Topsoil Calculator

Calculating how much topsoil you need

Many professional and home gardeners are faced with estimating the amount of topsoil they need to cover a given area. If you are asking yourself how much topsoil do you need for your garden, then our topsoil calculator is of great assistance as it does the math for you in a metric of your choice (suitable if you are living in the US, UK, EU, and others), but you should keep in mind that the results will only be as good as the measurements entered into it.

Also, we use a standard soil density of 100 lbs/ft3 (1600 kg/m3) which may be somewhat different depending on the precise topsoil mixture you purchase. Blended topsoil is usually less dense, and thus fewer pounds of it will be required. The calculation process is:

  1. Estimate the volume of topsoil needed, using geometrical formulas and plans or measurements of the area.
  2. Estimate the density of the soil to be used. Standard density for topsoil is around 100 lb/ft3 (1600 kg/m3).
  3. Multiply the volume by the density (in the same units) to get the soil weight

Volume calculation is a bit tricky if the area you are calculating has an irregular shape. Then you need to divide it in several regularly-shaped sections, calculate their volume and topsoil requirements and then sum them up. In case you end up needing to do this for a large number of sections, you might use our summation calculator. Approximations are also OK in most cases.

Topsoil is usually sold in bags in big retail stores and specialized stores, and in bulk by the ton (or tonne) from companies specializing garden supplies. The topsoil calculator will help you estimate how much of it do you need and will make it easy to compare bulk orderign versus buying by the bag, as you will always see the per ton price.

To determine the number of bags you need, you must know how much soil a bag will yield. Topsoil producers don’t have a convention on how to mark their product, so you may know the bag’s volume, e.g. 1 cu ft, or 1 cu yd, or you may know it’s weight, say, 40 lbs (or 20 liters and 25 kg for the metric system). Our soil calculator supports all of these different types of bags and will make the necessary conversions automatically.

When going to shop for topsoil, remember that the measurements you take will have a margin of error, especially if the terrain is with an uneven depth, so you should consider purchasing 5-6% more topsoil than estimated so you don’t run out.

Topsoil basics

Topsoil (soil, dirt) is important since plants derive most of their vital nutrients from this upper, outermost layer of soil, usually between 2 inches (5.1 cm) to 8 inches (20 cm) deep. It is here that most of the Earth’s bio activity occurs – decomposition, excrements, etc. all end up here, and it has the best conditions for most life thus it has the highest concentration of organic matter and microorganisms. The soil is composed of a mix of mineral particles, organic matter, water, and air.

In terms of physical characteristics, soil can sustain its own weight and other internal matter such as water. It’s bearing capacity is good, making it a good base for supporting structures above it, up to a point. The strength of topsoil structure decreases with the presence of organic matter, meaning it can bear less weight. Dewatering also has a negative effect on soil skeletal structure and its volume decreases. When sold, it is usually processed and screened to remove rocks and debris from it.

Typical soil composition

As you can see some elements composing dirt can vary significantly so make sure to read the label when buying since different types of plants have different needs for nutrients and preferred soil conditions. Some can be strongly adapted to certain conditions and not thrive or even die elsewhere, making the choice of soil crucial for maintaining them in good shape.

What is the density of soil?

The density of typical soil is 100 lb/ft3 (1600 kg/m3). This corresponds to moderately damp consolidated soil (rammed earth) and is the number used in the calculator. When the soil arrives it will be loose and likely have a density of just 75 lb/ft3 or 1200 kg/m3 and will require a larger vehicle to transport.

How much does a yard3 of topsoil weigh?

A cubic yard of typical topsoil weighs about 2700 pounds or 1.35 tons. A square yard of a garden with a depth of 1 foot (30.48 cm) weighs about 900 pounds (410 kg) or slightly less than half a ton. The water content of the soil is assumed to be that of a moderately damp (e.g. freshly dug).

How much does a cubic meter of topsoil weigh?

A cubic meter of typical topsoil weighs 1,600 kilograms 1.6 tonnes. A square meter of garden with a depth of 35 cm weighs about 560 kg or 0.56 tonnes. The numbers are obtained via this soil calculator.

How much is a ton of soil?

A ton of condensed soil is typically about 0.750 cubic yards (3/4 cu yd), or 20 cubic feet. Soil is assumed relatively damp, since adding water can increase or decrease the density of the soil considerably (e.g. if it was raining or if you dig up and leave dirt under the sun so water evaporates).

How much is a tonne of soil?

A tonne of condensed, moderately damp soil typically fills about 0.625 m3 (cubic meters). It can be more or less dense depending on water content and the exact composition.

