Top Soil vs Garden Soil: Which Is Best?

Woman planting seasonal flowers along the yard paver.

If you are heading to the landscape supply store to shop for soil for your outdoor project, be ready to see a wide variety. You may just want “soil,” but there is a big difference between garden soil vs top soil and other types. Depending on the project, you may need to ensure you get top soil vs garden soil or vice versa.

Whether you need top soil or garden soil, there is a difference between soil and “dirt.” While the words are used to describe the earth beneath your feet, they are not the same. Soil of any kind is organic in nature, while dirt can contain rocks, silt and many other inorganic materials not conducive to growing.

What Is Top Soil?

Top soil is technically exactly what it sounds like – the top layer of soil. In nature, it would be the layer of organic matter that is created from the breakdown of plants, trees and other organisms. While this is the true nature of top soil, what is sold as top soil in stores is not necessarily the same.

Commercial top soil is earth that has been filtered to remove rocks and debris. It is meant to be even in consistency to use in a variety of projects, but does not have any nutrients added. While you may use both top soil and garden soil for planting a garden, they do not have the same nutrients and makeup.

What Is Garden Soil?

Garden soil is basically enhanced top soil. When you are considering top soil vs garden soil, the basic soil is the same. The difference is the garden soil has more nutrient-dense organic matter added to help with the growth of plants. These are usually natural additives like compost, not synthetic chemicals.

You may find many different garden soils that are formulated for specific types of plants. This means the organic material added to the top soil is high in nutrients needed for that type of gardening, such as flowers versus vegetable gardens.

How Much Topsoil Do I Need?

If you are starting a gardening or landscaping project, one of the supplies you may need is topsoil. A quality topsoil can be used to add nutrients to the exist...Read More

What Is Top Soil Used For?

Since top soil has less additives, it is usually less expensive than garden soil. This makes it more affordable for using as filler for many outdoor projects. There is no reason to spend more for garden soil if you only need soil as filler, not for planting. If you wonder, “What is top soil used for?” here are some examples:

  • Lawn dressing
  • Leveling low spots
  • Bottom layer of garden beds
  • New lawns

Top soil does come in different types, just like garden soil. Depending on where the top layer of soil was harvested, it may be a higher concentration of sand, clay or other types of soil components. If you need soil that will hold moisture, you want to avoid those that are higher in sand or loamy materials.

When To Buy Garden Soil vs Top Soil

When you are planting a garden or even indoor plants, you want soil that is nutrient-dense to give your plants the best basic needs. While you may be adding fertilizer and other nutrients, you want to start with good soil. Top soil does have some organic matter, but not nearly as much as garden soil.

When you are adding a top layer of soil for your garden or flower beds, you will want garden soil. Top soil can provide filler, but the roots of the plants should be emerging in garden soil. You can also use enhanced soil for your indoor and hanging plants, a better choice than top soil.

When to Buy Top Soil vs Garden Soil

Large projects that will require a lot of soil are when you want to consider top soil vs garden soil. There is no reason to pay more for garden soil when you just need to add a leveling layer of soil before laying sod or paving an area. Garden soil is strictly used for plants that need more nutrients than top soil provides.

What is top soil used for in landscaping? You can think of top soil as quality “dirt.” It does contain organic matter and it can provide an environment for plants to survive, but it is not designed for gardens. It can fill in areas for less money when you are completing large landscaping projects.
A gardener adding topsoil under green plants in the yard..
Like landscapers, you can use top soil as filler for low spots in your yard or to replace top soil in xeriscaping. When you do not need a soil that provides adequate nutrients, save money and purchase cheaper top soil vs garden soil for those basic filler needs.

When you are purchasing soil, you want to make sure you are buying the best option for your project. When it comes to garden soil vs top soil, stick to garden soil for planting and top soil for filler to save you money on your landscaping.