The snow is melting and the ground is thawing, planting season is right around the corner. It’s time to think about topsoil options for your lawn and garden. Don’t know that much about topsoil, what it’s used for or what varieties it comes in? Don’t worry, we can help you there!

Topsoil is important for plants, since they receive nutrients and nourishment from it. As the top layer of soil, topsoil provides a fertile layer for plants to take root. To accommodate a wide variety of plants, from flowers to veggies, topsoil comes in a wide variety of styles with many purposes. They include: turf laying, flower and border bedding and vegetable growing.

Read through our guide below to learn more about these varieties. Find out which options are best for your lawn and garden!

What’s in my Topsoil

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At your local hardware or home improvement store, you may have seen topsoil sold as “black dirt.” While it’s indeed “black dirt,” this definition is pretty vague. We’d like to shed some light on what the actual components of topsoil are and how they provide nutrients to your garden.

Topsoil is made of three different soils:

Sand is known to be low in nutrients. Plants often find it hard to flourish in sandy soils because the soil doesn’t contain enough nutrients for them to thrive. However, the soil does drain water nicely without waterlogging plants.

Clay is known to be easily waterlogged or oversaturated with water. Due to its thick consistency, the soil drains water ever so slowly. However, clay soil’s abundance of nutrients can be a blessing to both gardeners and plants alike.

Silt is known to be both high in nutrients and good at water draining. Often found near riverbeds, silty soil is known for its compact nature. Be aware that despite all of its good qualities, silty soil can hold onto water and oversaturate plants.

When combined in the right proportions, these elements can create the perfect topsoil for your garden. The mixture of 40% sand, 40% silt and 20% clay is known as “sandy loam” or alternatively “loamy soil.” This gold-standard topsoil mix is a common favorite of gardeners. It allows plants to take in the proper amount of nutrients without suffering from water logging or quick draining.

What are the Different Grades of Topsoil

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Contrary to popular belief, not all topsoils are the same. Topsoils can differ drastically based on their composition of the three ingredients discussed above: sand, soil and silt. It’s best to inspect topsoil before purchasing, to ensure that it’s of good quality and a good fit for your garden. No matter where you buy your topsoil, the source for the topsoil should be known. Invasive species can be carried in imported topsoil. Other contaminants, like glass and plant roots, can also dilute low quality topsoil.

Topsoil comes in several levels of quality:

Economy is best for covering large expanses of plant beds in your garden. For this style of coverage, quantity is better than quality. Don’t be surprised if you find contaminants, like glass and tree roots mixed in with economy topsoil—also known as consumer bedmix. Your wallet will thank you later, after your plants are nourished and your bank isn’t broken.

General is suitable for most gardens, for an average price. Unlike economy level topsoil, general or screened topsoil has been scanned so it’ll contain fewer contaminants. Used by most gardeners, this quality is best for general garden needs. It comes in 2 grain styles: large or small. Large is best for turf laying and small is good for everything else.

Premium is the best topsoil available on the market. It has been given several once-overs, to ensure it contains no contaminants. If it does, you’re not getting your money’s worth! If you ask your local nursery what topsoil they prefer, more often than not they’ll point you right to their own homemade premium topsoil.

You can buy your topsoil in 40 lb. bags or in bulk. Depending on the size of your garden and what you’re using it for, buying topsoil in bulk may be more budget friendly.

Note: When buying topsoil, your plant life’s desired pH balance should be taken into consideration. Certain plants prefer different levels of acidity, so choose your topsoil accordingly.

What’s Bioretention soil

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You may have also heard of another kind of topsoil called bioretention soil. This premium topsoil mixes two different elements: topsoil and organic matter. Unlike typical topsoil, bioretention soil contains more sand. Rather than the 40% sand, 40% silt and 20% clay mixture, bioretention soil uses a 60% sand, 20% silt and 20% clay. Research has found this ratio works best for plant growth, verses other mixtures that contain more sand.

Why use bioretention soil? Unlike other topsoil mixtures, bioretention soil reduces the amount of contaminants itself. The draining nature of sandy soil provides a great way for the soil to filter the contaminants out itself. The addition of 10% organic matter, by weight, to the topsoil also gives it the nutrients necessary plants to flourish.

Turf Laying Topsoil

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Image courtesy of Perfect Grass. Licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.

General topsoil is the best choice for turf laying, preferably a screened sandy loam like the one mentioned above. Prior to the laying the soil, you’ll want to ensure that your general topsoil is free of its larger bits of glass and stone. For the best turf laying experience, have your turf delivered a few days after you’ve purchased your topsoil. That way you’ll have time to make sure the area you’re turfing is properly prepped.

To use your topsoil for turfing, spread an even layer over the turf’s soon-to-be home. You’ll want to measure the layer of topsoil to ensure that it’s 10-15 cm. or 4-6 in. deep. Prior to spreading this layer like frosting, make sure that the ground underneath is level. Voila! You’re ready to lay some turf.

Flower Bed Topsoil

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Image courtesy of James Petts. Licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.

If you’re not planting your flowers in containers, you’ll want to grab some topsoil to plant them within a flower bed. Topsoil shouldn’t be used in containers or planters. It stays moist for too long, causing the plants in the containers to rot. If you choose containers over a flower bed, use potting mix instead.

For your outdoor flower beds, you’ll want to use premium topsoil. Adding a compost or organic matter to the mix is a great idea. For a nice topsoil to compost ratio, 5-10% of your mix should be compost. You can purchase the compost separate from the topsoil and mix them together. The compost will give your flowers that extra oomph, ensuring big blooms in your garden this spring and summer season.

Border Topsoil

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Image courtesy of Eric Rayner. Licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.

Similar to flower beds, border plant beds in your garden need premium topsoil. A nicely screened topsoil with a high amount of compost, like bioretention soil, will give the plants in your border beds a nice boost. The removal of the contaminants and debris within the topsoil reduces the choking of plant’s roots. They’ll get all the nutrients they need from the organic matter and premium topsoil to flourish this spring and summer season.

If you’d like to save on your topsoil costs, you can always use general purpose topsoil instead. You may want to look for one with finer grains, rather than coarser. It may have a reduced amount of contaminants. If you’re concerned about the makeup of your topsoil, especially the larger contaminants like rocks and weed seedlings, you can screen the topsoil on your own prior to laying.

Fruit & Veggie Growing Topsoil

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Fruits and vegetables need lots of nutrients to grow into yummy produce. They require a lot of care and attention that flowers and other plants don’t need. For this reason, fruits and vegetables demand a premium topsoil with a lot of organic matter, like bioretention soil. In fact, double the amount of compost you used for your flower and border beds. For an optimum compost to topsoil ratio, 10-20% of your mix for produce growing should be compost.

Since you’re eating your yummy produce, it’s best to grow it in a high quality topsoil. If you’re deciding where to cut costs when it comes to topsoil purchases, it’s a good idea to use general topsoil for your flower and border beds and premium topsoil for your garden.

The First Step to Improving Your Soil

After reading through the topsoil options and finding out which ones are best for your garden, the next step is purchasing your topsoil. At Sagamore Companies, we have three varieties, sure to satisfy your topsoil needs: consumer bedmix, screened topsoil and consumer bioretention soils. Once you’ve purchased your topsoil, it’s time to roll-up your sleeves, put on your gloves and grab a shovel full of topsoil to give your plants that boost they need this spring season!