Ton vs tonne, tons vs tonnes

When calculating weight, make sure you do not confuse the tonne (metric ton) with the ton (short ton). The first is used by all countries in the world, except the U.S. and is defined to be equal to 1000 kg by the international body of standardization. The ton is currently only used in the United States and is equal to 2000 pounds (2000 lbs). The difference between the two is not huge but can add up to a significant number as the amount of soil purchased increases.

Topsoil 101

Topsoil is the top layer of the earth’s surface. Topsoil is dark in color and high in organic matter, which makes it very easy to till and fertilize ground for growing plants. It is scraped from the ground and sold in bags or bulk, often called “black dirt”.

Where Can I Buy Topsoil?

Topsoil is widely available through a variety of sources, including garden centers, nurseries, and home improvement stores. Your topsoil should be screened; this means any extra materials — small rocks, roots, debris — have been removed. Topsoil is sold by the bag or in bulk. Bulk orders of topsoil are usually priced by the cubic yard, and the price varies based on location and availability.

Learn about soil amendments and nutrients.

Can I Use Topsoil in Containers?

You shouldn’t. Stick with potting soil for containers, and use topsoil in garden beds.

How do I Figure out how Much Topsoil I Need?

If you need to fill a raised bed or install a berm, you’ll probably want to use topsoil. You will need to measure the area’s square footage to calculate cubic feet. To fill a garden bed, you need at least 8 inches of depth of topsoil. New lawns will do best if you spread a layer of 3-6 inches of topsoil before planting.

Topsoil Myths & Misunderstandings

Veteran green thumbs probably know what works — regular amendments for soil, checking and remedying trouble spots — but for the rest of us, soil can present befuddlement and mystique. Here are four common misunderstandings about topsoil.

Topsoil Myth 1: All topsoil is pretty much the same. Topsoil can differ dramatically, even in the same yard and from one garden bed to another. All topsoil is made up of sand, silt, and clay in various proportions. When combined together in just-right proportions — 60 percent sand, 15 percent clay, and 25 percent silt — all those elements equal the best garden soil mix and an ideal growing environment for plants.

Topsoil also includes decomposed plant matter, called organic matter; that’s where plants get their nutrients. Good (and bad) insects and organisms such as earthworms live in the topsoil too, and you’ll also find air, water, and oxygen.

Learn how to evaluate your soil.

Topsoil Myth 2: If my soil is rich, I don’t have to fertilize. Every year, garden plants draw nutrients from the soil. Those nutrients need to be replenished for healthy garden plant growth. This is especially true for annual flowers and vegetables. Luckily, it’s easy and inexpensive to fertilize gardens with either granular or liquid products.

Topsoil Myth 3: I can use dirt from my yard for a new garden bed. You can, but in most cases, you probably shouldn’t. Soil includes varying amounts of decomposed plants, called organic matter. It’s the component that gives topsoil, or “black dirt,” good drainage and its loose, easy-to-till quality. Most soil around homes does not have nearly this much organic matter, which is why gardeners often buy topsoil to add to their garden or amend their soil with organic matter.

Purchasing topsoil is the easiest way to great garden soil. You can buy it in bulk or bags and put it directly on top of existing soil. For best results, put down a layer of 2-3 inches of topsoil, till it into the existing soil, then put the rest of the topsoil into your beds.

The other alternative is to amend soil by tilling in generous amounts of compost. This can be a lot of labor, and for best results should be repeated periodically, but ultimately it can create very productive soil.

Topsoil Myth 4: If I have good topsoil, I won’t have to till it. Soil can be become compacted, and it’s a good idea to till it whenever you get ready to plant annuals or vegetables. Even better, add 1-2 inches of compost while you’re tilling to keep the soil as rich and loose as possible.

improve your soil

  • By Kelly Roberson

What is Topsoil?

Topsoil refers to the top layer of soil that is high in organic matter and nutrients, formed by the slow weathering of rocks and decaying organic matter over thousands of years. It is typically used for making raised beds, new beds, borders and bases for new lawns where the natural insitu soil is of a poor quality or is not available, such as a courtyard.

Unfortunately many gardens have poor quality soil resulting from the soil becoming contaminated or stripped away during construction processes, especially prevalent in new builds. This means that it is often necessary to utilise quality topsoils to balance out the nutrient content for a project.

Topsoil typically comes available in three grades: economy, general-purpose and premium, based on the amount of organic matter and nutrients within the soil. Topsoil is widely available to purchase in small and bulk bags for varied projects. All good quality topsoil including Boughton’s range of certified topsoils should meet British Standards 3882:2007.

