Compost vs topsoil

Compost vs topsoil: What’s the Difference?

As you read and research about how to prepare the garden or upgrade your lawn this season, you’ll likely see the terms compost and topsoil quite often. Like many of us, you may have a general idea of what these components are and how they benefit your landscaping projects.

Topsoil is the top layer of earth that you walk on and into which you place seeds and plants. Topsoil may be of poor quality and need amendments to improve the performance of your plants. Compost is often one of these amendments. That’s the short answer to compost vs topsoil. Here is a list of other additions to topsoil:

  • Aged Manure
  • Canadian Peat Moss
  • Ground Bark
  • Coarse Sand
  • Sawdust


However, compost is the most often used amendment. It improves drainage in soils from clay to sandy and allows plants to better absorb nutrients. Compost also adds nutrients to soil. So, you see, although the two are different they’re used in combination. Let’s take a look at exactly what is compost and how you should use it in topsoil as a base for your landscaping this year.

Topsoil in Your Landscape

You may be familiar with the topsoil on your property if you’ve been growing a lawn or garden there for years. You’ve already added amendments to the soil and possibly brought in new topsoil, either in bags or by the truckload.

If you’re new to the home, you may have to dig and look around to see about the soil’s condition. You can also look at plants already growing there. Appropriate topsoil produces healthy, vigorous plants that put out new leaves in spring and flowers that bloom at the right time.

If you’ve moved into a newly built home, it is possible that all your topsoil has been removed before construction, during the leveling process. In this situation, it will need to be replaced before you plant a lawn or gardens.

If you buy topsoil, read the ingredient list or ask if you’re buying in bulk as to what is added to the soil. You may learn that compost is already added. If so, where did it come from and was it properly aged?

What is Compost Made From?

Compost comes from a variety of common ingredients that are found in your yard, mixed with scraps from your kitchen. Brown and green elements are combined to break down together into a final product often called black gold. The decayed matter becomes a dark, earthy-smelling product when finished. Compost is usually mixed into topsoil and in some instances it replaces fertilizer.

Fruit and vegetable peelings, coffee grounds, and tea bags along with newspaper, grass clippings, and leaves are favorite organic ingredients. You can start your own compost pile and in a few months you’ll have a good supply to use in the landscape..

Earthworms are often attracted to the decomposing material and help speed the breakdown. The frass they leave behind adds nutrients, making the compost more valuable.

If worms don’t appear in your compost pile, buy some and add them into the pile, where they will multiply. Compost also helps discourage pests. This is another notable difference between compost vs topsoil.

Once compost becomes an integral soil ingredient, it is known as humus. An important part of our topsoil, increasing the humus level of soil is always a good thing.

More About Topsoil

If you have dark, rich topsoil in your landscape areas, you’re less likely to need compost at the time. Plants, shrubs, and trees take the nutrients they need from the topsoil that keeps them in place. However, as nutrients are removed by plants, you’ll want to add additional nutrients with fresh, finished compost.

It is often best to work compost into the soil in spring, but it can also be done with individual plantings. Alternatively, use a thin layer of compost as a side or top dressing. Use only a limited amount of compost though, it may provide lots of foliage growth and no blooms if you use too much.

Using Compost for the Lawn

As warmer days arrive, we’ll be thinking about the appearance of our lawn. A thin layer of compost is an excellent way to help it green up. Worms and micro-organisms work the compost into the soil, where it holds water more readily. The compost discourages pests and disease as it improves aeration and deters weed growth.

Apply compost to the lawn in autumn or after the first mowing in spring. Cut the grass to one inch and rake in the compost throughout. Hot summer days are not a good time to compost the lawn.

Compost Tea

Compost can be used to make tea that is used as a fertilizer. Landscaping companies may have it available to spray on your lawn in your area and if not you can make your own.

These methods may also be used in your gardens and flower beds. Sources say spraying compost tea on the leaves of vegetable and fruit plants result in bigger produce and a larger harvest. And, of course, we all want to avoid using chemicals on the food we grow for our family. Compost is a great way to avoid chemical fertilizers.

Now that you’ve learned the details of compost vs topsoil, you’re ready to get started using it in the landscape. You’ll be pleased with the new curb appeal that comes from improved topsoil. Learning to make your own compost saves money and allows you to make sure the proper ingredients are used.

Take note to see if your veggies grow bigger and your blooms last longer. Remember to take a good look at the lawn to see the improvement after you’ve added compost to aerated soil beneath. Add new materials and turn your compost pile year-round.

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