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Lawn Soil vs Topsoil: Which is Right for Your Yard?

Using the right products ensures a prosperous yard. But when it comes to lawn soil vs topsoil, which one is better for your yard?
Closeup photo of a person holding topsoil dirt with two hands

If you’ve ever talked to a real estate agent, you’ve probably heard them talk about the importance of curb appeal. Curb appeal is hard to measure, but it loosely refers to the first impression your home creates with exterior features like landscaping. 

If you’ve been trying to boost your curb appeal by improving your lawn and garden to no avail, it’s time to go back to basics. You need to start looking at the quality of your soil.

Without the right soil, even the simplest plants will struggle. The question is, what is the difference between lawn soil vs topsoil and how do you know when to use one or the other?

Read on as we walk you through the different types of soil and when to use them.

Why Soil Matters

If you’re new to gardening or landscaping, you may assume that all soil is the same—or that soil is the same thing as dirt. Technically speaking, dirt contains no life, meaning that it’s a “dead” substance. It won’t promote the growth of any living plant.

Soil is more than meets the eye. Soil is comprised of minerals, living organisms, and decaying organic materials. The quality of your soil matters because it needs to provide the roots of your plants and trees with nutrients and oxygen while maintaining an appropriate moisture level.

Over time, unamended soil can start to become something more akin to dirt. As plants use up the nutrients in soil, it has less to offer new growth and can leave your lawn and gardens looking brown and unappealing. 

The good news is that there are a number of ways to amend soil to reintroduce those key nutrients, adjust the pH level, and create a suitable growing environment. You can do this slowly by creating your own compost and adding it to your existing soil or quickly by purchasing the right soil mixtures to add to introduce to your property. 

Lawn Soil vs Topsoil: The Basics

Though all soil contains a combination of minerals and nutrients, not all soils are appropriate for widespread use. In fact, the nutrient composition and pH level can determine what types of plants grow best in specific kinds of soil. Though some gardeners use the terms “lawn soil” and “topsoil” interchangeably, we consider them to be very different things. 

For example, lawn soil is dense and may contain more sand, clay, and rocks than top soil. It can become compacted more easily, which makes it difficult for roots to grow and water to drain. However, this density is also what prevents mass erosion in your yard, making lawn soil an integral part of any property.

Top soil is loose and rich with an abundance of available nutrients. It also contains materials like sand, which can boost water retention. The right top soil will encourage growth while improving the overall look of your landscaping.

When to Use Lawn Soil

As we mentioned already, lawn soil is dense and serves an important function. However, contrary to what the name suggests, it isn’t the soil you’d want to use to promote turf or cover crop growth. If you’re wondering how to use lawn soil, you’re in the right place.

Leveling Off Property

When you’re constructing a home or business on vacant land, you may need to make some adjustments to create an ideal space. When land is uneven or has large drop-offs, it can lead to faster erosion, which can harm your plants as well as the foundation of the property, itself. 

Because top soil is loose and, as the name suggests, tends to top off existing soil, it isn’t the best choice for leveling property and preventing erosion. Instead, you may want to create a stronger base using lawn soil.

Creating New Landscapes

What if you’re redoing the landscaping of an existing property or creating new areas of growth? What if you’ve recently removed large trees and now need to fill in the gaping holes left behind by their root systems?

Once again, this is a good time to use lawn soil. Because it’s dense, you won’t need to rely on time, water, and pressure for compacted ground that’s safe to walk, build, and plant on. 

When to Use Top Soil

What is top soil? Top soil is a the catch-all soil of landscaping that is crucial for growing all kinds of plants while beautifying your yard. Let’s take a look at some of the best uses for top soil

Planting Turf and Gardens

As we mentioned earlier, it’s easy to assume that lawn soil is the ideal soil for planting turf and other kinds of grasses or cover crops. The reality is that lawn soil makes a good base layer, but it’s rich top soil that will allow that grass to grow. The same goes for all of your garden beds and meadows. 

Lawn soil is often very alkaline, which means that it won’t add balance-upsetting acidity to your top soil. Most of the time, you will also want an alkaline top soil, but it depends on the types of plants you intend to grow. Top soil is easy to amend to your growing needs and a new layer of top soil will encourage all kinds of healthy growth.

Amending Nutrient-Low Soil

Perhaps you’re noticing that your gardens are performing less and less with each passing year. If this is the case, it’s probably time to amend your soil so that it has more nutrients to offer your plants. Not only does soil amendment renew nutrient levels but it can also help to balance pH levels that have become too acidic or alkaline for proper growth.

There are a variety of ways to amend nutrient-low soil, and mixing in fresh top soil is one of them. Using a rake or three-pronged cultivator, turn up the top layers of the existing soil, add your top soil, and spread the mixture evenly. Lightly water the area and continue to take care of your garden as normal.

While Composting

Compost is a catch-all term for organic matter that has decayed and become a rich, soil-like substance. You can make your own compost over the course of several months (or years) or you can purchase ready-to-use compost. Adding compost to your soil is like taking a multi-vitamin in that it provides a ton of the nutrients your soil may be lacking but requires the right conditions to pass those nutrients on.

Plants generally can’t grow in compost alone, and compost should not be confused with soil. When unprotected, compost can also dry out quickly, making it difficult for those nutrients to amend the soil. If you’re adding a layer of compost to your garden beds, mix it in with equal parts soil for the best results and to keep pests away. 

Before Mulching

If you haven’t done any landscaping in several years or you’re developing all new landscaping, you’re going to want to create the right layers for optimum plant growth. You may start with a base layer like lawn soil and finish with an attractive and protective mulch variety.

If your top soil is in good condition, you won’t need to lay more before mulching, as this could actually encourage unwanted growth. However, if you’re starting from scratch, you should create a healthy layer of top soil for plants to grow in before finishing with a layer of mulch.

Keep in mind that like compost, mulch can enrich your soil over time, but it isn’t a material that plants can grow in. Instead, it’s a material that can help improve water retention, stifle weed growth, and amend soil as it decays. If your soil is unsuitable for growth as it is, you’ll need to start with top soil before you mulch.  


Get Pulverized Topsoil and More from Fox Landscape Supply

Depending on who you ask, there’s no major difference between lawn soil vs topsoil. At Fox Landscape Supply, however, we think it’s important to make the distinction, rather than using these terms interchangeably. When you’re working on improving a lawn or garden, you’re almost always going to want to use topsoil, not lawn soil.

Are you looking for pulverized topsoil and other landscaping materials that will bring your property to life? Fox Landscape Supply is proud to offer high-quality landscaping materials at great prices in north-western Illinois. To find out more about what we offer or what our delivery schedule looks like, contact us today.

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