We have a full range of topsoil’s available to purchase from our online shop, delivered anywhere in the UK.

How To Lay & Maintain Turf

Planning & preparation

  • Carefully plan your lawn before starting, as this will limit wastage and will help you to be accurate when ordering the materials you need. However, it is best to order 5% extra turf, to allow for cutting and shaping.
  • Like most plants, turf relies on the water and nutrients that are taken up from the soil, so purchasing excellent quality turf is not necessarily enough to ensure a healthy lawn. In order to give your lawn the best start, it is essential that you have thoroughly prepared your soil.
  • Adding a lawn establishment fertiliser and water to your soil prior to laying the turf will help to encourage rooting and establishment. If you are concerned about the quality of your soil, then a high quality and certified turf and lawn seeding topsoil is the perfect base on which to lay turf. Alternatively, you can use a soil improver to enhance your existing soil.
  • Whilst turf can be laid all year round, it’s best to avoid frosty or very warm conditions, as these will require extra care and attention.
  • Ensure your preparation is completed prior to your turf arriving as it must be unrolled on arrival in Spring and Summer and within 24hrs in Autumn and Winter.

Do it right

  • Be sure to carefully follow manufacturer’s instructions when applying lawn establishment fertiliser, soil improver, or turf and lawn seeding topsoil.
  • Newly laid lawns will need additional watering, so be water wise and install butts to collect rainwater for use during dry periods.

Staying safe

  • Wear safety goggles, protective gloves, ear defenders and boots when operating a turf cutter, rotavator or mower.
  • Wear protective gloves when raking, removing debris, applying fertiliser and laying or cutting the turf.
  • Rolls of turf can be heavy so ask for a helping hand when moving them into position.


  • Watering is the most important step to ensuring a healthy lawn and should begin as soon as the turf has been laid. Ensure the lawn is never short of water by lifting the corners to check the soil below. Water regularly until the lawn is well established.
  • Mowing will encourage your lawn to establish but can’t be done until the turf has begun to root. However, allowing a lawn to grow too long before mowing can damage the lawn by ‘scalping’ it. In ideal weather conditions your new lawn may need mowing as soon as 2-3 days after it has been laid, but in colder weather it is not unusual for it to take a few weeks.
  • If you are using a rotary mower then you will need to ensure the turf is well rooted before mowing, as the updraft can cause the turf to lift. If you are using a cylinder mower then you should mow your new lawn as soon as you see it starting to grow. Try and mow your lawn whenever it is over 30mm long.
  • To avoid damaging the turf, ensure the mower’s blades have been sharpened within 12 months and are set high, to ensure that no more than 1/3 of the grass blade length is removed.
  • In order to be healthy, a lawn needs a good balance of nutrients, water, light and air, so it’s a good idea to develop a treatment programme that will help to keep your lawn looking its best all year round.

Preparing the area

Step 1

If you are replacing an existing lawn, then you’ll need to start by removing the old turf; use a turf cutter or spade to do this.

Step 2

Dig or rotavate the area you plan to turf to a depth of between 100-150mm. Add a soil improver if required.

Step 3

Use a rake to remove any clods of earth and dispose of any weeds, stones or debris as you go.

Step 4

Walk up and down the lawn with your weight on your heels; this will firm up the soil and remove air pockets. Check levels before continuing and try and ensure the soil is as level as possible.

Step 5

Being sure to follow manufacturer’s instructions; apply lawn establishment fertiliser evenly across the area.

Step 6

Rake until the soil is at a fine tilth and is level; this will ensure better contact between the soil and the turf and will encourage the turf to establish more quickly. Ensure the soil is moist before introducing turf.

Laying the turf

It’s best to unroll your turves along a straight edge, if you don’t have one, use a scaffold board as a guide for the first row. If you are turfing a circular lawn, start in the middle and work your way out.

When joining turves, ensure they are closely butted together to avoid having any gaps. Push the turf into a joint and take care not to stretch it.

Lay in an offset brickwork fashion so that the joints are staggered; this reduces the risk of the turf drying out.

When working, use a scaffold board to walk or kneel upon, as it is important not to put pressure directly onto the freshly laid turf.

Fill in any small gaps as you go with a light sandy topsoil.

To ensure contact between the turves and the soil, tamp down with a piece of wood or the head of a rake.

Step 7

If you come across any obstacles such as a path, flower bed or tree, roll out the turf, then use a long knife or handsaw to carefully cut the turf to fit around the obstacle. Use the edge of the obstacle as a guide when cutting or create a guideline using chalk or spray paint.

