Topsoil vs Garden Soil

Date: 8 Aug 2013

Though many of us long for a simpler, less chaotic life, closer to nature and its rhythms, the fact remains that most of us are not farmers. So while you might know the difference between clay and sand, it’s no shame that you don’t know the difference between topsoil and garden soil. That is, no doubt, why you’re reading this article.

Soil Isn’t Just Dirt

Soil is not the same as dirt. “Dirt” is just tiny particles of rock. You get “dirt” when you excavate a basement. Soil has microorganisms and organic matter and is able to sustain many kinds of plant life. Dirt is pretty much sterile. A few weeds will grow in it; that’s all.

The Difference Between Topsoil and Garden Soil

The difference between topsoil and garden soil is an even finer distinction than the difference between soil and dirt, and it has to do with the amount of organic matter, and to a lesser extent, the types of trace minerals and the ratio of clay, sand and silt. Garden soil is a category of topsoil.

Topsoil is general purpose, and if there’s no other extenuating factors, is usually installed in bulk quantities in new construction or landscaping. We’re talking tens or hundreds of cubic yards. That’s because after construction the soil has either been stripped or compacted and basically needs replacing. Generic topsoil is just that — generic, so it’s not meant to be amalgamated with old soil. It’s just added on top in enough quantity to support whatever will be seeded on it.

If you want garden soil, however, that usually means you have a little plot somewhere that you want to enrich. For that to work properly, you want to know what type of soil you have.

How to Use Garden Soil

In your existing garden site, you’ll want to determine what kind of soil you have. If it’s sand, the particles will be rather big and the soil is pretty easy to work, but you have trouble tamping it down. If you have clay soil, the particles are very fine, and you’ll notice that the soil tends to harden to a brick-like consistency. What you will want is soil halfway between the two, which is known as loam.

Loam has a good mixture of particle sizes, and it is also a bit fluffy due to the presence of humus, or organic matter (which is usually decomposed leaves and grass). Loam is what you’re going for, so if you have clay soil, you’ll want to order a garden soil that’s mostly sand — if it includes a portion of compost, all the better, as that will take care of the humus part of the good soil equation. If you have sandy soil, do the opposite. And if you have loam already, a mixture with equal parts sand-clay-compost will work. Strictly speaking, you don’t have to have compost, but it’s nature’s fertilizer, so you might as well.

If you’re not sure what kind of soil you have, take it into our offices at JK Enterprises, and we’ll have a look at it and advise you about the best type of garden soil to order.

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