Top soil vs compost: what's the difference? Which one is better? (2023)

I've heard many conversations between couples in the garden department of a hardware store that follow this format:

"What should we use: compost or garden soil?"

"I don't know. What about the composted manure?"

Visite aDynaTrap trap for mosquitoes and flying insects- Kills mosquitoes, flies, wasps, mosquitoes and other flying insects - Protects up to 1/2 acre (link to Amazon).

"Isn't that the same as composite?"

"I don't know. Let's take the cheapest one. It's all bullshit."

Labels can be confusing. If you're not familiar with the jargon, choosing the right materials for your garden or landscape can be frustrating and daunting.

In general,

  • Topsoil is the layer of earth we walk on.
  • Compost is a change; This means it is an ingredient in healthy soil or soil mixes.
  • Topsoil and compost are the ingredients of garden soil.

Topsoil and compost play important roles in healthy gardens, but they serve different purposes. Before deciding which one you need, you must first understand the differences between the two.

Topsoil vs. compost

The soil is divided into layers, orhorizonte, which define exactly which soil properties are present (Those ones).

Hethe horizonmay or may not be present, but represents a layer of dead organic matter in the soil. Straw or dead leaves are considered part of the O Horizon.

Hea horizonit is vegetable land. It is just below the O horizon (if any) or is the top visible layer of Earth. Worms, insects and bacteria live here.

This is where most root structures spread out to find water and nutrients. It is made from the organic matter that falls on it, the dead roots that grow in it, and the original material on which the soil rests.

Healthy soil has a clay texture that youchickensControl mixed with organic teamayonnaiseTo control.

Basically,the A horizon is topsoilYThe Horizon is composed. The best A Horizons have O Horizons at the top. However, an A horizon could be made entirely of sand or clay with almost zero organic matter. Here you have to be careful.

For a complete understanding of soil horizons, structure and texture, readWhat is soil and why is it important?

solo superficialEsnosynonymous withhealthyboden

Top soil vs compost: what's the difference? Which one is better? (1)

Topsoil is just the top layer of any soil. There are many different soil structures that result in a variety of soil textures. Adding soil doesn't mean it improves your situation. (Those ones)

(Video) Soil vs Compost What's the Difference

If you live in Texas, maybe give it a try.Planting a lawn in clayey soil. Ordering topsoil from a local garden center will provide soil with a similar texture to your current lawn soil. In other words, if you live in an area with clay, the topsoil in the area will also be clayey.

However, many garden centers get their topsoil from areas with high levels of organic matter. This means that the texture can be the same as clay, but theStructurewill be higher due to the addition of organic material. (To seewhat is soil for more information on texture and structure)

What does all this mean?

That's what it meansTopsoil is only as good as its organic matter.

Organic matter naturally forms as dead organic matter breaks down. If you put in a pile of dead organic matter and encourage it to decompose, the end result should be nice, dark, crumbly compost.

This is how it breaks down:

  • Topsoil is the top layer of soil, for better or worse.
  • Organic matter is an essential part of soil quality
  • Compost is organic material.

For this reason,healthy soil is essentially diluted compost.

When to use topsoil

Generally,Topsoil adds bulk and compost adds quality.

  • Anyone building something new almost always needs topsoil.
  • If you're changing something that already exists, you'll almost always need compost.

Soil can have a variety of structures that are useful in their own way, even if they are not suitable for cultivation. For example, if you are building a new garage and need to level the site before pouring concrete, you may need to add backfill. In this scenario, sandy, loose soil would not work. Neither does dark, brittle, clayey garden soil.

For a foundation, you need soil that will not easily erode or settle. Tone fits some of that profile, but not all of it. The best mixture for this application is a mixture of clay and sand. This seems counterintuitive, but if you mix clay, sand, and water, you'll get concrete (which is why adding sand to clay doesn't improve drainage).

However, this mixture would be the exact opposite of what you want for the lawn around your new garage; therefore, you will need to import a different soil for this application.

Laying a new lawn

If you're modifying or furnishing an area primarily for plants, you'll need to have some level of organic matter. The amount you need depends on the floor you want to improve or replace.

If your existing soil is extremely poor (texture, fertility or otherwise), you will need to import quality topsoil.