Step 8

Once the turf is laid, put soil onto any exposed edges to prevent them from drying out. Remove the soil after a few weeks, using a brush for large areas, or a trowel for small areas.

Step 9

Begin watering your turf as soon as it is laid, as regular watering is the most important step to creating a healthy lawn.

Step 10

To ensure your lawn is never short of water, check by carefully lifting a corner to see whether the water has percolated through to the soil below. Continue watering and checking your turf until it is well established.

Step 11

Your new lawn may need mowing as soon as 2-3 days after it has been laid. This should also be the only time you walk on the turf in the first few weeks.

Maintaining your lawn

Apply a lawn fertiliser in Spring and Autumn, spread the fertiliser uniformly either by hand or with a rotary spreader.

Alleviate soil compaction by aerating the soil twice a year, first in May and then later in September. This will help roots to grow deeper and will create a healthier lawn as air, water and nutrients can reach the roots more easily.

Once the lawn is over 12 months old, you can begin scarifying it with a rake to remove moss and dead vegetation. It’s best to scarify in March and September.

Overseeding is a great way to make your turf denser, fill in any patchy areas and reduce the risk of weed and moss invasions. Overseeding should take place in early Spring but is only needed once your lawn is more than 12 months old.

Topdressing will help to promote growth, aid drainage and repair patchy areas. It should take place when the grass is relatively dry and can be done anytime when the grass is actively growing but it’s best to apply topdressing twice a year.

Top Dressing Mixes

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Advice for Top Dressing Lawns

Need advice for top dressing lawns? Keep reading to find step by step advice from start to finish.

Top dressing is the process of applying compost, soil, or sand over the surface of your lawn. It has been performed on golf courses since the sport was invented in Scotland, but has only recently become popular on home lawns.

Good soil is living soil. That may sound like a cliche, but it’s true. One tablespoon of soil can contain billions of microorganisms. These microscopic organisms are one of the reasons we have plants and trees. In nature, soil microbes enrich soil by converting fallen leaves, limbs and other debris into nutrients plants can use. Since many home lawns have poor quality soil, top dressing becomes even more important. Top dressing is simply a way of adding organic material and restoring the balance to home lawns, building better soil and increasing soil flora.

Below is a list of some of the benefits when topdressing lawns.

  • Top dressing adds organic matter to soils.
  • Top dressing can build up the soil flora.
  • Top dressing combined with core aeration can place organic material deeper into the soil.
  • Organic top dressing can change soil structure.
  • Compost top dressing with the right biological components can help reduce lawn diseases.
  • Adding compost helps reduce traffic stress.
  • Compost incorporated into heavy soils helps relieve compaction problems.
  • Compost incorporated into sandy soils helps with water retention.
  • Top dressing with the right materials can help reduce the need for fertilizer.
  • Top dressing can help reduce thatch.
  • The Cation Exchange Capacity of compost is approximately ten times higher than most loam soils.

A Note About Soil pH

Be sure to correct any soil pH problems before or after top dressing lawns. Here’s why.

Bacteria are by far the most abundant form of soil microbes in your soil. Low soil pH, at 5 or lower, will begin to favor fungi over bacteria, including pathogenic fungi. Since beneficial bacteria feed upon many pathogenic fungi and help to keep their numbers in check, it is important you favor bacteria. (Unless your specific plants prefer acidic soil) For additional help, please see our page on Understanding Soil pH. It will also show you how to correct any problems.

Since compost is neutral or slightly alkaline, if your soil pH is slightly low, the compost alone may help to bring it up to where it needs to be.

The Basics for Top dressing lawns

Choosing the Right Materials

Professionals topdress for different reasons using different materials. Golf green, for example, are most often topdressed with sand. However, top dressing lawns is better performed using compost. The goal is to build better soil structure and a better environment for macro and microorganisms. Choosing the right compost material is important, since most composts are not equal in nutrient levels.

To lower the cost of the topdressing, some have mixed the compost with topsoil or sand. If you decide to do this, it is very important to match the soil you plan to use with the soil you have in your lawn. Not all soils are compatible.

The rule for sand or sandy/loam soil is: when top dressing lawns, do not spread finer textured sand over a coarse textured soil. Most problems occur for those with sandy/loam soils, when a much finer sand is mixed over a more coarse sandy/loam lawn. The very fine sand can fill the air pockets in the soil ruining the structure. Sand comes in different textures (sizes), so you will need to use the coarsest textured sand. (Fine sand is small grain- Coarse sand is larger grain sand) This will usually be construction grade sand.

