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Choosing the right soil for your lawn or garden project

When it comes to DIY landscaping projects, there’s no shortage of product options (& opinions). We receive a lot of questions from customers who are excited about a new lawn or garden project at their home, but are still a little unsure about which material would work best. Below, we’ve outlined the most popular soil types, their strengths, and some tips for best results.


While it is one of our most popular products, defining topsoil can sometimes be confusing, and not all topsoil is created equal.  Additionally, many people confuse “topsoil” with “gardening soil”. Let’s start by breaking down the difference between natural topsoil and bulk screened topsoil that most nurseries and landscape supply yards offer.

  1. Natural Topsoil:  the upper, outermost layer of soil, usually the top 5–10 inches (13–25 cm). It has the highest concentration of organic matter and micro organisms and is where most of the Earth’s biological soil activity occurs. Topsoil is composed of mineral particles, organic matter, water, and air.  Natural topsoil is found in undisturbed places such as the forest floor or protected prairie land.  
  2. Screened topsoil:  Screened topsoil is what’s commonly found in bulk at landscape supply yards and nurseries.  It is a mix of imported soils usually brought in by excavation and landscape contractors.  The imported soils are sifted and screened to remove sticks, rocks, and other debris.  A majority of bulk topsoil is a mix of soil from many sources where origins can’t be verified and it can’t be described as organic.  

Best Uses: Screened topsoil is best used to prepare new lawn areas for seed or sod and great for filling in low spots and leveling an existing lawn.  Screened topsoil is often mixed with compost and other decomposed organic material when used in the garden (see “Garden Soil” below). 

It is worth noting that (used by itself) “screened topsoil” is likely to compact easily and there are better choices when being used in a garden setting.

Available from Little Dumps: 
Screened Topsoil, Enriched Topsoil (Garden City Compost)


Compost is a mixture of decayed organic matter.  It is used to amend soils and add nutrients, biological activity, and tillage.  However, for all of these virtues, one would not want to plant a garden directly into compost material. Alone, it is too strong and is likely to burn your plants.  A standard mix is two parts existing garden soil to one part compost.  

Compost can also be spread very lightly over existing lawn turf to act as a natural fertilizer.  Rake compost over grass no more than one half inch deep.  The nutrients will slowly work their way into the soil creating a healthy lawn.

Available from Little Dumps: 
Garden City Compost, Garden City Lawn Topdressing, Composted Cow Manure, OMRI Certified Poultry Compost  

Garden Mix Soil

Garden soil is a blended soil that has been formulated for gardening and raised beds.  The specific makeup of bulk garden soil blends varies but generally they are a mix of decomposed organic material, compost, screened soil and sand.  These materials are lighter than typical soil, have higher nutrient density, and offer much better drainage.  

Available from Little Dumps:  
Garden & Flowerbed Mix, Organic Garden & Flowerbed Mix (Dirty Little Secret)

We hope you will reference this guide when it comes time to order your own lawn & garden materials, and please contact us if you have any additional questions!