Compost, top soil, or fill dirt?

jimmyland(8)November 8, 2011


It seems that the soil around my house has eroded a bit. I can see the house foundation in some parts, and around the fence, the soil is below the bottom of the fence. Can anyone provide some advice on what I should get to "fill" it back up to the right level? I'm roughly estimating that I need 6 yard or so...

My first thought it to use top soil... but I couldn't find it for bulk around here. Getting it from bags at the gardening store would cost a lot more than bulk compost, coming in at approx $100 for 2 yards.

I do see some ads for free fill dirt, and they'll even pay you $20 to dump 10 yards of it in your yard... but I'm not quite sure if thats the type of soil I need.

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What do you expect "topsoil" to be? As defined in dictionaries "topsoil" is the top 4 to 6 inches of soil from some place. Many people I have asked expect "topsoil? to be loam and it is not. I have seen fill soil that looked the same as some of the "topsoil" I have also seen.
Depending on how much you need to raise your soil level organic matter, compost or shredded leaves, or what ever else you can get, might be all you need.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2011 at 6:20AM
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Don't use organic matter for fill. Unless you live in a completely barren location, it will constantly break down, getting smaller and defeating your purpose.
If you have an erosion problem that should be addressed first. (!!!!!!)
The free fill could have unwanted material; big rocks, trash, building scrap. "Clean" fill USUALLY means none of that, but sometimes indicates that it contains inert material that won't break down like concrete or road scrapings. Verify before they dump it in your yard.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2011 at 7:01AM
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val_s(z5 central IL)

I second alphonse. Organic matter/compost does not act the same as "dirt". It breaks down and you will be right back to where you started.

Fill dirt in my area is nasty stuff, full of bits of everything, usually asphalt. Top soil is really what you want so your instinct was right on.

You might have to expand your looking area. Usually, nurseries will carry top soil in bulk.

Carry on - Val

    Bookmark   November 8, 2011 at 7:35AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Alphonse hit the nail on the head with both of the issues that immediately came to mind: do not use compost, leaf litter or any other similar substance. You need something with the mineral portion of soil. I'd advise that you keep looking for a source of top soil. Fill dirt can be (and often is) a very undesirable substance. Why else would they be willing to pay YOU to get rid of the stuff that can't be used in construction?

He also suggested that you figure out and fix the situation that is causing the erosion, in the first place.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2011 at 9:34AM
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toxcrusadr Clay Soil(Zone 6a - MO)

Fill dirt isn't necessarily always full of trash, but I still would not use it, mainly because even if it's nice soil with no rocks or debris, it's going to be SUBSOIL with virtually no organic matter (which is what makes topsoil topsoil). If they could have sold it as topsoil they would, since they aren't it's subsoil. If you were filling a deep hole you could use that, and top with topsoil, but you aren't, so if you ever want grass etc. to grow on your new surface, you need topsoil.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2011 at 11:51AM
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Thanks for the advice. I'll definitely skip the fill dirt. I think the erosion happened because I'm at the corner, and a bit higher than the street level. I'll keep an eye out for top soil... and will probably mix in some compost for planting.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2011 at 1:59AM
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toxcrusadr Clay Soil(Zone 6a - MO)

Sounds like a good plan.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2011 at 10:36AM
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Yes, organic matter in soil does constantly break down, and that is why it is necessary to replace the organic matter in soil constantly. "Topsoil" is not "topsoil" because it has organic matter in it it is only because it is the top 4 to 6 inches of soil. So, fill dirt and "topsoil" can be, and often are, the same thing. Soil is composed of the minerals, the sand, silt, and clay particles, and organic matter. The mineral particles are what make your soil what you have and the organic matter is what really makes it soil and not just dirt.
Erosion is caused by water flowing over soil faster then the soil can absorb it, and that carries soil particles with it. So why is so much water flowing that fast over those areas? Why won't the soil absorb that water fast enough to prevent the erosion? Erosion occurs more often in soils with low levels of organic matter.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2011 at 7:26AM
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val_s(z5 central IL)

In my area, no one thinks of fill dirt and topsoil as the same. Below is a link to how people here interpret fill dirt or subsoil. You don't want organic matter in your subsoil.


Here is a link that might be useful: Fill Dirt

    Bookmark   November 10, 2011 at 3:33PM
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toxcrusadr Clay Soil(Zone 6a - MO)

I think if you ask just about any construction or landscaping person what topsoil and subsoil are, you'll get pretty much the same answer. Maybe it's like obscenity: hard to define but you know it when you see it. :-]

    Bookmark   November 10, 2011 at 5:07PM
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Defining "topsoil" is not at all difficult. Every dictionary and encyclopedia I have read defines topsoil" as the top 4 to 6 inches of soil. That can be something that contains some organic matter or might be nothing more than sand or clay, depending on where it came from. Most people I do get to tell me what they think "topsoil" is tell me they expect that to be loam and it will not be. I have seen stuff sold as "topsoil ranging from spent foundry sand to a mixture of the dredgings from a lake mixed with sand. Even if one were to get some soil with 5 to 8 percent organic matter in it when you put it on your soil that becomes even less so why not just add organic matter to what you have from the start and make your own "topsoil"?

    Bookmark   November 12, 2011 at 6:50AM
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I only see one way to correct the problem. Correct the problem. To much water or to much water velocity. A drainage system should be installed. Treating the symptoms is not the cure.
Fill dirt can be any one of may things and is not designed to grow anything in, it is designed to give the foundation stability. It should be a hard none porous drainage surface, non organic material. Garden soils are designed to grow plants in and should be highly organic.
The fill dirt was installed for a purpose and should not be replaced. The top soil should be on top. The water should leach down through the growing media and drain off once it hits the fill. The original fill should have had an original slope of 6" in 10' feet away from the house as per International Building Code. Disruption or lack of maintenance (erosion) of this fill can and often does create foundation problems.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2011 at 7:18AM
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