In addition, grass types that form thatch will be more problematic than grass types that don’t form thatch. Instead of mixing, the top dressing will frequently form a barrier on the surface. Over time, and with repeated topdressings, you lawn can become layered. These layers can form almost impenetrable barriers that prevent nutrients, insecticides, and even moisture from reaching deeper into the soil. Where this occurs, lawns may require dethatching or heavy core aeration before top dressing is applied.

For those who are seeking an organic lawn care program and will be depending on the nutrients within the compost, it could be especially useful to check the nutrient analysis first. Nutrient levels will vary greatly depending on the materials. If you are not sure what’s in it, you can always have it tested. Your university extension office can provide information and instructions on where to send the sample. Some extension offices will even send the sample in for you. There is usually a nominal charge for the test.

There is a lot of talk these days about fertilizers and nitrogen leaching below root depth. The statement below is one of those fun facts most people don’t know.

The facts are: Anytime top dressing is applied using compost or even organic fertilizers and the available nutrient content exceeds the nutrient requirements of the turf, the nutrients that are not immediately absorbed into the roots may leach below the root zone. (University of Maryland, Agronomy Department) This is something most people attribute to chemical fertilizers, but the same can occur with any fertilizer or compost. This concern is increased with low fertility turfgrasses and sand-based soils.

So remember, top dressing lawns consisting of low fertility grasses, such as centipedegrass, could be problematic. Centipedegrass doesn’t need much fertilizer and grows best in low fertility sites.

The best single time of the year for top dressing lawns is in the fall for cool season grasses and in the spring for warm season grasses. This also allows you to combine other cultural practices, such as overseeding, with the top dressing for the best results.

If you do not plan on overseeding your cool season lawn, you can apply topdressing in early spring, so it starts working as the soil heats up.

Steps for top dressing lawns

When top dressing lawns, there are several important steps that can be done to ensure good results. They are listed in the order they should be performed. Not all these steps need to be done on all grasses, so just eliminate the steps you are not performing.

  • If your lawn has more than ½ inch of thatch, dethatch or core aerate your lawn first. Dethatching will leave a lot of debris on the surface, so you will need to remove it before mowing or top dressing. That can be done in the next step.
  • Mow the lawn as low as possible without stressing the grass too much.
  • Bag or remove all of the grass clippings and dethatching debris, if you haven’t already done so.
  • When to use core aeration on the lawn: If you have poor soil, i.e. heavy clay, core aeration is recommended first. Consider removing the cores from the lawn surface. If the soil is not too bad, leave the cores on the grass to break down naturally.
  • Spread top dressing over lawn to a depth of ¼ to ½ inch. It is okay to fill in holes, especially if you have poor soil.
  • Lightly brush the grass with the backside of a rake. The object is to get as much top dressing touching the soil as possible.
  • If you plan on overseeding, do this after the topdressing is down. The reason for doing it after you top dress, is so you don’t bury the seed too deeply.
  • If you overseed, remember to keep the soil moist, but not too wet, until seeds have germinated. Some compost can be too hot for newly germinated plants. Aged compost or compost mixed with good topsoil is better in this situation.

With sufficient moisture, much of the top dressing should work into the soil in as little as a few weeks.

Cultural practices often performed when top dressing lawns

Detailed Descriptions of the Steps Listed Above.


When top dressing lawns, you will gain the best results when it is combined with other cultural practices.

Many lawns develop thatch. Thatch is not soil, but an organic layer consisting of shed roots, grass stems, and other grass debris that develops on the soil surface. Thatch with a thickness up to ½ inch doesn’t pose many problems, but any thicker than that should be removed. Thatch is spongy, dries out quickly, traps pesticides and herbicides and makes a poor growth medium. During prolonged dry spells, excessively dry thatch can become hydrophobic. Hydrophobic thatch is a condition where water pools on the thatch surface instead of being absorbed. Roots can’t tell the difference between thatch and soil and will often grow into the thatch.

If the lawn needs to be dethatched, it is better to do that first before the topdressing goes down. Not all grasses make thatch. Grass types that produce stolons or rhizomes tend to be the ones that produce thatch. Warm season grasses are the most susceptible. Among cool season grasses, Kentucky bluebrass has been known to develop thatch. If thatch problems are severe, dethatching will leave a lot of debris on the grass surface.

There are several types of dethatchers available to homeowners. Power dethatchers can be rented at equipment rental stores. You can purchase an inexpensive, non-motorized dethatcher that you pull behind your mower. They work well and can be weighted down with sand bags or bricks for greater depth.

