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what is in cheap topsoil ??

Posted by greenman62 9b (My Page) on
Fri, Mar 14, 14 at 13:59

I had bought a couple of bags of topsoil a year or 2 back.

I am planting a papaya in my yard, and i am trying to raise the area a few inches becuase papaya do not like wet feet, and living in the New Orleans area, we get a LOT of rain, not to mention we are below sea-level.

So i added 1 50lb bag of sand, 1 40lb bag of compost and mixed it in good with the regular soil.
So now the are is a few inches above the soil level, but the area is still pretty small, and not very high.

FYI... the local soil is very high in fine sand with a little silt, and almost no clay

To do this cheaply, the wall-mart topsoil is like $1.50 a bag
and i already have 2 bags.

and thats just the FIRST papaya plant
Then i cant start on area 2, 3 and 4 :)

(1 more Papaya, 1 guava, and still thinking of what else i want to plant)

So whats in cheap topsoil ?

Does it drain well ?
Does it have any organic material ?
Is anything in it that would hurt my papaya ??

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: what is in cheap topsoil ??

First, "topsoil" is a very generic term that is applied to all sorts of soil products, some good, some bad. Factually, 'topsoil' is the first 4-6 inches of indigenous soil before any clearning, construction or cultivation takes place. One hardly finds anything like that in bagged "topsoil" :-)

Bagged soil products can be just about anything - there is really no regulation on what can or cannot be contained in them. But it is good to remember that the cheaper the product, the lower the quality is most likely to be. IOW, you get what you pay for :-) Your bagged topsoil may be junk, filled with rocks and debris, may contain heavy metals or other contaimnates and may not provide much in the way of good drainage either. Or it may be just fine - absolutely no way to tell at this point!

It is always cheaper to buy soil products in bulk rather than bagged if you need anything more than just a couple of bags. And with bulk goods, you get to see what you are getting as well. Most providers of bulk soil products will sell something called a 'garden mix' or a 3-way mix. These are ideal for supplementing exisiting soil conditions or for filling raised beds.They generally contain about equal measures of a sandy loam soil, compost and some sort of drainage enhancer (often bark or coarse sawdust).

FWIW, depending on the size bags of your cheapo Walmart soil - guessing 1.5 cubic feet - you could probably purchase a full cubic yard yard of bulk garden mix soil for an equivalent price (around $30).

RE: what is in cheap topsoil ??

As gardengal stated the term "topsoil" is meaningless. While it may indicate a pretty decent soil it may also indicate junk. Soil is composed of a mineral, the sand, silt, and clay particles, and organic matter and is classified by the ratio of each component so sandy soils would have a lot of the sand particles and almost no clay or silt particles. The only way to know what is in any particular bag of soil is to look into it. What any bag of soil might contain can vary from not only who bags it but when it was bagged, the same supplier may use multiple soil sources.

1) Soil test for organic matter. From that soil sample put enough of the rest to make a 4 inch level in a clear 1 quart jar, with a tight fitting lid. Fill that jar with water and replace the lid, tightly. Shake the jar vigorously and then let it stand for 24 hours. Your soil will settle out according to soil particle size and weight. For example, a good loam will have about 1-3/4 inch (about 45%) of sand on the bottom. about 1 inch (about 25%) of silt next, about 1 inch (25%) of clay above that, and about 1/4 inch (about 5%) of organic matter on the top.

RE: what is in cheap topsoil ??

"Whats in cheap topsoil"?
It depends. It's usualy whatever was removed where somone needed a hole in the earth for a swimming pool or somthing else. Considering the amount of backfill you will need for your projects,it is far cheaper to buy 1 cubic yard of soil then amened it as it's used. A bag usualy contains 2/3rds of 1 cu ft. 1 cu yd is 27 cu ft. You would need 40 bags to have 1 cu yd so even cheap bagged soil isn't cheap.

RE: what is in cheap topsoil ??

I grow the trees you mention in plain old florida sand with no problems and I'll bet I'm sandier and wetter than you lol
i do add some top soil (timberline ) when first planting
I find that improvements to sand are only temporary . No matter how much you add it breaks down within a year. anyway. You will have to be careful about moisture until established
re reading I noted I said "no problems" lol Soil Is no problem bugs ,birds various fungus occasional droughts ,floods , frosts hurrricanes BIG problems lol
One tip Be sure to pick the varieties that do best in your area!!! good lucjk gary

RE: what is in cheap topsoil ??

Organic matter added to soil is not a permanent amendment and was never meant to be. Ma Nature makes a lot of material, organic, available every year because she planned it that way, to replenish the food base the Soil Food Web needs to feed the plants that grow. No matter your soil type, sand, silt, or clay, adding organic matter will improve it. Adding more of the mineral component, something called "topsoil" is something like adding water to a lake.

