Topsoil – a beginners guide

As a newbie to the gardening world, you’re going to hear a lot of words you may not have heard before, or simply haven’t had a reason to take notice of. One of those words you’re bound to come across, is topsoil.

But, what exactly is topsoil? Is it different from regular soil, and, are you going to need bags of topsoil to grow plants, lay your lawn, or create flowerbeds?

Thankfully, in this article, ‘Topsoil – A Beginners Guide’, using over 40 years of experience in the supply of high-quality topsoil, we’re giving you, as a gardening beginner, a brief introduction to topsoil, including –

  • What is topsoil?
  • Is there other soil as well as topsoil?
  • Is topsoil the same as compost?
  • Why do I need topsoil?
  • Why do I need topsoil to lay turf?
  • Where can I buy topsoil?

If you enjoy the article, please give it a share, and if you’re looking for bags of topsoil or loose topsoil for your next gardening project, visit, and use our handy, online topsoil buying tool, to get a quote in minutes.

What is topsoil?

Topsoil is exactly as the word suggests – a top layer of soil. Occurring naturally, it’s the outermost layer of the earths surface above the bedrock, that contains the most nutrients, and is the perfect structure for seed germination.

Is there other soil as well as topsoil?

Yes, topsoil is just part of the soil story. Topsoil sits above several more layers of soil, each one of varying qualities, right down to the bedrock.

Below, we’ve listed the different layers of soil, geologically known as horizons, in the order they’d appear if you were to dig down until you hit bedrock.

But… If you’d rather skip the geology bit, keep scrolling to the next sections, to find out the difference between topsoil and compost, why you need topsoil for growing plants and laying turf, and where to buy topsoil.

Soil horizons include –

  • The O horizon – This horizon is mostly made up of dead matter, such as leaves, grasses, decomposed trees and plants, as well as rocks and sand.
  • The A horizon – Also known as the ‘humus’ level, this is the horizon just below the O horizon, and consists of mostly organic matter, such as decomposed plants, fungi, bacteria and microorganisms, including earthworms, which in short, are all the things that create the perfect growing conditions for seed germination.

At this point, it’s worth noting, the O and A horizon blended together are what we refer to as topsoil.

  • The E horizon – This horizon is mostly made up of nutrients and organic matter that filters down from the O and A horizons.
  • The B horizon (subsoil) – Simply put, the B horizon is like an inferior topsoil existing close to the bedrock, and consisting of decomposed organic matter and minerals, including salt and iron oxide.
  • The C horizon (saprolite) – The C horizon (aka saprolite) doesn’t have any organic matter, and is actually made up of broken rock from the bedrock.
  • The R horizon – The R horizon, the final horizon, next to the bedrock, is a tightly compacted (cemented) mix of granite, basalt and limestone

Is topsoil the same as compost?

No, is the short answer – topsoil isn’t the same as compost. Both compost and topsoil are ingredients which make up what most of us refer to as garden soil, and whilst both compost and topsoil are vital to growing plants, they have distinctive differences.

To distinguish between the two –

  • Compost is made up of decomposed matter, such as dead plants, grass clippings or food waste. Ideally, compost should be mixed with topsoil, to create the ideal balance of vital nutrients and stability for roots to take hold
  • Topsoil, as well as containing decomposed matter, including microorganisms, such as earthworms, also contains elements including sand, silt and clay in varying quantities, which give it the loamy (soil-like) texture that you don’t get with compost.

Why do I need topsoil?

Topsoil has various functions in a healthy garden, but its two main functions include –

  • A bulking material – This is particularly useful when creating flowerbeds and borders, or when laying turf or creating a lawn from seed.
  • To help plants take root – Good quality topsoil, as already mentioned, is the perfect structure for root systems to develop and stabilise.

Why do I need topsoil to lay turf?

The most obvious reason topsoil is so important when laying turf is to create the right structure for the turfs root system to develop and take hold, but topsoil also has other vital functions when it comes to laying turf, and for the lawn, once it’s created. These functions include –

  • To level the ground – By adding a thick layer of good quality topsoil prior to laying turf, you create a surface that can easily be raked level.
  • To soak up water – Lawns, especially newly-laid lawns need plenty of water, and topsoil has natural absorption abilities, meaning the water doesn’t simply run away.
  • To store food – As well as water, grass, like all plants requires vital nutrients, such as nitrogen and potassium etc., which good quality topsoil naturally retains.
  • To provide food – Another ability of topsoil is to aid the decomposition process, breaking down organic matter into the food the lawn needs to thrive.
  • To soften impact – Topsoil provides the perfect cushioning for your lawn, helping to prevent damage from regular foot traffic or other forms of impact.

 Where do I buy topsoil?

Topsoil is widely available from specialist suppliers, such as Ivinghoe Turf, or from nurseries and DIY stores. But, it’s important to remember when buying topsoil to make sure you’re buying the type of topsoil most suited to your project.

For example, if you’re using the topsoil to lay turf, it’s vital that it’s been screened, to remove any large stones or other solid matter, whereas if you’re using it for more general purposes, you may not need the same level of screening, therefore you can opt for a cheaper blend.

Need topsoil?

Whether you need bags of topsoil or loose topsoil, contact Ivinghoe Turf today. With various qualities of topsoil available, and a choice of economy delivery (within 10 days) or nominated delivery, where you pick the date, we’re the perfect choice for domestic and commercial customers.

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