What is Topsoil

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What is Topsoil?

As the name suggests, topsoil is soil found at the surface of the ground; usually the first two to twelve inches deep, depending on the area. Topsoil contains broken-down organic material from leaves, dead animals and vegetation. It makes a huge difference to how plants grow because it is full of nutrients. This also means it’s much darker in color than other types of soil.

Other than just soil, topsoil is also made up of a mix of rocks, water, contaminants, and other organic materials like plant roots, sticks and weeds. In its raw state like this, commonly referred to as “field run” topsoil, it isn’t very useful, because these rocks and sticks, etc. will hold back the roots of new plants from sprouting and can restrict water flow. Field run topsoil is really only used as a fill material or to level low areas.

But if topsoil is screened to remove larger rocks and things like sticks and roots, it can be very useful for gardening and other applications where plant growth is promoted. It is also generally worth a lot more after it has been screened, which is what most landscapers and homeowners are interested in!

What is Screened Topsoil?

Screening is the process of separating materials into different sizes or grades.

When it comes to topsoil, screening is used to remove the larger particles that we mentioned above; i.e.; rocks, sticks, weeds etc. This is done by passing mixed topsoil through a mesh, so the smaller particles fall through, and the larger ones stay on top. Using different sized meshes will create different grades of screened topsoil, but the average is around 1/2 inch or 10mm.

The larger rocks that are removed from the topsoil can be used as fill material, run through a wash plant to be used as decorative rocks, or put through a crusher so that they can go back into the screener and be screened to the desired size.

So why would you want to screen your topsoil? Screened topsoil is more expensive than regular topsoil because it is ideal for lawn work, or growing vegetables and plants. It allows for the best water/nutrient flow, doesn’t restrict root growth, and is very rich in the nutrients that plants need to grow.

We Make the Top Soils™

Example of screened topsoil

Generally speaking, the finer the soil is screened the more expensive it will be. So, by screening topsoil you are increasing the value of the material for resale.

Screened Topsoil vs Unscreened

Unscreened topsoil is fine to use for certain applications. However, sometimes screening will be required depending on the end-use case. Here’s a quick breakdown of the benefits and uses of both screened and unscreened topsoil;

Screened topsoil uses 

  • Gardening
  • Lawn preparation
  • Flower pots and planters
  • Walkway base
  • Growing vegetables

Screened topsoil benefits

  •  Loose and easy to manipulate
  • More consistent texture
  • Less contaminants
  • Allows for better flow of water and nutrients
  • Easier for plant roots to grow in
  • Nutrient rich; will produce taller plants or more fruit on certain trees
  • Less likely for weeds to grow as their roots are removed

Unscreened topsoil uses 

  • Filling low areas/holes
  • Leveling
  • Wall support
  • Raised bed filler
  • Construction projects
  • Landscaping (shaping, then topped with screened topsoil)

Unscreened Topsoil benefits 

  • Cheaper
  • No processing required
  • Better support in some cases


Topsoil can be mixed or blended with other materials to create custom soil mixes for specific purposes. For example, it can be mixed with compost to create a nutrient-rich soil mix that is ideal for growing vegetables and flowers. It can also be mixed with sand to create a well-draining soil mix that is suitable for succulent plants.

Topsoil is different from compost in that it is a naturally occurring soil layer, whereas compost is made from decomposing organic matter. Compost is typically added to topsoil to enrich it and improve its fertility, but it is not a substitute for topsoil.

For additional information, please feel free to call us, email us, or just stop in and talk to us.


414.421.0070                     info@fullcycleent.com                1610 E. Rawson Ave, Oak Creek, WI, 53154


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