Topsoil is NOT Dirt. Know the Difference.

Dirt and topsoil
Dirt’s on the left. Topsoil‘s on the right.

Summer’s around the corner; meaning it’s the perfect time to spread fresh topsoil  from Lane’s Landscaping Supplies in your garden beds or on your lawn.

Sometimes, homeowners come to our Mississauga location and say “topsoil is just dirt, right?”


Even though they look the same, topsoil and dirt are quite different. Topsoil is carefully composed, screened and enriched with nutrients to help your plants or grass grow.

Dirt, on the other hand, is the common stuff you find on the ground anywhere.

Here’s another way to look it at:

  • Topsoil is alive
  • Dirt is dead

What is topsoil, exactly?

According to Wikipedia, topsoil is defined as:

“The upper, outermost layer of soil, usually the top 2 inches to 8 inches. It has the highest concentration of organic matter and microorganisms and is where most of the Earth’s biological soil activity occurs.”

This is crucial because it’s where plant or grass roots are strongly established.

It’s much easier to them to feed on nutrients and water in rich topsoil that’s close to the surface vs. dead dirt which is far underground.

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The big differences between the two

A quick look at the ground or the soil underneath your mulch won’t immediately tell you if that’s healthy topsoil or inert dirt.

But if you could look deep inside, you’ll be able to spot key differences between topsoil and dirt.


Topsoil is full of vitamins, nutrients and organisms (that’s why it’s considered to be “alive”) which help plants grow strong and thrive.

Some of the elements found inside rich topsoil include:

  • Microorganisms
  • Minerals
  • Insects
  • Earthworm
  • Organic matter
  • Water
  • Air pockets

Together, these ingredients keep the soil healthy and feed your plants.


On the other hand, dirt is, well, dirty. It’s unclean and doesn’t contain the vital nutrients found in topsoil.

Now, it is possible to add organic products to dirt and transform it into topsoil. But simply planting flowers, fruits, vegetables or plants into a pile of dirt won’t deliver the results you’re looking for.

That’s because – as already mentioned – dirt doesn’t have the mineral ingredients plants need to consume in order to grow.

Fresh topsoil
Fresh, healthy topsoil is dark in colour.

What makes for good topsoil?

Is it possible to tell the difference between topsoil and dirt?

Yes. Spotting good quality topsoil for your landscaping projects is easy if you know what to look for before you buy.

Some things you should look for when inspecting topsoil include:

  • Colour: Excellent topsoil should be dark brown or black. Dark colours mean the soil is rich in organic matter.
  • Odour: Fresh topsoil should have a sweet smell to it. If it smells old, musky and stale, chances are it’s decaying.
  • Texture: Grab a handful of topsoil and squeeze it into a ball. When you open up your hand, the soil should easily crumble apart.
  • Fragments: If you can easily see big stones, weeds or unwanted seeds in your topsoil, it’s best that you stay away from it.

Use the FREE topsoil calculator

Need topsoil for your garden? Contact Lane’s

If you’re planning to do some topsoil work, we’ve got more than enough for you.

Topsoil from Lane’s is:

  • Naturally organic
  • Nutrient-rich
  • Properly water-balanced
  • Full of beneficial organisms

It’s also available for delivery to Mississauga, Oakville, Brampton, Burlington, Milton and the GTA.

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