Why? Because the problem is much bigger than a nutrient deficiency. Extremely poor textures or sloppy soils need an infusion of organic matter and a support structure to support healthy plant growth. In this scenario, if you are planting a large growing area (such as a lawn) in extremely poor soil (such as clay or sand), it is best to incorporate quality topsoil that is high in organic matter.

A 3- to 6-inch layer of topsoil should be enough to start a new lawn in most poor soils.

Topsoil calculation for a new lawn

Bulk orders for soil, compost and mulch are measured in cubic yards, which have a volume of 3'x3'x3'.

To calculate the amount of soil to cultivate, use the following formula:

  • (length of lawn) x (width of lawn) = square feet
  • (square feet) x (depth of topsoil*) = cubic feet of topsoil required
  • (cubic feet of soil needed) / 27cu' (1 cubic yard) = cubic meters of soil needed

* You work with squareshooting, so a 6-inch layer of topsoil is 0.5 feet deep


(Video) Compost versus Soil: What's the difference?

  • Lawn is 25' x 50' so 1250 square feet
  • I want a 6 inch layer of topsoil, so: 1250 square feet x 0.5 feet = 625 cubic feet
  • Can I buy 625 bags of garden soil or buy cubic meters in bulk, like this: 625/27 = 23.15 meters of topsoil

This formula also works for compost. The only variables are the dimensions of the area and the depth of topsoil or compost to be added.

Implementation of a new vegetable garden.

When you create a new area to grow vegetables, fruits, etc.flor, it is necessary to pay more attention to the health of the soil. Grasses forgive some soil defects, but fruits and vegetables do not.

Top soil vs compost: what's the difference? Which one is better? (2)

If the existing soil is large enough to grow a lawn, you can mix in compost to create a quality bed.

Why? If your lawn does well in native soil, you'll have a good foundation to grow more of the plants you need. You can clear an area, fill in the existing soil, and mix 3 to 5 inches of compost over the area to improve fertility, drainage, and texture.

If the existing soil isnois sufficient for growing grass, you will need to bring in a larger amount of good quality soilYMix in the compost.

Why? Because if your grass is in trouble, there's no way your vegetables can be happy.The compost is too strong to make a garden bed as the only ingredient(Plus, it's expensive.) So your best bet here is to pull up the grass, plow the area, and then mix in the topsoil.YComposed.

This will help create a healthier soil texture in the long run and will also help prevent caking.

garden soilIt is a mixture of compost and topsoil. You can use pure garden soil for a new bed, although it may not be economical.

Creating a new landscape bed.

If you want to convert part of your existing garden into a landscaped garden bed, you must first decide which plants to install in the area. Almost all fruits and vegetables need fertile, loamy soil so that you can create a bed rich in organic matter and successfully grow almost any food crop.

Landscape plants, on the other hand, have a wide range of soil preferences. Some prefer moist, well-draining, fertile soil. Others prefer poor, sandy, dry soils. Others prefer "wet feet" or damp floors.

First,Plan which plants will grow in your new garden and make sure they all have roughly the same soil preferences. Then find land that meets these requirements.

If you plan to plant native landscape plants (which is often more efficient and successful), your soil usually needs little adjustment.

Native plants thrive in native soil, as long as your floor is not toopillYou should be able to build beds and fill them in with local topsoil if you need to add bulk to the area.

If you plan on planting non-native ornamental plants, you will need to create a more specialized bed.

It is much easier to create a bed that retains more moisture in a dry climate than a well-draining bed in a wet climate.

For example, if you want to use water-loving plants in an arid climate with sandy soil, you will need to import topsoil that is high in organic matter.YAdd compost to even out the texture of loose or clayey soil. This bed would hold water better than the surrounding native soil, but could still be easily drained to avoid supersaturation.

However, if you plan to plant succulents or cacti in a humid climate, you will have a very difficult time building a bed with adequate drainage. You can build a bed filled with sand, but the underlying soil does not allow for adequate drainage.

(Video) Difference Between Topsoil & Compost

This would require the use of underground drainage systems and large amounts of imported soil from a supplier with very different soil options than local garden centers. The end result would be expensive and the mills would still have problems due to continuous rains.

The cheapest way to build a landscaped bed is to plant native plants and then fill the beds with native soil. This reduces the amount of watering and fertilizing needed to maintain a healthy landscape.

when to use compost

Compost adds organic matter to the soil. In most situations, this is an advantage. However, some landscape plants prefer lean soil. Weeds are usually native plants that thrive in the local soil, which means that weeds lose their balance as the soil improves. Therefore, if your landscape is native, "improving" the soil may cause problems rather than solve them.

