• Kimberly Sanderson Wells

What is Top Soil?

Quite literally, it is the 'topsoil' on the outer layer of the Earth's surface, usually between 2 and 12 inches (5 - 30cm) deep. The depth of any topsoil can be measured from the surface to the first densely packed soil layer commonly known as subsoil.

Topsoil is created naturally through a slow process of weathering rocks and decaying organic matter causing them to break down into very small parts. Typically, it takes around 100 years for every inch (2.5cm) to be formed.

This soft top layer is where majority of plants lay most of their roots because the high concentration of organic matter (including the three main groups - humus, clay particles and sand) and important minerals allows them to absorb nutrients and grow healthily.

Among other things, topsoil can contain:

• Micro-organisms

• Worms

• Insects

• Spiders

• Fungi

• Bacteria

• Manure

• Rotting vegetation

Topsoil can vary in colour, content, texture and pH level. Depending on the area you live in, it may be more alkaline or acidic. A good quality topsoil should have a pH value of between 5.5 and 7.5 - mildly acidic to slightly alkaline - to ensure most plants are able to absorb nutrients from the ground.


Although there are many different soils, they can largely be classified into six structure types:

• Clay

• Sand

• Silt

• Peat

• Chalk

• Loam

Each soil has its own unique properties and are best for different situations.


The list of uses for topsoil is quite extensive, but it is largely used to create plant beds, repair lawn damage and improve soil drainage as well as improving the quality of the soil and levelling out uneven grounds or lawns.

Mixing top soil with existing soil helps to create a transition layer that helps to prevent drainage problems between the two soil types. When creating plant beds, you also want to add an extra topsoil layer on top.

Topsoil can also be used to fill in holes, dress bare areas and level out uneven ground. Using a sandy topsoil in an area of lawn or garden that tends to hold water can help to improve the location's drainage and provide subsequent growing success.

Using the right type of topsoil on your land will provide plants and flowers with the right kind of nutrients to flourish. The rich soil is packed with good nutrients, minerals and organic matter to provide a source of food which should allow anything you plant to grow well.

However, there are occasions where topsoil is not the best material to be used. If you're growing plants in pots or other restricted areas, topsoil fails to provide enough nutrients; it is best utilised where plants can spread their roots. In this instance, compost is a better growing medium.

You can mix compost with topsoil to create your own potting compost which is the tactic that many nurseries do because it combines the advantages of soil with the benefits of compost.


Topsoil is available in three grades: economy, general purpose and premium. These classifications are largely based on how fine the soil is and the quality it provides in terms of allowing plants and flowers to flourish.


Economy grade topsoil, also referred to 'As Dug', is the lowest grade and will not have been screened, so is likely to arrive containing rocks, stones, sticks, weeds and roots. It is usually very cheap which makes it perfect if you need to fill large areas and quantity is more important than quality.


As the name suggests, general purpose topsoil it suitable for most garden projects including making new garden beds and laying a new lawn. It is ideal for landscape gardening due to its nutrient richness and ability to build up contours in an area of land.

Unlike economy grade topsoil, it will have undergone a screening process so that it is suitable to grow plants and flowers. You can buy general purpose topsoil with larger or smaller grains to suit your project. The finer ones are best for top dressing lawns, while the coarser examples are better utilised laying lawns.


Premium grade topsoil is the best quality available and should be free of any weed seeds. Also known as certified soil, it has been lab tested to ensure it is free from any metals and diseases.

If you want to grow vegetables or flowers for shows, you should use this top quality topsoil which is particularly rich in nutrients. It can also be used for delicate seed beds and young lawns needing encouragement to grow.


As an alternative to buying better topsoil, you can try to improve your existing topsoil by adding soil improvers and organic composts. To get the best results, you need to know what type of topsoil you have. You can try the sausage test or pick up a testing kit from most garden centres.


Usually, topsoil is sold in bulk and can be purchased from garden centres, home improvement stores and online from selected suppliers. Here at Capehaul Ltd we can supply Topsoil from 10 tonnes to several thousand tonnes depending on your project.

Capehaul Ltd offers Grab Hire services in and around East Grinstead, Dormansland, Forest Row, Lingfield, Edenbridge, Crawley, Bletchingley, Salfords, Godstone, Oxted, Tunbridge Wells, Crowborough, Cuckfield, Haywards Heath, Westerham, Woldingham, Reigate, Redhill, Uckfield, Burgess Hill, Sevenoaks, Otford, Kemsing, Banstead, Tadworth

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