Core Aeration and Compost

One of the most beneficial things you can do for your lawn is “core aeration”. Core aeration relieves soil compaction by removing plugs of soil ¾ inch wide and 2 ½ to 3 inches long. The removal of these plugs allow more water and oxygen to the root zone. Removing these plugs does not hurt the grass. Multiple passes is better than a single pass with the aerator.

Core aeration can be done on warm season grass just as the grass begins growing and on cool season grass in late September through October. Core aerators can be rented at many rental equipment stores. One concern with aerating in spring is to ensure the soil doesn’t dry out too much in the days following aeration. Depending on your soil, you may have some weed growth since the soil has been disturbed and seeds may be brought to the surface.

If your soil is of poor quality, such as high clay content, remove the cores from the grass surface before top dressing. If the soil is loamy, leave the cores on the surface to break down naturally.

When applying compost, spread approximately ¼ inch evenly across the lawn. It is okay to fill in the holes left behind by the aerator. As compost gets down into the soil, it can help change soil structure.

There are now many pull behind compost spreaders on the market. Find the easiest method that works for you. You may find that using a shovel to fling compost in a fan shape may work well. Snow shovel are light and work well if you can handle it. This can be hard work, so make sure you are healthy and are up to the challenge before starting.

With the increased use and interest of compost, there is now equipment made especially for spreading. Prices range from over $100.00 to over $1000.00 for home and landscape models. Motorized models begin at a 1000.00 dollars. However, a number of lawn companies are now specializing in top dressing lawns, but it can be pricey. In larger cities, you may be able to rent a motorized top dressing machine.


People have asked about the best time to seed, before top dressing lawns or after. If you are very accurate with spreading the 1/8 to 1/2 inch of compost, you can overseed first. Most people are not that accurate. It is common to have a ¼ inch in one spot and 1 inch or more in another. Most seed should not be covered with more than ¼ inch of soil or it may have difficulty growing. It may be better to spread your seed after top dressing and then lightly comb over the seed using the back of a rake. This will also help move the compost from the grass surface to the soil.

It is okay to fertilize after top dressing. Nutrients from compost are released slowly from microbial activity, so fertilizer could give your grass some immediately available nutrients.

Lawn Winterization Tips and Techniques
Fall winterization is the most important time for fertilizing cool season grasses. Warm season grasses do not receive the same treatment. Find everything you need to know to winterize both cool and warm season grasses.
Secrets to Using Less Fertilizer while Improving Uptake
Developing deep and far reaching grass roots is a major factor for increased nutrient uptake and less fertilization. Find specific and proven techniques for improved root growth.
Kelp and other Organic Biostimulants
Seaweed Extract (kelp), plant hormones, fish emulsion and other organic products are increasing being used in lawns and gardens. Find out what they are all about along with a few case studies that tested them.
Top Dressing Lawns to Understanding Organics
Organic lawn care is increasing in popularity and for good reason. Learn the science behind organic fertilizers and how to use them properly for the best results.
Top Dressing Lawns back to Lawn Care Academy Home

The shocking truth about topsoil

Almost every homeowner with any property has said at sometime, “We need to buy some topsoil.” It could be to fill flower beds, build up the vegetable garden or cover sandy or clay soils when putting in a lawn. But do they really know what they are getting?

Myth #1: Topsoil means that it is going to be good, dark and rich soil.

Balloon popper: There is no legal definition of the word topsoil. Technically, it is whatever is on the top. Sight unseen, you could order 5 yards of anything from beach sand to adobe brick material. Always go to look at what you are buying if you are unfamiliar with the soil seller to know what you are purchasing.

Myth #2: Good topsoil is very black.

Balloon popper: Very black soils are not always the best soils. You should be able to feel some grit when you rub a small amount of soil between your thumb and forefinger. This is the mineral portion of the soil, which is critical for plant growth. Those minerals include phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium and many more. The black portion is the organic portion, which is slowly decomposing nitrogen. It’s just like music. It is impossible to write a good song using only one note. The soil should contain both minerals and organic material. It may be very good soil and not deep black.

Myth #3: There are no weed seeds in good topsoil.

Balloon popper: All topsoil comes with weed seeds. There is no way for even the most diligent seller to remove these. If the soil was heated to kill the seeds, it would also kill all the valuable microorganisms in the soil. This sterile disaster would create more problems than it would solve. Soil equals seeds, and when plants appear, they are often plants that you will recognize because they are not currently growing on your property.

Myth #4: All I have to do is spread it over my existing soil and jump back and watch great things happen.

