When it comes to your lawn,
 gardening, or landscaping projects it’s important to know the difference between lawn soil and topsoil. These terms are often used interchangeably, but they are actually quite different. Let’s take a look at the key differences and similarities between the two.

Composition, Density, and Nutritional Content


Lawn soil is composed of rocks, clay, and compacted dirt, whereas topsoil contains loose dirt, sand, healthy microbes, and organic matter.  


Density + Nutritional Content

Lawn soil is denser and more compact than topsoil. Topsoil’s looser density allows it to better absorb nutrients from the sun, air, and water.


Lawn Soil

Lawn soil often contains rocks, clay, and compacted dirt making it dense and heavy. Using too much lawn soil when attempting to establish new grass in your yard can limit growth and cause drainage issues. Rocks and clay contained in lawn soil can impede drainage and slow grass growth. 

Lawn soil is often sold in bulk to fill large holes and level soil on commercial and residential properties.  

lawn soil


Topsoil contains loose dirt, sand, healthy microbes and other organic materialsTopsoil is packed with nutrients and is much less dense than lawn soil, making it better able to absorb nutrients from the water, sun, and air. Its loose and lightweight properties make topsoil perfect to encourage new root growth in lawns and gardens.  Sand typically found in topsoil helps promote filtration and water retention.  
Topsoil is readily available at garden and home improvement stores.

Lawn Soil vs Topsoil: When to Use?

While both soil types are used in lawns and gardens, determining how much lawn soil and topsoil to use can be tricky – too much of either soil type can produce undesirable results. However, by combining the two soils in the right proportions, you can achieve optimal results.  

Each soil type serves a specific purpose. Rocks and clay in typical lawn soil often create less than desirable conditions for growing new grass making topsoil essential. In contrast, adding too much topsoil can cause root suffocation and drainage problems. Excessive topsoil can also leave soft, uneven spots in the lawn leading to fungal growth, mold, and weeds. 


Lawn Soil vs Topsoil: Commonly Used

  • The general rule of thumb is to use topsoil for the top 3-6 inches of the lawn.
  • Lawn soil is often used to fill large holes and level soil on commercial and residential properties. 


If soil is too compact or contains too much clay, topsoil can be mixed into the exiting lawn soil. This process aerates the soil and helps to cycle the nutrients.  If soil is too compact or filled with clay – till until loose, then add topsoil and rake into existing lawn soil. 

Over time, topsoil naturally changes to lawn soil as it becomes compacted and saturated. 

rake clearing soil of rocks and sticks in preparation for new sod
wheelbarrow full of compost for topdressing lawn


Spreading a thin layer of topsoil, knowing as topdressing, annually helps rejuvenate the lawn’s soil while allowing existing grass to grow through. 

Soil Testing

The soil under your lawn feeds your grass, shrubs and trees, and over time, important nutrients become depleted, affecting the health of your grass and other plants. 

In addition, your soil’s pH level may become too acidic or too alkaline to support healthy growth. Testing your soil gives you detailed information, so you can feed your grass, shrubs and trees the balanced diet they need for optimum health.  

soil testing bags from local extension office

Always test your soil before laying new sod or planting new trees or shrubs. For established lawns and landscapes, the rule of thumb is to test every two to three years before fertilizing in the spring. 

Home testing kits are available at home and garden centers, but for a small fee, you can send soil samples through your local extension service for thorough testing and expert recommendations. 

one year NG Turf sod warranty seal


Have more questions about caring for your lawn? The Certified Turfgrass Professionals at NG Turf are happy to answer any lawn care questions you may have. Give us a call at 770-832-8608 or email 

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