Screened Topsoil

Many people think that when they purchase topsoil they are getting “dirt.”  What they are actually getting is a mixture of sand, clay, silt and organic material.  The material will not be 100% free of rocks or even wood chips.  Whether you purchase in bulk or you purchase at a box store by the bag, your topsoil will contain more than just “dirt.”

I don’t want rocks in my topsoil

I get it.  No one wants rocks in the soil they are putting in their garden or lawn.  The fact of the matter, however, is that you will have a small amount of pebbles in your topsoil.  When you call to order topsoil, ask the supplier for “homeowner’s grade” topsoil.  This will indicate that you are looking for topsoil that has been screened down to 3/4 of an inch or less.

To screen topsoil, a loader or excavator will dump the soil over either a vibrating screen or a barrel screen.  When the screen is set to 3/4 of an inch it allows for the soil to fall through the screen and into a stockpile of great topsoil, while at the same time kicking any larger material into a tailings pile.  In a perfect world suppliers would have screens that only allow the soil and zero pebbles to pass through the screen, however, the reality is that screens smaller than 3/4 of an inch also increase the amount of soil that ends up in the tailings pile.  With less topsoil produced, the prices would double or triple.

In the long run, once your lawn is in or your garden begins to grow the tiny pebbles will be unnoticeable.  Even your lawnmower won’t know they are there.

What about wood chips and other organic particles?

A small amount of wood chips is acceptable.  The wood will eventually decompose into topsoil.  After all, topsoil is just the result of organic matter breaking down.  However, you don’t want to have a lot of wood chips in the material.  You are purchasing topsoil not mulch or woodchips after all.

Always buy topsoil by the cubic yard

When buying topsoil you always want to make sure you buy it by the cubic yard and not by the ton.  The reason is simple but perhaps not obvious.  When you buy topsoil by the yard, you are buying it in the size of an area.  When you purchase topsoil by the ton you are buying in a unit measurement of weight.  Now if the topsoil is relatively dry (and you don’t want it too dry) the yardage and tonnage prices will be equal.  However, if the topsoil is really wet, the material will weigh a great deal more than when it is dry.  Put simply, if you buy wet heavy topsoil by the ton, you are paying for the weight of the water.  A yard of topsoil will always be a yard of topsoil.  A ton of topsoil, however, will fluctuate.

  1. A friend of mine was telling me that he might need to buy some new topsoil for his garden, but they weren’t sure how to choose the right stuff. I really like that you say to find out if the topsoil has wood chips in it. It would be nice to know that your plants are going to get different nutrients from the soil you buy.

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