Balloon popper: Topsoil sitting as a completely separate layer on top of the existing soil is going to create drainage and growing problems. When adding soil, it is almost guaranteed to be different from the existing soil. It will create problems for roots growing downward. Roots will stop at the original soil layer, especially if it is denser. To create a natural way for water to drain and moisture to percolate up, it is very important to mix some of the soils together. Add 2 or 3 inches of new soil and till it to mix in. Then, more can be added because you have just created that transitional layer. It is well worth the additional effort.

Myth #5: I don’t have to fertilize when I use topsoil.

Balloon popper: What you have just purchased may be lower in nutrients than what you already own. The seller is providing soil, not fertilizer. Topsoil may provide tiny amounts of nutrients, but don’t avoid soil testing because you think nutrient problems have been resolved.

For information on soil testing, go to

Photo credit: Christopher Porter,

How to buy Topsoil

If you are planning on a complete renovation of your garden, or even just a small portion of it, the chances are you are going to be planting new and established plants, seeds or vegetables. You are probably aware that you are going to have to check the quality of your topsoil in order to get the best out of your new plants, and there is the likelihood that the topsoil you have in the garden is not going to be suitable for growing what you want. Now may be the time you need to look into whether you need to import new topsoil.

Some people find it difficult to accept that they are going to have to spend money on what is essentially dirt, when it already exists in their garden. However, if you don’t invest in a top quality topsoil, it could be detrimental to the life of your new plants. Choosing good quality topsoil is not the most exciting part of renovating your garden, but by doing so you will be giving your garden the chance to thrive. It is therefore essential to spend a little time, money and effort in choosing the correct topsoil for your project.

Investing in a good quality topsoil is going to be one of the integral parts of any garden project, as the topsoil contains all the nutrients that your plants or vegetables will need to have a strong and healthy life.

So what should you look for when buying topsoil?

  1. A good general purpose topsoil for gardening is ‘loam’. This topsoil contains a good balance of the three main soil types, sand, silt and clay. This topsoil has the balance just right to give your plants the nutrients they need.
  2. When purchasing topsoil it is recommended that you buy through an established dealer like Garden Topsoil Direct. This way you can be sure that the topsoil you are purchasing has been checked for contamination and fertility.
  3. Choose a topsoil with a good organic content, somewhere in the region of 3 – 7% is about right.
  4. You should try and obtain topsoil that is relatively weed free. Although it’s not possible to 100% guarantee a weed free soil, keeping weed seed to a bare minimum will help keep new weed growth down.
  5. The topsoil should be fertile and balanced. Generally speaking, if the nutrients in your topsoil are well balanced, then this means that your plants should thrive.

As you can see there are a number of factors to take into consideration when choosing topsoil for your garden. If you follow these guidelines when researching and deciding which topsoil to buy, it will hopefully lead to a beautiful and fertile garden.

The Difference Between Topsoil and Compost

Cakes are not judged by their frosting alone. As a child who knew the finer workings of a KitchenAid mixer by the age of four, I know it to be true that, though a well-decorated cake is a beauty to admire, what’s beneath the layer of icing is the telltale sign of a cake that’s worth the calories.

Is it moist enough to enjoy without the frosting? Were the ingredients meticulously measured? Did it come from a boxed mix? Or was it crafted from scratch following a recipe card scribbled with grandma’s handwriting?

Now that you’re dreaming of your favorite cake, we can talk about what this has to do with soil.

Much like a cake, the substance beneath the surface of a lawn or garden affects the overall result. If you’re looking for a healthy start to your new outdoor project, soil is the place to begin. Not only is it the base layer of your landscaping or garden project, soil is the powerhouse ingredient that will affect the performance of your plants for years to come.

You want healthy, stable soil at a fair price, but with terms like compost and topsoil swirling amidst Google searches, I understand the pain of narrowing down which quality ingredient you require. We’ll help you decide between topsoil and compost for your lawn and garden. You may even need both!

Topsoil is the top layer of any soil above the bedrock and is the most nutrient-rich layer of naturally occurring soil. Topsoil contains organic matter but not as much as your plants will need to grow to their full potential. The higher the percentage of compost in a topsoil, the better the topsoil is for growing great gardens.

What is Compost?

Compost is a combination of natural materials that decompose to become organic matter. Compost contains nutrients that act as natural fertilizer and compost is desirable for improving soil structure, reducing compaction, and improving water retention while simultaneously improving drainage. This gets your native soil “up to snuff” so your plants can thrive. The best compost is humus – organic matter broken down into its smallest particle. Learn about the importance of humus here.

When Should I Use Topsoil?

