Topsoil is the nutrient-rich layer that forms the uppermost part of your flower bed, lawn, or vegetable garden. It is a buffet of minerals for your plants and where the roots will, well, take root!
To give your vegetables the best chance of growth and survival, you need good quality topsoil.
But what is good quality topsoil?
In this article, we will not only review some of the best topsoils around by collecting information from thousands of customer reviews, but we will also walk you through the features and specifications of quality topsoil.
By the time you’ve finished reading, you’ll have a more intimate knowledge of topsoils than the worms that live in it!
So without further ado, let’s dig into topsoils!
Need un-beet-able topsoil pronto? Here’s our top pick:
Our Top Pick
- Includes worm castings.
- Includes peat for added nutrients.
- Real soil, not manufactured.
- Good price.
This topsoil is packed with goodies that make your plants grow nice and strong!
It is enhanced with Espoma’s Myco-tone which is a blend of Myco-tone which is a blend of fungi that help promote plant growth. Don’t worry, you won’t have mushrooms sprouting everywhere!
As well as the Myco-tone, this topsoil also contains peat which is rich in nutrients and worm castings. Essentially worm poop, these castings contain tonnes of nutrients and minerals that will help your veggies thrive!
Customers rave about this soil! The reviews are full of people talking about how much bigger and stronger their plants grew when they used the soil.
The only negative comments seem to be around the growth of soil gnats which is noticeable indoors. In fairness to Espoma, they do market this soil as an outdoor soil.
- Nutrient-rich topsoil.
- Includes peat and worm castings for extra nutrients.
- Real soil, not just compost mixed with sand.
- Encourages healthy growth.
- Encourages soil gnats which makes it unsuitable for indoor use.
This all-purpose soil is a great choice for all kinds of vegetable gardens. Whether you plant in-ground or use raised beds, this soil will provide the right level of nutrients and comfort.
Despite not being specifically aimed at vegetables, the pH of this soil is a perfect 6.5! You can’t get a better pH level for vegetables than that!
The soil is enriched with Miracle-Gro plant feed which really boosts the growth of your plants. Check out the customer photos for a comparison between seedlings grown with this soil and other grown with local soil. The difference is amazing!
You can choose between 1cu ft or 2 cu ft bags, if you go for the larger size, be prepared for some heavy lifting!
One thing that seems to keep coming up in customer reviews is quite a large number of contaminants. A number of customers claim to find bits of plastic and other inorganic matter. Some bits of debris are expected to be found in soil but there seems to be more than normal which is annoying.
- Nutrient-rich soil.
- Suitable for all types of vegetable gardens.
- Infused with Miracle-Gro plant feed.
- No need to feed for 3 months.
- Available in a larger size if needed.
- A fair amount of non-organic material in the soil.
- Seems to contain fungus spores which may grow into mushrooms.
Specifically designed for raised beds, this topsoil will not need to be mixed with the existing soil!
Billed as a pre-mixed, 100% organic soil, there should be no issues using this for your vegetables. The soil actually contains sterilized soil and a little bit of Miracle-Gro fertilizer. All of this makes for a natural product that will give your veggies somewhere nice and safe to grow in.
The nutrient balance in this mix is not easy to find, but customers are very happy with the growth of their plants in this soil. Some add Miracle-Gro plant feed to it every so often to give their plants a boat which suggests that it may not be as rich as some other soils.
The soil does a really good job at managing drainage which can be a bit tricky in planters. You should find that the soil retains enough moisture that missing a watering won’t kill your plants.
- Organic topsoil so no chemicals.
- Good drainage capabilities.
- Not filled with debris like some other Miracle-Gro plants.
- Not as nutrient-rich as some soils.
- Does seem to contain spores.
This topsoil from Miracle-Gro is designed for in-ground vegetable gardens. It is not suitable for raised beds or indoor pots. It’s actually a surprise to find topsoil specifically geared for in-ground vegetable planting!
The major selling point of this soil is the fact that it claims to be moisture controlling. According to Miracle-Gro, this soil will protect your plants from over or underwatering. This is good news for those of us who are a bit of a disaster in the garden!
Customers are very happy with the moisture retention capabilities for this soil. Even in harsh locations like Arizona, many customers have been able to raise a bountiful vegetable garden.
The soil contains Miracle-gro plant food which seems to give vegetables a substantial growth spurt and makes the soil nice and rich. You will need to apply feed after a few months when the plants deplete the soil but it is a good start.
