Topsoil vs Garden Soil – What’s The Difference?

When it comes to gardening, the materials you use could mean the difference between success and failure. This is especially true when thinking about planting. Using the wrong type of soil could mean that your plants don’t get the nutrients they need and your landscaping efforts will have all been in vain. 

You’ll notice a lot of people talking about topsoil and garden soil.  Surely there can’t be that much difference, right? So, what is the difference between topsoil and garden soil?

At their core, topsoil and garden soil are largely the same. The main difference is that garden is a type of topsoil that’s been given a nutrient boost which makes it much better for planting. 

If you’re unsure of which type of soil is best for your landscaping project then we’ll explain everything you need to know in this guide. 

Topsoil vs Garden Soil – What Are They?

Understanding the difference between topsoil and garden soil will help you to better understand when to use each material. Let’s get better acquainted with each of these types of soil.

What Is Topsoil?

As its name probably suggests, topsoil is simply the upper most layer of soil on the earth. Generally speaking, you’d refer to it as being topsoil if it comes from the top 12 inches of the ground. There are different variations of topsoil as the materials it contains will differ depending on where it was collected. Some of the most common things you’ll find in topsoil are organic matter, clay, silt and sand.

The great thing about topsoil is that it is incredibly versatile. When using it around the garden, it has a ton of uses including for raised beds, lawns and amending the existing soil in the garden. Moreover, you won’t have any problems getting your hands on topsoil as it’s widely available.

When landscaping, we would suggest choosing topsoils that aren’t overly thick as this reduces soil’s ability to drain and it’ll hold onto a lot more water. While plants do need water, too much isn’t always a good thing and it can prevent air from getting to the roots. For this reason, it’s best to choose a topsoil that’s loamy as this will allow much better airflow. 

What Is Garden Soil?

Again, with garden soil, the clue is in the name. It’s designed to be used in the garden.This is actually a type of topsoil that has other organic ingredients added as well as fertilisers and other things. 

This soil is often used for things like veggie patches, herb gardens, fruit gardens and for succulents. However, you should keep in mind that there are different types of garden soil that are designed for specific purposes.

An example of this is that you wouldn’t use a garden soil designed for succulents for your fruit garden. The soil wouldn’t have the right composition so your plants won’t thrive. Therefore it is important to choose wisely according to the project you’re working on. 

What Are The Main Differences Between Topsoil And Garden Soil

As we have learned, garden soil and topsoil do have different uses. But there are some key differences that set them apart from one another. Below, we’ll take a closer look at what makes them different. 

What’s In The Soil

One of the main differences between topsoil and garden soil is the composition. When you use topsoil, you’ve got something that is primarily a blend of sand, clay and loam. As we mentioned earlier, the composition of the soil may differ depending on where it came from. On the other hand, garden soil has extra materials within which may include compost, organic matter and various types of fertilisers.

While it is possible to plant directly in topsoil, this isn’t always recommended. As it contains mostly earth materials, it doesn’t offer the best support to plant growth on its own. For this reason, most gardeners will amend their topsoil using things to improve airflow and nutritional content. 

Getting Hold Of The Soil

If you want topsoil, you’re not going to have any issues getting your hands on it. This type of soil is widely available and you can get it anywhere. We mean anywhere; it’s often even on sale in your local supermarket as well as pretty much every garden centre in the country. 

Even better is that topsoil can be purchased in large quantities so if you’re working on a large project, there’s no worry about running low on supplies. 

However, garden soil isn’t quite so readily available. That’s not to say that you won’t be able to find any, it’s just that you’ll probably have to go to a garden centre to get the exact type that you want.

How You Use The Soil

Another key difference between topsoil and garden soil is the way that it is used. We have already touched upon this but let’s consider it in more detail.

You’ll need to consider a few things when it comes to choosing between topsoil and garden soil. For example, the type of project you’re working on will have a huge impact on your decision. Generally speaking, if you need an all-purpose soil, you would go for topsoil whereas when you’re planing specific types of plant, garden soil would be your best bet.

The size of the project will also dictate the best type of soil. You have to keep in mind that topsoil is far more affordable, especially when you’re buying in bulk.  This is another key difference between the two so you’ll find that topsoil is normally favoured when working on a larger project. That said, there are some projects that call for both types of soil.

Which Do I Need: Topsoil Or Garden Soil?

Each type of soil is suited to certain types of gardening. If you want the greatest success when planting then it’s crucial that you choose the right one. By now, you should understand when and how to use each type of soil but let’s get a little more specific. 


If you’ve ever planted in containers then you will know how important drainage is. A lot of the time amateur gardeners will fail when growing in pots as the soil can become clogged. Since garden soil is far better at promoting good drainage, you’ll want to choose this when creating a container garden. 

Raised Beds

One of the main uses for topsoil is in a raised garden bed. This is largely because of the affordability of this type of soil. However, you have to consider that the topsoil will need to be amended for this by adding ingredients such as manure, compost and rocks. These things will ensure better drainage and make sure that the soil is packed with nutrients.


If you’re taking on a landscaping project then you need to be prepared for the fact that you need a lot of soil. This is even more important if the existing soil isn’t the best quality or there isn’t enough of it. 

When buying soil for landscaping, we’d recommend going for topsoil. This can be blended with the existing soil to create something that’ll help plantlife thrive. However, if there are areas of your landscaping project where you’ll be growing specific plants then go ahead and add some garden soil as well. 

Soil For A Lawn

When adding extra soil to a lawn, you will be better to choose topsoil. The great thing about this is that you won’t need to amend the soil very much, if at all when using topsoil on a lawn. That’s because most types of grass are able to grow in varied conditions, as long as there are enough nutrients in the soil.

What’s more, you’ll know by now that topsoil is far more cost effective than garden soil. When you’re covering a large area like a lawn, you could end up spending a small fortune if you opt for garden soil. 

Hanging Baskets

You can actually buy proper potting mix for a hanging basket and there are also garden soils designed specifically for this type of gardening. If you make the mistake of using topsoil, you may find that the plants become weak quite quickly. Moreover, topsoil won’t allow for adequate drainage so this is another reason to avoid it here.

Amending The Existing Soil

Most gardens will already have some sort of soil present so adding to this can help to make it more suitable for your project. The great thing about this is that you can use either topsoil or garden soil without much of an issue. 

That said, we would recommend adding in a few extras like manure or compost if you really want to boost the nutrient content of the soil.

Specialist Gardens

If you are growing a very specific type of plant like vegetables, fruits, succulents or anything else then you’re going to need to choose garden soil. There are, as we have mentioned, different types of garden soil prepared for different niches so be sure to choose the right one. You can add the plants directly to the soil without having to amend it which makes life much easier.


When you are working on a landscaping project that involves planting, you must make sure that you choose the right type of soil. If you don’t, then there is a risk that your plants won’t grow as large or healthy as you had hoped. In the worst cases, they just won’t grow at all. 

If you’ve been working on a project you may have wondered what is the difference between topsoil and garden soil. The truth is that they’re largely the same but garden soil has had extra materials added to make it more suitable for specific planting whereas topsoil is a more general purpose soil.

Driveway Expert