The Difference Between Topsoil and Compost


If you’re looking forward to starting a new landscape project or a veggie garden of your own, things can get confusing, especially if you’re a beginner. First of all, there’s confusion between topsoil and compost. When do you use one over the other? If you need topsoil or compost for your projects, you can search for “topsoil near me” and buy some from the nearest store. For now, let’s clear the confusion between topsoil and compost.

The Differences

  1. Topsoil – As the name suggests, topsoil is the topmost layer of the soil that sits over the bedrock. It is the most nutritious part of naturally occurring soil and contains organic matter and microbial life unlike the lower layers of soil. However, they don’t contain enough to grow your veggie or flower garden. You can easily buy topsoil in bulk from local garden centers.

While there are different grades of topsoil, it’s soil that is dug out from other gardens and patches of land during construction projects. There are two main types of soil you’ll find at the store – screened and unscreened. The former has been sifted through a mesh or other forms of filter to remove rocks, seeds, and other types of debris. The latter is not.

  1. Compost – Unlike topsoil, compost is made with natural organic ingredients by humans. The ingredients usually contain food waste, paper, cardboard, dried leaves, wood chips, and more. These materials are all mixed together inside a bin or a heap and allowed to rot under heat and pressure. When all that organic matter rots and breaks down, you get a black goo that is incredibly nutritious for plants and is rich in nitrogen and other macronutrients.

You can buy compost from the garden center or make your own at home. Just collect the above-mentioned materials and start the rotting process. As the compost keeps breaking down, you can continue to add scraps and other organic matter. Since it’s a rotting process, compost creates a strong and pungent odor and needs cautious handling. Moreover, it’s a very slow process and takes months before you can produce enough compost for your veggie garden.

That’s why some people like to quicken the process by using worms. This process is known as vermicomposting and can shorten the composting time to three months for your first usable batch. You can also use an insulated bin for “hot-composting” and use all that trapped heat to hasten the rotting process. However, you’ll need to keep mixing and turning the bin regularly.

  1. Uses of topsoil – When it comes to topsoil, people usually buy it to start a new flowering garden or for creating fresh raised beds for their veggie garden. It’s also used as a top dressing for weak grass. If you have a portion of the garden with poor-quality soil, you can replace it with a few fresh bags of topsoil. For instance, if a certain part of your yard is full of pests and weeds, you can completely burn it up, dig it out and replace it with fresh topsoil.

Topsoil is also used for improving existing soil and for filling up holes and fixing up rough patches. For instance, if you have a new garden that is full of poor-quality soil, and it has a high proportion of clay or sand, it can be fixed by mixing in some good quality topsoil. You can also use bags of topsoil to fill up holes and make other cosmetic changes to damage parts of your yard. You can even make a part of your yard leveled or create contours and change the landscape design.

  1. Uses of compost – Crude oil may be the black gold that drives the world, but compost is the black gold that drives green cover in your garden. It has several uses and is a highly valuable material. You can mix it with existing soil to improve its nutrient content so that plants can grow efficiently. People also mix compost in the soil to improve its texture. It can improve the soil’s water retention properties and makes it hold more air pockets so that microbes and roots can breathe.

You can also use compost directly on the soil to make the grasses grow greener. However, the most impressive use of compost is probably as mulch. That’s right, mulch. Instead of wasting time with wood chips or plastic sheets, you can directly cover the base of the plant with compost and let it protect the soil from the sun’s heat while actively turning it into nutrients for the plants. However, this use is only reserved for the rich since it can be quite wasteful. Compost isn’t cheap and to use it as mulch, you’ll need a lot of it.

  1. Compost tea – Crude oil is refined into gasoline, diesel, and other types of fuel before it can be used for driving the modern world. Similarly, compost has a refined version and it’s known as compost tea. Gardeners refer to it as black liquid gold. It’s more nutritious compared to regular compost and you can only create an abysmally small amount in every batch. Creating it is also more challenging. However, its effects are even stronger than some potent artificial fertilizers.

To create compost tea, you need to extract fungi, bacteria, nematodes, and all types of beneficial microbes from compost with a complex brewing process. The extracted liquid also contains a lot of soluble nutrients from the compost at a very high concentration. It’s best to leave the delicate brewing process to experts and just buy some from the store.


Topsoil is unavoidable and you’ll need it at every step of your gardening and landscaping projects unless you decide to create your own with coconut peat and other things. On the other hand, compost provides the nutrition for your plants to grow healthy and strong and is mostly needed for trees and gardens. If you want to buy compost or topsoil, you can search for “topsoil near me” and buy some from a store nearby.

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