Bulk topsoil by the truckload is typically earth taken from building sites or fields and it’s sometimes combined with organic matter to give it nutrients. Whether full of clay or sand, this stuff is made for building up soil height to a desired level or grade.

It may have a little compost that will decompose over time, but the sand and clay are there to stay. Building a bed up to your desired height before planting flowers and shrubs? Leveling the spot where you just removed a large tree? Purchase bulk topsoil – then incorporate compost to create a first-rate garden soil.

Topsoil will contain weed seeds thanks to the many different ingredient sources and the fact that topsoils aren’t heated like compost. You’ll see weeds pop up in topsoil and should prepare for that reality when planning out your project.

When Should I Use Compost?

If you don’t need to change the grade of the land, but you’re looking to improve the quality of your soil, you’re looking for compost. Thanks to decades of construction and agriculture in the Southeastern US, our soils are longing for nutrients. Let’s get them back in there by mixing compost into our soils!

When planting shrubs, adding flower beds, installing sod, or sowing seed, you should incorporate compost into your soil by raking or tilling it in to apply nutrients into your soil.

Above-ground gardening, however, is a different story. Whether you’re constructing raised garden beds or filling a flower pot for your patio, you may plant directly into Soil3 organic compost. Soil3 is a nutritious blend that provides your container plants with all they’ll need for a healthy growing season.

Soil3 is free of weeds because every windrow of compost is cooked to 165 degrees to ensure any weed seeds are killed off, making it ideal to plant in containers without fear of pesky unwanted plants sprouting up.

How Do I Find Quality Topsoil?

Topsoil isn’t held to specific industry standards or regulated by the state, so it’s important to ensure the quality of the product. The best way to do this is by going to look at (and even feel) topsoil before purchasing it. Quality topsoil has compost and organic matter mixed in sufficiently with the sand or clay. It won’t contain too many rocks or sticks, and the amount of debris should be minimal.

How Do I Find Quality Compost?

Finding compost that meets your needs can also be a little bit tricky. To ensure the health of your plants, any compost you purchase should contain controlled ingredients free of persistent herbicides that create killer compost.

As with topsoil, there are some sub-par compost products on the market. We suggest visiting a compost dealer to see and feel the compost that you’re buying. If it’s dark like chocolate cake mix and decomposed into small particles (make sure it doesn’t have a mulch-like consistency), it will hold moisture and feel great in your hands. High quality compost will be free of leaves, sticks, material that is only partially-composted, and trash.

You’ll also want to make sure you can purchase enough compost to meet your needs. You can determine just how much compost you’ll need for your outdoor project by using our compost calculator.

While you may see advertisements for bulk topsoil at any landscape supply store, compost also comes in smaller quantities. If you’re installing a new lawn or starting a few new raised beds, you’ll need to buy bulk compost. If you’re planting a few flowers pots, small bags are all you’ll need and they’re conveniently loaded into a car.

The cubic yard BigYellowBag of Soil3 organic compost is ideal for large projects or even smaller ones in which you won’t use a full cubic yard. You can tie up the BigYellowBag to preserve your compost for use in later projects.

Plan Your Project

Now that you have the facts and know whether to choose topsoil or compost for your project, let us help! and just how to make the best of this compost in your outdoor projects.

Topics: topsoil, Frequently Asked Questions

Garden Sleepers & Raised Bed Kits

Versatile garden sleepers and raised bed kits make a stylish addition to any outdoor living space. A great alternative to using brick or stone, you can create focal areas with natural textures and tones to complement your garden.

Our sets of timber sleepers come in a choice of neutral colours and varieties including treated pine, softwood and British larch. Whether you’re looking to create a contained planter, finish your borders in a rustic way or even add steps to a raised area, our railway sleepers are the ideal solution. With a selection of different lengths and heights to choose from, you can find the perfect size to suit your space.

Garden sleepers are made for durability, but to get the most out of your timber we recommend some simple maintenance. A quick coat with decking seal or decking oil will help to prevent splitting, warping and rot to keep them looking their best.

Our raised garden beds are available in a variety of designs including raised bed kits, compact trough, corner planters and tiered half log styles. A taller bed can even help to relieve back and knee strain with easy access for planting, pruning and watering. Supplied flat packed with fittings and instructions for simple assembly, our raised beds are pre-treated for protection against rot and fungal decay.

By opting to put your plants in a raised bed, you can enjoy regulated growth with the right compost and topsoil. Whether you’re looking to brighten things up on the patio with statement arrangements or plant a fragrant herb garden, you get advanced protection from the elements.

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