Understanding soil types for your clients

Updated Mar 10, 2023
planting plant
Understanding different soil types can help you make a wise choice for your clients.

You likely already know there are six different primary soil types: Clay, sandy, silty, peaty, chalky, and loamy. Understanding the type of soil found in your region can make a big difference in the results you’re able to achieve. After all, different plant types are going to naturally favor certain soil types. And some may not even be able to tolerate a certain soil type.

But in addition to what’s found naturally, you can also purchase and add different soils from your supplier. Evan Selby of Nature’s Mulch and Landscape Supply in Louisville, Kentucky says that it is important landscape contractors know the differences between fill dirt, topsoil, garden mix, and compost. These are all products that they sell in bulk at their supply center.

But Selby says that landscapers don’t always realize that the quality of soils can even differ from one supplier to another.

Selby broke down each soil type sold by suppliers so that landscape contractors can make the best choice.

Fill dirt

Fill dirt is not ideal for growing anything in, says Selby. But it is an inexpensive way to fill a hole or a space. Fill dirt typically lacks organic material and may even have sand, rock, or stone in it. At Nature’s Mulch, Selby says their fill dirt is a mix of different dirt types.


As the name suggests, topsoil is the top layer of soil and has the highest concentration of organic matter and microorganisms, which is what helps plant material to thrive in it. High-quality topsoil will help supply the nutrients that plants need.

However, Selby urges that when contractors are purchasing topsoil that they are cognizant of whether or not it has been screened. Soil that has been dug out of the ground but not run through a screen can end up having debris, sticks, or leftover plant seeds in it, he explains. This definitely impacts the quality.

Screening will also impact how “fine” the soil is. You really don’t want soil with a bunch of clumps. When purchasing your topsoil from your bulk supplier, ask whether it has been screened. While Selby says that all of Nature’s Mulch topsoil is 100 percent screened with no fillers, it’s important for landscape contractors to recognize there will be some variation in quality or even what various suppliers consider to be high quality.

"Garden Mix"

Garden Mix is a step up from topsoil. Every professional supplier is going to have their own “Garden Mix recipe.” Selby says that the one they sell is based upon years of research on what works and what doesn’t.

Typically, Garden Mix is topsoil that is enriched with compost and other organic material, making it highly nutritious for plants. This is a product that is good for gardening, plant beds, raised planters, and more, says Selby.


Compost is a mixture of ingredients that are used to fertilize and improve the soil. As mentioned above, it might be added to topsoil to improve its quality. But it is often also sold at bulk suppliers as a stand-alone item.

According to Selby, the biggest thing to watch for when purchasing compost is whether it has been contaminated with plastic. Since plastics will not break down, this can lead to pollution. When purchasing compost from a bulk supplier, Selby says that landscape contractors should inquire about how clean the compost is that they’re selling.

Making the best choice for your clients

At the end of the day, it boils down to making wise choices for your clients by understanding what you’re getting—and recognizing that different suppliers are going to have different levels of quality. Be sure to ask questions so that you can be an educated consumer. Your extra efforts will help ensure you get the best results from the soil you choose.

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