This post was edited by kimmsr on Mon, Mar 17, 14 at 6:31

RE: what is in cheap topsoil ??

thanks for the replies.
I will look into a truck, but last time i had looked into ut (years ago) the cheapest i remember was like $60 and that was just to fill a couple of holes.
that was cheap riversand

speaking of riverrsand, Here in New Orleans area, if i dig about 1 ft or more, there is a brown/tan colored very fine sand. The whole neighborhood is built on it... We used to be a swamp, it was filled in.

The bagged topsoil from wall-mart has a grey color when next to the soil here.

My papaya actually does grow fairly well in this riversand, but i know it needs a bit more organic material. i am composting coffee grounds, and i had even added some grounds a couple of months ago to the few places i am planting. They bring worms, and papaya love worm poo
- and you may be sandier, but not wetter :)
sometimes it will rain for 3 days straight here, turning everything to mush, and washing away most organics.

RE: what is in cheap topsoil ??

If you want to know more about the soil you have these simple soil tests can help.
1) Soil test for organic matter. From that soil sample put enough of the rest to make a 4 inch level in a clear 1 quart jar, with a tight fitting lid. Fill that jar with water and replace the lid, tightly. Shake the jar vigorously and then let it stand for 24 hours. Your soil will settle out according to soil particle size and weight. For example, a good loam will have about 1-3/4 inch (about 45%) of sand on the bottom. about 1 inch (about 25%) of silt next, about 1 inch (25%) of clay above that, and about 1/4 inch (about 5%) of organic matter on the top.

2) Drainage. Dig a hole 1 foot square and 1 foot deep and fill that with water. After that water drains away refill the hole with more water and time how long it takes that to drain away. Anything less than 2 hours and your soil drains’ too quickly and needs more organic matter to slow that drainage down. Anything over 6 hours and the soil drains too slowly and needs lots of organic matter to speed it up.

3) Tilth. Take a handful of your slightly damp soil and squeeze it tightly. When the pressure is released the soil should hold together in that clump, but when poked with a finger that clump should fall apart.

4) Smell. What does your soil smell like? A pleasant, rich earthy odor? Putrid, offensive, repugnant odor? The more organic matter in your soil the more active the soil bacteria will be and the nicer your soil will smell.

5) Life. How many earthworms per shovel full were there? 5 or more indicates a pretty healthy soil. Fewer than 5, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, indicates a soil that is not healthy.

RE: what is in cheap topsoil ??

Im also looking for soil. to be honest, I dont know where to begin to get a truck of soil, and even if I did, I cant easily transport it to its destination in the yard from wherever I might have them dump it.

I see home depot sells 40lbs of "topsoil" for 1.37 and also sells 40lbs of manure for 1.77, sand for $3. Could I get the former, test it with the jar of water, and add the latter to get the desired ratios if necessary?

RE: what is in cheap topsoil ??

I never gardened in sandy soil, but I am awake at 6 AM here in Pa. I think compost, peat moss and pine bark fines added to your native soil may help. Adding some of that fertilizer that releases over the spring/summer will help, since the pine bark may use some nitrogen to break down the bark. And MULCH. Mulching, in my yard anyway, can be the difference between a nice healthy plant, and a dried up piece of crap.

RE: what is in cheap topsoil ??

bauerbach, most everyplace in the United States has landscape supply houses that sell soil by the yard and deliver it to you. The soil in bags at the big box stores is pretty expensive, even at $1.37 per 2 cubic foot bag. You would need 13 plus of those bags of soil for one cubic yard.
Organic matter, compost and other forms of vegetative waste, added to soil would be a big benefit. Keep in mind that Ma Nature provides huge amounts of organic matter every year for most people, and many people expend large amounts of time, energy, and money raking up, bagging up, and paying someone to haul away that organic matter in the fall so in the spring they can go to the garden center and buy peat moss, a non renewable resource, to replace what they threw away the previous fall.

RE: what is in cheap topsoil ??

Not sure if they do this in your area, but our local landfill sells dirt and mulch that they make there. Some even sell compost. It is very very cheap compared to storebought. May be worth checking into.

RE: what is in cheap topsoil ??

Bauerbach: you can blend those products, but I would avoid the sand and start with topsoil and compost, about 3:1 ratio and see how it goes.

Bagged topsoil varies by region. Wal-Mart (or any other store) does not have a national topsoil factory somewhere making consistent product. The stuff at my stores comes from some contractor 30 miles away. You have to look at it yourself and see what it is.

I have also seen bags of 'topsoil' that were essentially compost, and bags of 'compost' with more mineral content than some of the 'topsoil'. All the more reason to find a torn bag to examine, or poke a discreet hole. ;-]

RE: what is in cheap topsoil ??

If it is the Scott's brand it is sand, a small amount of some kind of dirt, and then a lot of shredded tree humus, and composted manure. For a tree transplant I would use it with some soil conditioner. The conditioner is a mix of mostly bark fines, composted cow manure, and wee tiny bit of super fine sand. Mix it fifty fifty with the top soil, and then fifty fifty with the native soil. You can use the left over soil conditioner as mulch, and top dressing.

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