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A Guide to Topsoil – Why it is Essential for Gardening

A Guide to Topsoil – Why it is Essential for Gardening

Confused about soil when preparing your plants? You probably aren’t alone. 

A quick visit to your local garden center will reveal a huge variety of soils for sale. 

From those tailored flower beds to vegetable patches – it can be pretty confusing. In addition to this, you may find yourself asking just what topsoil is when compared to garden soil or other mixes? 

Let’s take a look together at just what constitutes topsoil. 

Hopefully, this can help you work out just what you need to buy for your garden or containers. 


What is topsoil and what is it good for?

Topsoil, like its name suggests, refers to the layer of soil that is found on the surface of the ground. Generally, this is considered to be anything down to around a maximum of 12 inches in depth. Topsoil is important and good for plant growth as it is generally extremely dense with nutrients. Considering that any decomposing organic matter that falls onto the soil – leaves, petals, grass cuttings – leaves its nutrients behind, it is a great option for those looking for an economical way to compensate for unhealthy soil. 


Appearance and texture of topsoil

Because topsoil is generally removed from the land – either in a local garden center or in a commercial environment – it will contain the properties of its original location. 

Be careful when selecting a brand, as you will find those from more clay-prone areas will eventually harden up, stopping the best of the nutrients from being released. 

This type of soil will be more likely to retain surplus water, which will stop air from getting to the roots of the plants. 

You should look for a more loamy soil, one that is hard to stick together into clumps and has a dark color but lightweight texture.

In addition, try to understand the pH levels of your existing soil before you perform any mixing. You can purchase soil pH testing kits to help you identify your best match. 

Ask at any garden center for assistance if you are unsure. 


Topsoil composition

The nutrient-dense outer layers of the earth’s soil – usually found down to around 8 inches or 12 inches depending on location – means it will give your plants a good start in life. 

As organic matter from both plants and animals decay, it leaves behind nutrients that are key to the fertile soil.

The main elements found in topsoil include magnesium and potassium – required for photosynthesis – as well as nitrogen which is key to plant growth.

Store-bought versions of topsoil from major brands may have these elements added to its composition if there were not “enough” naturally created in the environment from which the soil came.


Benefits of using a topsoil

Given the abundance of nutrients, topsoil is often selected for plant beds and areas where the soil quality is OK, but not great. 

If you have patchy or rocky soil, a layer of topsoil on the surface will give the new plants something to root into. In fact, diversity created in the soil layers will encourage growth. 

And because topsoil is generally suitable for all-purpose planting – and not specifically targeted to one type of plant or vegetable – it is usually a more economically viable alternative to more expensive garden soils. 


Lesser-known benefits of using topsoil

Topsoil can also help manage the risk of drought for your plants. The layer added on top of the pre-existing soil serves to lock in existing moisture and prevent it from evaporating. 

It is however also extremely well-draining – to the point that those with less well-draining soil can mix the topsoil in a bit deeper and use it throughout their beds or pots. 

Topsoil too is used by landscapers and gardeners as a protection against erosion. 

Particularly a problem for those with exposed gardens or slopes, topsoil will create an environment in which the plants can put down strong roots. 

This will help against any eroding effects to the soil, as the plants will in turn help keep it in place. In addition, well-rooted plants will not be at risk of being washed away in areas of strong rainfall. 


Selecting topsoil over making your own compost

There are benefits to both using topsoil and compost as a base for planting. 

Generally speaking, topsoil is easy to buy, economical, and quick to get ready. 

It can however contain remnants of fertilizers, weed killers, and other chemicals from its site of origin. 

Making your own compost on the other hand can certainly be rewarding, but it is time-consuming, a bit smelly, and requires a lot of space in order to get a sufficient amount. 

It is up to you which among the two options you’d choose to avail yourself! 

But for many, the ease of access to store-bought topsoil will generally win the day. 


Selecting topsoil instead of gardening soil

Gardening soil is usually more expensive and tailored to a specific plant or flower type. However, if you are needing to be this specific, gardening soil can be a good choice in small quantities. 

If planting a wider bed, topping up existing soil, or trying to bulk up a patchy area of grass or rocky parts, then topsoil is usually a pretty good choice. 


Where to get topsoil

Nowadays it is easy to order topsoil online from anywhere. Of course, you may still want to purchase it at your local garden center, particularly if you wish to speak to someone about the best brands or mix. 

Keep a lookout also for inventive ways some companies sell topsoil. In my area, local builders and landscape gardeners, as well as skip hire companies, resell topsoil gathered from clearance sites and house renovations are a fad! 


Frequently Asked Questions about Topsoil


Can I use topsoil in my houseplants and containers?

Potting soil is naturally the preferred option for houseplants and container-grown plants. It can however be used for containerized trees and shrubs. It tends to be of a heavier composition than commercial potting soil given the peat content in the ground. 


What is topsoil?

Topsoil refers to the very top level of soil found on the surface. It is usually packed with nutrients from decomposing organic matter and contains “good” microbes that will help your plants thrive. 


What is topsoil good for?

Perfect for new plants raised beds and fixing areas of the garden with poor soil, topsoil is a cheaper alternative to garden soil.