what is topsoil

Both new and experienced gardeners may use or come across terms that they don’t know the actual meaning of.  This is especially true for seemingly generic words that are often used to describe many different things.  Topsoil is one of these words.  In this article we’ll describe what topsoil is and what it is not as well as answer the common question of, “What is topsoil used for?”

What Is Topsoil?

Topsoil is the uppermost layer of soil found on the earth’s surface.  This top five to 10 inches is generally composed of mineral particles created by the breakdown of rocks and decomposed organic material.  It can take 100 years or more for topsoil to naturally develop.  Topsoil will also contain organisms and microorganisms, water and air.  Topsoil is where most plants absorb the nutrients that help them grow.  

What Topsoil Is Not

Topsoil is different from the potting soil and garden soil that you can buy at your local garden centre.  It’s also different from compost which you can buy or make yourself.  Potting soil is a formulation of sand, compost, peat moss, wood chips and organic matter that is designed to help grow plants in containers.  Garden soil is another manufactured product which mixes topsoil, organic materials and other ingredients.  It’s meant to be mixed with topsoil to improve nutrient access for plants.  Compost generally does not contain soil.  Compost is the result of the decomposition of organic matter.  Like garden soil, compost can be used to improve the nutrient profile of topsoil.

What Is Topsoil Used For?

Topsoil can be bought in bulk for several different uses.  It can be used to level out land, create gardens, repair lawn damage or help with drainage issues.  The composition of the topsoil should be checked to ensure it’s appropriate for its given use.

Levelling Land

For plots of land that need levelling, filling in dips and holes with topsoil is one of the more economical ways to achieve the desired result.  Simply add topsoil to the lower lying areas to bring it up to level with the surrounding surfaces.

Creating Gardens

Topsoil can be used to fill garden beds, add height to existing gardens and amend the soil that is already in place.  Mixing in topsoil to an existing layer of soil can help with drainage or pH and nutrient issues.  It can also be used to create new garden beds from scratch.

Repairing Lawn Damage

Adding a layer of topsoil over an area of lawn that’s been damaged can help the grass regrow.  Spreading topsoil over areas where grass is no longer growing can encourage new sprouting to occur.  Adding grass seed can speed up the process.

Helping With Drainage

For areas that become waterlogged, a fresh layer of topsoil can help absorb some of the excess water.  Topsoils that have a larger component of sand will help with drainage.  Mixing it in with any existing soil can help reduce the pooling of water.