Aspiring DIY Landscaper? What You Need to Know About Topsoil & How to Choose the Right Type for Your Lawn

Posted on: 16 January 2017

While it will take some hard work, DIY landscaping is far from impossible. While you may be eagerly hunting for the beautiful plants and flowers you would like to plant in your lawn, it is important to learn about soil first, because those beautiful plants and flowers will not thrive without good soil providing them the nutrients they need. 

A little bit of the right topsoil mixed in with the soil already present in your yard will create a great "base" for your plants and flowers, but you must choose the right type for your plants to thrive. Read on to learn more about topsoil and how to determine which type is best for your DIY home landscaping project. 

Topsoil Types

The main three types of topsoil are called loamy soil, sandy soil, and clay soil. Loamy soil is considered ideal for general gardening purposes, because it is is porous and retains water well. While you likely know that plant roots need water and can see how the great water-retention quality of loamy soil would benefit them, you may not realize that plant roots also need oxygen; due to its porosity, oxygen flows through loamy soil well, which means roots planted in it will not be "suffocated." 

Sandy soil allows oxygen to reach plant roots, but it does not retain enough water to allow your plant roots to "get a drink" before water simply flows through it. Clay soil holds onto water very well, yet it becomes so thick when wet that it then deprives plant roots of oxygen. 

What is loamy soil made of? It is actually made of a mixture of sand, silt, and clay. This allows your plants to reap the benefits of both materials without the disadvantages of them. 

For your plants to thrive, your soil needs to maintain a proper relatively neutral pH. Sandy soil is acidic, yet clay soil is very alkaline or basic. When they are mixed together with silt into loamy soil, the acid soil balances the alkaline soil and the combination of the two creates a neutral pH for your plants to thrive. 

Which Topsoil Is Best for Your Landscaping Project? 

After hearing how well most plants thrive in loamy soil, you may suspect that choosing the right topsoil to incorporate into the existing soil in your yard is an easy choice. Of course, if you plan to completely replace the current soil in your yard by digging it all up in strategic places to plant a few flowers, then loamy soil would be a good option as a soil replacement. 

However, if you plan to add new topsoil to your existing soil and combine the two, which is typically done before a large-scale landscaping project or planting of new soil, then you need to take the composition of the soil currently in your yard into account before choosing the topsoil you will add to it. Then, if you find out that your yard's current topsoil is mainly composed of clay and silt, you would want to actually add sandy top soil to it to create loamy soil and vice versa. 

To find out what the composition of your yard's current soil is, you can perform a simple soil test by following these steps: 

  1. Fill a mason jar about 1/3 full with a soil sample from your yard. Remove grass, sticks, and all other debris from the sample. 
  2. Fill the jar with water from your tap, add about 1 teaspoon of dish detergent to the jar, then cover it with the lid. 
  3. Shake the jar vigorously until the soil and water is completely mixed. 
  4. Let the jar settle for 24 hours before checking the results. 

After the jar settles, sand, silt, and clay will separate and create layers. The bottom layer will be sand, since it is the heaviest of the three materials. The next layer up will be silt. On top of the silt will be the clay. 

The optimal soil for general landscaping is considered to be made of 40 percent clay, 40 percent sand, and 20 percent silt. So if your soil contains more clay than sand, then you will want to add some sandy topsoil to your yard. If your soil contains more sand than clay, then you will want to add clay topsoil. If your soil is already about the optimal makeup for gardening, then tilling in loamy topsoil will help you maintain your already well-balanced soil. 

If you are planning a DIY home landscaping project, then realize that none of those beautiful plants and flowers you plan to install will thrive when they are not planted in great topsoil. Test your current soil and order additional topsoil to supplement it and bring it to that perfect balance your plants need. 

To learn more, contact services like Purdy Topsoil & Gravel.