What Base Substrate Do I Need For My Landscape Project?

So you’ve decided to start improving the landscaping around your house. Good move! Studies show that you can get a return on investment as high as 150% by spending as little as 5% of your home’s value. Landscaping, on average, increases a home’s resale value by 14%! Chances are you’ll be tearing out and scraping whatever is planted in your yard. Then, the first thing you’ll have to decide is if you’re going to need topsoil or fill dirt to re-shape your yard. There are a few key things to keep in mind when trying to decide on fill dirt vs topsoil. The distinction between fill dirt vs topsoil is pretty straightforward, after reading this article, it should be clear to you what you’ll need.

What is fill dirt used for?
Fill dirt is for filling depressions in your yard, or building up an area to create a mound or berm. It has little organic material or biological activity, which makes it poor material for growing plants in. It will often have high quantities of sand or rock in it. This is what you want in fill dirt. Organic materials like plant refuse or wood pieces will decompose.
Decomposition in fill dirt can create unwanted depressions in your yard or landscaping that can become puddles during rainstorms that will drown plants and cause other issues. If you build a structure like a house or barn on fill dirt that becomes uneven, it can impact the structural integrity of the building.
If you’re building a berm, raising an area to create a waterfall, or filling a depression in your yard as part of your landscaping project, you probably need some fill dirt.

What’s so great about topsoil?
Topsoil is what your grass grows on. It has a high organic matter content, usually around 5%, and many minerals that are good for plant growth. It will usually be quite light and air, and holds moisture well. It’s not quite the same as soil for potted plants, but is very similar.
Topsoil usually has a neutral to slightly acidic pH balance, which is appropriate for the vast majority of plants. Basically, anywhere you want something to grow, you want to cover with about two inches of topsoil.

Other ground cover options
Around trees, bushes, and walkways, you’ll often see stones or landscape mulch. Both can look good in your landscaping and work well as weed control. Small rocks won’t get washed out of landscaping by rain or wind, but watch out for them in the yard when mowing the grass. Mulch won’t damage a lawnmower and is easy to rake out of the way for flower planting or other landscape changes, unlike landscape rock. However, it also needs to be replaced every year or two.

Fill dirt vs Topsoil
Ultimately, just know that anywhere you want something to grow, you need topsoil, and under anything you don’t want to move, put fill dirt.

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