- Nutrient-rich soil.
- Suitable for in-ground planting.
- Includes plant feed.
- Doesn’t need additional need for 3 months.
- Seems to bring gnats or fruit flies if used indoors.
- Only ships to 18 states.
- Not good for raised beds or pots.
Advertised as ‘garden magic’ this soil has a lot to live up to!
Unfortunately, on its own, it doesn’t live up to the hype. Composed of peat and sand, this topsoil will definitely help make your veg patch better at water retention and draining. The problem is it contains no organic matter, so it doesn’t contain nutrients for your plants.
When used in conjunction with existing soil or compost and fertilizer, this soil works wonders on your plants. The company also sells a ‘garden magic compost’ which produces wonderful results when used with the soil.
What is great about this soil is the fact that there are next to no contaminants. You won’t spend hours picking out twigs, rocks, or bits of plastic. It is just good quality peat soil.
Despite the need for additional nutrients, customers are very happy with this soil. Some happy customers were extra pleased to find a frog in their soil and gained a garden pet as well as some topsoil!
- Good drainage and water retention.
- Available in large quantities.
- Can be used in all types of vegetable gardens.
- Possibility of a bonus frog!
- Will need supplemental products for nutrients.
- More expensive than other soils.
The thing to remember is that every gardener will have a different preference when it comes to topsoil. Some people swear by a particular brand, others claim that a certain pH is key to perfect vegetable growing.
We prefer to let you make your own mind up. To help you do just that, we’ve put together this handy buyer’s guide which will talk you through the key aspects of topsoils and all the important sciencey stuff.
Armed with this knowledge, you can decide what soil you want to try, and hopefully, you’ll find something that makes your veggies thrive!
The whole point of topsoil is to provide an environment that is rich in nutrients and minerals so that your vegetables can take what they need to thrive. The problem is that not all soil is created equal. You need to check the composition of the topsoil you buy to find out if it actually contains what you need.
Below is a list of the minimum mineral contents you should look for in topsoil that is going to be used in a vegetable garden.
- pH: 6.5 is ideal but anywhere between 6-7 will work.
- Potassium: 125-1500mgl. For vegetables, you want to be at the higher end of the scale.
- Phosphate: 16-140mgl. Aim for the higher end for vegetable gardens.
- Magnesium: 51-600mgl. Again, higher is better.
The higher the nutrient index, the more nutrients will be available for your vegetables to soak up. In turn, you will get more nutrients from the vegetables when you eat them.
If your chosen topsoil is lacking in particular nutrients, you can top it up with fertilizer. You must make sure to use a specific vegetable garden fertilizer so that your veg is safe to eat.
The particles in soil are classified into three categories depending on their size. These categories are clay, sand, and silt. Some plants prefer a little more of one kind of particle than others. Each type of particle performs a different job and too much of one and not enough of the others will change how soil performs.
Clay particles are the smallest particles but a soil that has a lot of clay will be heavy and hard. This is because more particles can fit in a specified space. Clay soil will be strong enough to hold larger plants and it absorbs a lot of water. The problem with clay soil is that while it is good at sucking up water, it’s not very good at conserving it. As such, clay-heavy soils will dry up quickly and they’ll dry hard.
Silt heavy soils are much better at retaining water but the particles are bigger than clay and less densely packed. As a result silt soils can be washed away by rain easily.
Sand particles are the biggest particles. Sandy soils are lighter because fewer particles can fit in a specified space. Sandy soils tend to be low in nutrients because they dry out very quickly. Any organic matter in the soil rises to the top and is washed away in rainfall.
The best soil for vegetables is somewhere in the middle. It is called loam soil but in reality, it is just a soil that has a good balance of all three particles. As a result, loam soil is good at retaining water and nutrients but is heavy enough not to get washed away in the rain.
To test whether your soil has the right balance, grab a handful of damp soil and squeeze it in a ball. When you open your hand, the soil should hold this ball shape until it is prodded. If it falls apart as soon as you open your hand it is probably too sandy. If it’s hard to break up then it’s got too much clay.
Bulk vs Bagged Topsoil
Topsoil is either sold as bulk or bagged. There are a few differences between them that you should know about.
First of all, bulk topsoil is big. It comes delivered in dump trucks or flatbeds. Sometimes it is put in an industrial-sized bag if you’re lucky. If you are planning a big vegetable garden then bulk topsoil is probably going to be easier and more economical for you. If you’re just filling a few beds then you’ll have an awful lot of soil leftover.
