacts that soil you have worked so hard on.

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Choosing the right topsoil for your garden can play a huge role in your plants’ growth and development. Therefore, make sure you study your garden soil and determine what it requires to help the garden thrive and flourish. We hope this article helps you understand what is topsoil for gardening and its role in achieving a blooming, lush green garden is. To learn more about gardening, head to the blog section on our website.

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