Modifying an existing lawn

If you have a relatively healthy lawn and follow a healthy maintenance schedule, annual composting should be enough for a sturdy lawn.

Fertilizing twice a year with ¼" - ½" compost can help preventStrohcover, enlargementventilationand help the soil to store nutrients. As long as your lawn doesn't have major compaction or erosion issues, the compost should meet your annual maintenance needs.

Conversion of an existing garden bed

If you've been using the same plot for vegetables for several years, it's likely to be low in nutrients and have a worn texture. No-tillage helps reduce soil erosion and consistent application of compost helps build a healthy texture.

Compost can be used as a mulcharound existing plants or as a soil amendment between plantings. Mix a few inches each year to get a plump, dark plot, and test the soil annually to monitor nutrient levels and pH.

Conversion of an existing landscape bed

If your landscape plants prefer fertile, well-draining soil, annual composting will benefit the region. However, if you have a native landscape that thrives in poor soil, compost can actually impede healthy growth.

Before altering any landscape, you should positively identify each plant and diagnose potential soil problems. Adding compost blindly every year can result in wonderful, dark, fertile soil that is not suitable for existing plants.

If your landscape has a combination of soil preferences, you can disturb established plants or specific areas of beds with compost and leave others undisturbed.

How does compost affect the soil?

Top soil vs compost: what's the difference? Which one is better? (3)

Compost is dead organic material that decomposes in a controlled environment. The only difference between compost and a natural layer of organic material is that the compost is intentionally made.

Both have the same effect on the soil, i.e. they improve texture, increase fertility and mediate pH.

It is very similar to cooking:

Add compost to clayit's like adding a batter to egg whites. Clay has almost no porosity, which means that there are no holes in the soil for air and water to penetrate. After incorporating the compound, the clay can breathe and has a much lighter texture.

Adding compost to the sludgeit's like adding batters to a cake mix. The ingredients for a good cake are already there, but the compound binds them together and keeps them at their full potential. The silt is floury and crumbly, so the compost acts more like a binder and gives it a fluffy texture.

arena de abonoit's like butter and sugar together. Sugar is fluffy and wouldn't be able to hold its shape in any baked goods without a binder. When you add butter, the sugar forms irregular lumps and is now able to hold its shape and hold more ingredients.

Compost is a panacea for soil, but it is powerful. If you were to fill a garden bed with pure compost, the plants would show signs of nutrient toxicity and many would suffer nitrogen burn.

(Video) Top Soil vs Compost for Gardens

Compost is also expensive. Not only is it not economical to fill an entire growing area with compost, it is also unnecessary. The inorganic mineral component of the soil is just as important as the fibrous organic component of the soil.

Good quality topsoil provides a sufficient amount of organic matter.(natural compost) and an adequate inorganic structure of the soil. This is the most efficient way to add volume.YFertility for a growing area.

The pros and cons of adding compost or topsoil

In almost all scenarios, adding compost to the soil is beneficial.EIt is high quality compound added in proper proportions. The exception to this would be adding organic matter to a native patch where plants prefer poor soil.

When adding topsoil or compost to an area to grow crops that thrive in fertile soil, the following advantages and disadvantages apply:

Benefits of adding quality topsoil

  • Adds steady, fertile volume to an area
  • Compost usually does not need to be added during the first growing season.
  • Inexpensive to buy in bulk ($10 to $60 per cubic meter)
  • Suitable for most new projects, except high demand growing areas with extremely poor soils

Disadvantages of topsoil

  • A local garden center will supply locally sourced topsoil, which means you may need to add compost to improve the extremely poor texture.
  • In areas with extremely poor local soil, it may be necessary to purchase bagged topsoil, which is expensive ($35 to $120 per cubic meter).
  • Dump trucks will dump topsoil into your yard, but you are responsible for moving, grading, and mixing the topsoil unless you choose to pay for additional services.
  • Some garden centers lie about where their materials come from, so the soil could be contaminated with chemicals or full of weed seeds.
  • It is impossible to return extras

Benefits of adding compost

  • Compost is a potent soil amendment that is fertile, fluffy and beneficial in every way.
  • One yard of compost spread to a depth of ½ inch covers a 10-foot by 65-foot lot and is only $35 (wholesale price).
  • You can make your own!
  • Compost does not release harmful chemicals into groundwater

Disadvantages of Compost

  • Some compost bags (such as composted manure) may smell after application
  • Bagged compost is significantly more expensive than bulk compost
  • Bulk compost may not age properly, and you can collect weed seeds found in piles at garden centers.
  • The strength of the compost depends on the ingredients, and composted manure can cause nitrogen burns if not used in the correct amounts.