Bagged topsoil can be bought at the hardware or garden store and taken home in your car. It’s perfect for smaller projects.
The other major difference is that bagged topsoil is manufactured. In fact, it usually doesn’t contain any soil. Bagged topsoil is usually a mixture of sand, organic matter, and fertilizer. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Bagged topsoil often has a better balance of nutrients because it has been specifically made that way.
Bulk topsoil is usually collected from building sites and is a natural product. This means that you don’t always know what you’re getting. It could be a lovely, nutrient-rich soil, or it can be a depleted soggy soil.
Most bulk sellers will have a recent soil analysis which catalogs the nutrient index and the particle make up. You can ask for the soil sample test results which should give you a good idea of the quality of the soil.
Largely, what you go for will depend on the size of the project. Some bulk sellers will do smaller amounts of soil for little projects, but in general, bulk is for big projects and bagged for beds and smaller areas.
Unfortunately, even bagged soil is not ready to go straight from the bag. You will need to sift and check your soil for contaminants like stones, weeds, fibrous roots, metal, and glass.
In bulk soil, you sort of expect this as the soil is just transplanted from a building site. Ideally, before you purchase any soil you should get a good look at it. If you can see lots of stones or thick white roots, stay away from it.
The best way to make sure your soil is free from these contaminants is to use a soil sieve. These come in many different shapes and sizes from a prospector type sieving pan for smaller areas to a bingo roller type barrel.
You also need to make sure that the soil you use is from the same source. If you buy bagged soil, get a little more than you need just in case you run out and can’t find it again. If you use bulk topsoil, make sure to ask the seller for proof of where the soil comes from.
Different brands or places of origin are going to have different nutrient indexes and different compositions. This could leave some areas of your garden lacking.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Much Topsoil Do I Need?
This depends on how big your vegetable garden is and what kind of vegetables you want to grow. Topsoil is the area where the plant’s roots develop so root vegetables like carrots need a lot of topsoil. For root vegetables, you should aim for about 12-16 inches of topsoil to give them enough space to thrive.
Surface vegetables like tomatoes need less topsoil because their roots are smaller. You should aim for about 6-8 inches of topsoil for these kinds of plants. If you want to grow a mix of vegetables, go with the needs of the root vegetables. Surface plants will use the space they need and ignore the deeper parts.
In terms of calculating the volume of soil you will need, there are lots of online calculators you can use. As long as you know the width, length, and depth of your garden, they can tell you how many bags you’ll need.
How to Apply Topsoil?
This depends on the type of vegetable garden you have.
If you use existing beds, you should mix about three inches of topsoil into the existing soil. You can use a rotavator or some very intense shovel work to make sure the two soils mix properly.
If you are using raised beds, you can just pour the topsoil into the beds to the desired depth. You can use a subsoil to fill out the bottom if needs be.
If you are planting in the ground, you need to till the top layer and mix in about 3 inches of topsoil using a rotavator or shovel.
The reason for mixing the existing soil with the topsoil is that it creates a more natural layer. Just using topsoil will lead to drainage problems and will stop the plants from accessing the minerals in the subsoil.
Once you’ve put your topsoil in, you need to water it. This should be done before planting so that the nutrients in the purchased topsoil have a chance to drain into the surrounding soil.
Spring or fall is the best time to add topsoil because the rainfall ensures that the nutrients are spread throughout the soil.
Will Topsoil Kill Weeds?
Topsoil on its own will not kill weeds. Poor quality topsoil can introduce weeds to your garden which is why it is always necessary to check the soil for weeds and roots.
Before applying topsoil to existing soil you need to make sure you remove weeds. You can do this manually by digging them up but it is odds on you’ll miss some.
Chemical weed killers can be used but this will alter the chemical balance of your soil.
Some chemical weed killers should not be used on soil intended for vegetable growing as the chemicals can leach into the plants themselves. A safe and effective method of killing off weeds is to lay heavy black plastic sheeting over the bare soil.
If you do this in winter you need to leave it for six months as the weeds tend to slow their growth in the colder months. When done in summer, you only need to leave the sheeting down for 2-3 months.
The black plastic sheeting prevents the plants from accessing sunlight and kills them off.
While it is a time-consuming process, it doesn’t harm the soil as much as a chemical weed killer.