Wandering through the garden section of your local home improvement store can be overwhelming and, quite frankly, pretty intimidating. There are perennials, annuals, vegetables, scores of garden accessories—and even a dizzying array of dirt.
You’ll encounter pallets stacked high with bags of dirt, compost, topsoil, manure, potting soil, cactus soil, mulch—the options go on and on. Who knew good ol’ dirt could be so complicated? The number of choices is enough to make anyone’s head spin.
So, what’s the difference between all these different types of dirt? Are there rules about when to use each kind? Is this all an elaborate scheme to get us to buy more dirt? We decided to investigate and provide a breakdown of the main types of dirt you’ll encounter, and where they belong on your property.
1. Garden soil
Let’s start with the basics. As you might have inferred from its name, garden soil is meant for growing plants in the ground. In addition to generic garden soil, you’ll also find more specific labels—organic, garden soil for vegetables and herbs, garden soil for flowers, etc. Often, this dirt contains plant food and promises to produce healthier, more vibrant plants.
“Garden mix should contain matter that improves drainage, nutrients, and organic matter,” says Elle Meager, a master gardener and the founder of Outdoor Happens. “It’s best to buy the highest quality you can afford, unless you’re going to add your own compost.”
Topsoil is the workhorse of the dirt world. It’s meant for big landscaping jobs, like filling in holes in your yard or building up small berms, and often sold in bulk. Your topsoil may or may not contain fertilizer or other additives. More than likely, however, it’s not very fancy.
Home improvement stores typically source their topsoil locally so that it’s adapted to your climate and topography.
“Make sure you know where your topsoil comes from,” says Meager.
3. Potting soil
You guessed it—potting soil is meant for pots, planters, and other containers. This specially designed formula can be used both indoors and out, so you can use it to repot your houseplants and fill your window boxes on the same day.
Potting soil typically contains plant food, which leads to larger, healthier plants in the long run. It’s also made to help control moisture levels, since plants in pots and containers can be more fickle than those planted in the ground.
If you forget to water your plants for a while, potting soil can help. If you have a tendency to overwater your plants, potting soil can help with that, too. It regulates moisture, whether that’s too much or too little.
“Compost” is a term that gets thrown around a lot—some people have a backyard compost bin, while others buy compost and use it for landscaping projects.
So what exactly is compost? Well, it’s decomposed organic matter, which is a fancy way of saying “dead plants.”
When leaves, twigs, grass, food scraps, and other natural debris are allowed to hang out together for a while, the materials break down and become a nutrient-rich material that’s perfect for gardening. Bacteria, fungi, worms, and other critters help this process along. (This is why it’s good to have worms in your yard!)
“There are many different types of compost, like mushroom compost and worm compost, known as vermi,” says Meager. “Compost is an additive: You can mix it into potting mix or topsoil, or add it on top of your garden. It increases the nutrient content for the plants.”
Mulch isn’t technically dirt, but it deserves a mention because it’s so commonly used in landscaping. Mulch is made up of small pieces of wood that have sometimes been colored with dye.
Often dyed red, black, or brown, it’s used for a wide array of landscaping projects, since it looks nice and can help prevent weed growth. You might use mulch to create a border around your yard or to make a ringed circle around a tree.
“You can keep weeds from coming back by layering around 3 inches of mulch,” says Kate Diaz, an interior designer and co-owner of Swanky Den.
When you buy mulch from a home improvement store, you’ll notice that all the pieces are fairly uniform in shape and size, which helps create a tidy aesthetic.
You can also usually get free mulch from your city garbage and recycling center; this mulch isn’t as streamlined as the mulch you buy, as it’s made from shredded sticks, branches, old Christmas trees, and other debris from local residents’ yards. But it works just the same and is a good option if you’re landscaping on a budget.
Landscaping manure is from cows and other grass-eating livestock. It’s typically mixed with compost, or the manure itself might be composted. It provides your existing dirt with helpful nutrients, including nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous. You’ll typically want to use manure in the ground, rather than containers.
Generally, you need to make sure to use composted manure, rather than raw or unprocessed manure straight from a cow. The latter can contain harmful bacteria and high levels of nutrients that can “burn” your plants.
However, you can use fresh manure in some instances.
“One great way to use it is to till your garden in the fall and mix in a few bags of manure with the soil,” says Greg Birch, the brains behind the Gardens of Bacchus blog. “By the time spring comes around again, it will have broken down and it will be usable by your plants.”
7. Raised bed soil
Raised bed soil has just one job: to provide nutrients and a healthy environment for plants grown in raised beds or containers. It’s a good option if you want to grow fresh veggies and herbs but you don’t have a lot of space (or you just don’t have a good spot for an in-ground garden).
This soil is similar to potting mix because it can help regulate moisture. But it’s also specifically designed for growing plants you want to eat—it helps vegetables grow fast and large. It almost always contains plant food, fertilizers, additives, and lots of organic matter to give your veggies a boost.
8. Cactus soil
If you’re growing Instagram-worthy cacti, succulents, palms, or citrus trees, you definitely want to pick up a bag or two of cactus soil. These types of plants are native to the desert, where there isn’t a lot of moisture and the soil is sandy and dry.
Cactus soil mimics that environment in your home or garden. It’s typically a blend of sand, peat most, compost, and perlite, which together help your plant get just the right amount of water.
The post The Scoop on 8 Different Types of Dirt: Do You Have the Right One? appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.