In general, topsoil adds volume while compost adds quality. There are some situations where creating a more spongy, fertile soil will not help, but this is rare.


If you order bulk soil or compost, test the materials first to make sure you are satisfied with the product. It is nearly impossible to return a large pile of composted cow poop that has been dumped in your garden.

Bibliographic recommendations:

Free Compost: Where to Get It and What to Look For

  • Author
  • recent posts

Sydney Boske

Sydney has over 15 years experience in organic lawn care, landscaping and gardening. She has an A.A.S. in Landscape Design/Bioproduction from the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture.

Latest posts from Sydney Forest(see it all)

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Top soil vs compost: what's the difference? Which one is better? (6)


Is it OK to use compost instead of topsoil? ›

Compost is not topsoil. It can be used to make topsoil or improve topsoil, but is the wrong product for many applications that call for topsoil. Don't use compost as fill dirt, for example. Conversely, topsoil is not compost and will not perform like compost.

Should I top dress my lawn with compost or topsoil? ›

When topdressing, you want to use enough compost to be effective but not so much that the compost smothers the grass. Aim to use between a quarter-inch and a half-inch layer of compost. For the maximum depth, that is one cubic foot of compost for every 25 square feet of lawn.

Do plants grow better in soil or compost? ›

Compost – Promotes Healthier Plant Growth. Compost is most well-known for its contribution to healthy and resilient plant growth. It has a number of complementary benefits to plant growth, among them that it balances soil density, adds and retains nutrients, and discourages disease, pests and weeds.

Is compost the best soil? ›

Adding compost to any soil increases the amount of oxygen and water the soil holds, making it better for plant growth. More extreme soils, such as sand or clay, benefit more from compost than other soils—good news for places like Arizona.

Can I plant directly into compost? ›

Compost is one of the best garden amendments available. You can plant in straight compost, but I suggest incorporating it into your sandy garden soil or mixing it with other additives if you want to use it for container plantings.

Can plants grow in just compost? ›

Well, plants can grow in compost, but some will barely survive the experience for a few reasons. Compost is made of organic matter, while soil contains additional components like minerals and rock particles. Undoubtedly, plants need both structures but are likely to thrive better in garden soil than in compost.

Should I mix compost with topsoil for grass seed? ›

Should you mix grass seed with topsoil? If you're looking for a quick answer, yes, you should mix grass seed with topsoil for small areas of your garden and other applications. Whilst you can mix the two, it isn't the best method for all situations.

Can I just put soil on top of grass? ›

Can I put topsoil over grass? If you're looking for a short answer, then yes, you can put topsoil over grass and existing garden lawns. Although it's possible for grass to grow through the topsoil, this can only be successful depending on the thickness of topsoil applied as a top dressing.

How often should you compost your lawn? ›

A mere 1/4 to 1/2 inch of compost spread over your lawn each year provides most of the nutrients your lawn needs to thrive.

Can I just spread compost on my lawn? ›

A healthier lawn comes with healthier soil, and there is no better way to improve soil health than by adding compost. You can feed your lawn naturally by topdressing it with compost. Compost contains the primary nutrients — nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium — and an array of micronutrients to naturally feed a lawn.

Can I use compost instead of dirt? ›

Can I use compost instead of topsoil? It's possible to use compost instead of topsoil if you need to, like when topsoil has eroded and must be replaced with compost. To use your compost as topsoil, make sure to grind the compost down to a fine texture.

Can I use compost as lawn soil? ›

Applying Compost to Your Lawn

Applying compost can be as simple as spreading raw compost as a top coat to your lawn, either in dedicated areas or full coverage. This method can be effective; however, it is timely and labour intensive.

Can you fill a raised bed with just compost? ›

No, you should never fill a raised bed with only compost. It should account for 30-50% of your garden soil when creating a soil blend for your raised beds. While compost will give your plants plenty of nutrients, the soil will drain away too quickly, washing away the nutrients, causing your plants to starve.


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