Beneath every good garden, is good garden topsoil. In this blog, we discuss what “good topsoil” is and where you can find it.
What is good garden topsoil?
Any horticulturist will tell you that certain plants prefer certain soils. Rhododendrons and azaleas for example like an acidic soil. Carrots do well in sandy soil and roses like really rich soil.
Good garden topsoil has a nice friable texture. It's easy to work with and has a good mixture of minerals and organic matter.
My own personal preference for growing food is a slightly darker coloured soil than this. Dark colour hints that there is plenty of organic matter in there. If this were in my garden I'd mix in a richer soil before planting veggies or turf.
I grow a wide variety of flowers and food in my garden and polytunnel. And, because my birthstone is Libra, I try to keep everything happy. Does that mean different soils in each section of the garden? No way! For one thing I don’t think my budget could stretch to that, for another I don’t have the energy for all the work of changing it.
So, I work with what’s there and every time I embark upon a new project, I do what I can to marry the plants and the soil.
For me, good garden topsoil is a general purpose soil that is easy to handle and supports most of the things I plan to grow in my garden.
In the vegetable garden
I try to grow a variety of fruit and veg. Strawberries, root vegetables, cabbage, onions, peas, beans and salad leaves are the “go-to” favourites. If I were growing them for profit, I’d probably work harder on the soil. But instead I’ve bought in some good quality topsoil and used it to fill raised beds.
I do like working with raised beds. I can control the soil type by buying in topsoil from outside the garden if I need to.
I wanted soil that would be well drained but water retentive. Have plenty of organic matter in it so that it’s rich in nutrients. And not too many stones – wonky carrots taste just as good as any other but they’re devilishly difficult to peel.
Eco-earth has proven to be ideal for the veg patch. It’s a blend of compost, soil and minerals created by a Scottish Company who understand exactly what is needed.
I’ve also used eco-earth in my polytunnel for growing tomatoes. If I were a rose grower, I’d probably use it for rose beds too. When there’s any left in the bag, I use it for mulching fruit bushes.
Topsoil for turfing and general use
Now, if your whole garden has poor soil in it, it will cost an arm and a leg to replace the whole lot. So for general use, you need something that’s good but cost effective.
If I were you I'd steer away from the newspaper ads that offer cheap soil. Unless of course you are confident you understand soil and can examine it before you buy.
This soil I like. It' crumbles nicely in the hand and it's a rich dark colour. Perfect soil for amenity landscaping and turfing.
For turfing, remember that it’s going to be very difficult to alter the soil in any way once the turf has been laid. Yes you can feed the lawn and you can top-dress it, but it’s very hard indeed to correct issues with drainage. Or indeed to make amends for big stones under the surface.
If the budget will stretch to it, adding some eco-earth to existing soil is a great way to build a robust base for your turf. If you need to save some pennies, my second best choice for turfing topsoil is screened agricultural topsoil. If it’s good enough for farmers, it’s good enough for me.
For general gardening, that screened topsoil is super stuff. Especially if, after planting, you add a 5cm layer of bark mulch to keep the moisture in and the weeds out.
Topsoil for wildflowers
The art of growing wildflowers in the garden is becoming more and more popular in Scotland. And rightly so. Wildflowers are a great way to help beneficial insects, they’re very low maintenance and of course, they’re absolutely beautiful.
Wildflowers don’t like good garden topsoil. They prefer poor quality soil with low levels of nutrients. They’ve just not adapted to the rich diet that garden plants thrive on.
Low nutrient topsoil in big bags is available from Stewarts Turf who can deliver it to almost anywhere in Scotland. It will soon appear on the website, but until it does, you can phone Eleanor or Dave on 0333 4560019 for more information on prices.
Where to buy good garden topsoil
We’ve already briefly touched on finding a reputable supplier for your topsoil. Cheapest may seem like a bargain but could in fact become a liability.
With a reputable supplier you can be sure that the soil has been screened. In other words it’s been passed over a giant sieve to remove rocks, roots and debris. You can also trust that it has been tested and proven free of nasty contaminants.
You should be able to ask for a certificate listing all the components of the soil and their relative proportions. Unless you are working on an ecologically sensitive project or you really do need a specific type of soil, this is probably overkill. It’s nice to know though.
Stewarts Turf in Edinburgh are a well-respected Company who supply a lot of professional landscapers with turf, topsoil, mulch and lawn care products. They’ve been in business for a very long time which should give you a clue as to how much their regular customers trust them.
The office is run by Dave Murphy and Eleanor Kennaway who are both highly experienced and very knowledgeable about soil. You can ask them anything AND, what I really like about Stewarts Turf is the pricing. Nicely competitive but the price still reflects the quality of the products.