What Every Gardener Should Know About Topsoil
A bit of olive oil applied to your garden tools before digging into the dirt can cut down on dirt buildup. It can also help prevent rust and corrosion.
What Exactly Is Topsoil?
Topsoil is the top portion of the soil consisting of minerals, organic matter and microorganisms. It can range from a few inches deep in some areas to a few feet deep in the Corn Belt. Topsoil has accumulated over millennia, but erosion is a serious problem. Erosion can deplete topsoil quickly, which is why it is important to cover bare soil with mulch or a ground cover plant.
What's in Topsoil?
Topsoil is made up of sand, clay and silt. The proportions vary. An ideal topsoil, called loam, is soft and crumbly and has roughly equal parts sand, clay and silt (a fine, dust-like sediment of rock and mineral particles). However, many gardeners struggle with less-than-ideal topsoil that tilts towards heavy clay (slow draining and less oxygen available to plant roots) or sand (fast draining but less able to hold moisture and nutrients). Surprisingly, compost can improve clay and sandy soils.
Topsoil vs. Dirt
Topsoil is for growing things. Dirt is for filling, which is why it's often called fill dirt. Some people erroneously use "dirt" interchangeably with "soil."
Topsoil vs. Garden Soil
Available in bags at your favorite nursery or big box store, garden soil is a topsoil that's been screened and amended with compost. It's too heavy for use in pots, but it's well-suited for garden beds and lawns ready to be reseeded.
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