What soil to use for your next garden project
The first step when growing anything in your backyard is to find the right soil for your purpose. From a fertile potting mix for growing vegetables to a sandy overturf to add that little bit extra to your green lawn, it can often feel overwhelming when it comes to choosing a soil – especially when there are so many brands and types to choose from. There are a lot of terms bandied about like Ultra, Premiere or Premium. But what do they really all mean? Let’s break it down.
Breaking it down
There are generally about three categories when it comes to soil mixes—all of which usually fit into a price category. Normal grade soils are not labelled with anything special and these are usually your cheapest option and then there are premium soils which have a few added extras as well as a higher nutrient density. Your top tier soils are next and are usually made with a base free from green waste—these are soils that are built to last for long periods and blended with the highest quality ingredients. With the exception of Western Australia, there is no state-wide enforced standard when it comes to what is known as ‘growing media’—so labelling can often be deceptive when shopping around. To find out what soil best fits your purpose you will need to consider the following things:
- How much time can I put into my growing my plants: If you are time poor it is better to spend a little extra. If however you have time to spare you might want to consider something more cost effective that you can add to and test as you wish.
- How often am I able to water my plants: If you find yourself always forgetting to water your plants it might be worth it to get a high quality blend with a wetting agent included.
- Do I have a budget to stick to: If you have a budget you will need to weight up what is going to more cost effective for you in the short term and long term.
- Do I want something that is eco-friendly: Looking for something eco-friendly that won’t harm the environment, a soil free from green waste might be the way to go.
- Do I want a soil that is consistent in quality: A soil free from green waste is usually more consistent.
So what is the difference?
When it comes to soil, an average-grade soil may provide a more attractive prospect when it comes to price, but you could end up losing in the long term due to some of the common soil pitfalls. Premium soils and high grade soils are blended to last and often use rock substrates or other materials to bulk up the soil. These rock substrates are important as they provide both extra drainage for your plants and they keep your soil level, even when the organic matter in your soil starts to deplete. This is also why soils/ potting mixes labelled as fast release are not necessarily the best type of soil to go for if you want plant growth sustained over long periods. That initial boost may make your plants look green in the first few weeks but won’t continue to feed your plant long term. Customers are often happy to purchase a premium grade soil after trying soil from other large retailers because the soil in their pots has compressed and dropped now that all the nutrients are gone. This is a visible indication the nutrients are all spent in the mix.
That is not to say normal grade soils have no purpose, but if you are looking for something that you won’t need to keep replenishing throughout the year, spending that bit extra is worth it. Your normal grade soils are still filled with organic matter and usually some handy additives and are perfect for using to filling holes and divots. They can also make a great base if you want to make your own growing media or can be used in composting. If you still want to use them in your garden beds, it just means you might need to put more time and effort into making your plants grow by testing the PH, topping up with nutrients and fertilisers, and keeping to a consistent weekly watering schedule.
Different types of soil on the market
There are some soils like fill soils that are used for industrial purposes too, so steer clear of these for your garden beds. Some of the different types of soil you are likely to come across are listed below:
- Fill Soil (Unscreened): Fill Soil is a product that hasn’t been through a screened process. It is perfect for filling behind retaining walls or using to patch up large holes.
- Screened Soil: Also known as a Sandy Loam. Screened Soil is a dark sandy soil and is often used as a base for a garden mix—you can add your own organics and other ingredients for the perfect mix. It’s also suitable to use as an under turf.
- Garden Soil: There can be a few different ingredient combinations for your average garden soil so it is important to read the label and compare. Here at Rock ‘N’ Soil ours is a premium mix with a combination of screened soil, sand, sawdust, chicken manure, ash and compost. Our mix has great drainage capabilities.
- Overturf: Soil labelled as overturf or top dress is a soil with a higher percentage of sand in it’s base and is used to give tired looking lawns a boost. It is used over the top of turf as a way to fill in and level out any holes, protect exposed roots and is mixed to have great drainage capabilities to promote lawn growth.
- Underturf: Also used to help along your turf, underturf is a dark mineral sand with a small amount of organics designed for using under your turf as you are laying it down. It also offers great drainage capabilities and helps establish your new turf with that boost from the organic matter.
- Premium Garden Soil: When it comes to choosing a premium garden soil, look for something with high organic matter. The higher this is, the longer your soil will feed your plant. Our Premium Garden Soil here at Rock ‘N’ Soil features a 30-40% addition of organic content mixed with sand, silt and clay. The balance of this mix allows water and air to penetrate while the organic matter and clay content help to retain the water and nutrients.
Top Tier Soils: Checking your label for green waste
If you are happy to spend that bit extra or are looking for a product where you will get a consistent mix each time, look for a soil free from green waste.
What is green waste you ask? You know when you take a trailer load of junk from your home to the tip and you have the different disposal areas—well usually if you have palm fronds, wood branches or weed clipping to dispose of you will be directed to the Green waste area. This green waste then goes through a process of being broken down and ground to create a base for soils. The organic matter in the green waste continues to break down and mature, providing nutrients and growing your plant.
Now, while you might be thinking—this is great, we are recycling and this green waste is organic so its must be safe to use, there are some issues when it comes to using green waste. Unfortunately there are no set of standards when it comes to green waste, meaning that if people decide they are going to be lazy and chuck in other waste products to the green waste bin; then they might end up in your bag of soil; soil that your pets or kids might play in. This is why sometimes you might find pieces of plastic in your growing media or it might turn a funny colour when you leave it sitting in your garage.
Most soils are made with a base of green waste, but there has been a shift in recent years to move toward something that is healthier for people and something that will not put harmful chemicals or plastics back into the earth and compromise our soil ecosystem. So, if you consider yourself a bit of an eco-warrior make sure you look for a growing media that doesn’t use green waste.
This tier of soil, is also much easier to keep consistent. With green waste batches, each one will be slightly different depending on what combination of organic matter has been donated to the tip that week. Top Tier soils, like the Botando Garden Soil, stocked by Rock ‘N’ Soil, is made from a natural soil base, sourced from the one location—providing that consistency and quality.
If soils had a resume then this would be it! But if you’re still wanting more than we totally understand. That’s what our product info page is for! Perhaps you are hanging out to know how to create you own garden bed? Keep tabs on our how to page for a blog on this topic coming soon. And if there’s anything else, remember you can contact the expert team at Rock n Soil any time!