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While you’re researching the keys to a great garden or backyard, you might see “dirt” and “soil” come up a lot. They’re just different terms for the same stuff, right?

Not so fast. Although the two terms are used interchangeably, buying a bag of soil and buying a bag of dirt will give you two very different materials for different purposes. The differences between the two are simple, but important to know before you start your next landscaping project.

Soil Is Alive. Dirt Is Dead.

That’s the basic difference between dirt and soil. So what brings life to soil?

Soil is composed of minerals, nutrients, air, water, and living creatures (plants, small insects, and so on) that serve as the environment for growing and decomposing plant life. Soil is compacted over time and is amassed in different layers.

Dirt does not have any of these living creatures. Usually, if soil is transported to an area where it cannot thrive, the microorganisms and living creatures die. What’s left is clay, sand, or other sedimentary particles that make up the base of both dirt and soil.

How Do I Bring Dirt Back to Life?

By adding organic matter, or compost, you can begin to bring your dirt back to life and make it suitable for gardening and growing plants. By adding earthworms (which you can get at any local garden store), you can speed up the process: earthworms and other microorganisms are responsible for turning organic matter into the nutrients and energy that plants need.

Uses for Soil and Dirt

Soil (of which there are multiple types) is best for growing plants: the nutrients and microorganisms alive in soil help plants to grow and thrive. Some types of soil are better than others for growing plants, but you will have much better luck growing flowers or vegetables in soil than you will in dirt.

Dirt has its uses, too, especially in landscaping or preparing a garden. Consider the following projects for which you’ll need quite a bit of dirt:

  • Leveling Out a Landscape
  • Creating Berms
  • Building the Foundation for a Raised Bed

For some of these projects, it’s best to use a dirt base and then add about 1 foot of soil on top to allow plants and grasses to flourish on top of the structures you’re creating.

What If You Have Excess Dirt?

Many gardening or landscaping projects require you to replace dirt with soil. If you’ve got excess dirt in your backyard or property, don’t let it just take up space. Call DirtMatch today and we’ll help you with dirt removal and transporting it to someone who needs it.

To grow a healthy garden or a beautiful landscape, you need a hearty layer of topsoil that will fit your growing needs (and work with the climate you live in).

Topsoil is exactly that: it’s the soil sits on the outermost layer of the Earth. It’s easy to access and dig through for gardeners and anyone making shallow impressions in the ground. It’s also the layer of Earth where seeds germinate and plants begin to grow.

Different types of topsoil have different benefits, but in general, all topsoil is made from the same few ingredients. Let’s go through the basics of what we can find in topsoil:

Clay, Sand, and Silt

You’ll find these particles in dirt and in soil. Different combinations of each will determine the density and abilities of your topsoil. The different amounts of clay, sand and silt you find in your topsoil will typically depend on the source of your topsoil and your location. Each ingredient will have different benefits for different types of growing.

So what’s the difference?

Sand has particles that are big in size, making it easy for air to circulate. Sand is found in more coastal areas, and is great for growing root vegetables. These types of vegetables require more water drainage and less water retention.

Clay, on the other hand, can hold more water, and is better suited for growing in dry areas. Clay topsoil is especially dense, as the particles are smaller and easy to pack together.

Silt is a sedimentary particle that is sized somewhere between sand and clay. Soil that is compromised of more silt will provide a nice balance between water drainage and air circulation. It is extremely fertile soil. It’s typically found in areas near floodplains.

Different types of topsoil will contain different proportions of all of these particles, but "just right” topsoil aims to be 60% sand, 15% clay, and 25% silt.

Organic Matter

Topsoil is unique because it has the highest concentration of organic matter compared to other types of soil or dirt. Organic matter is the leftover material from plants: roots, stems, leaves, etc.

When a plant dies, the organic matter is left to nourish the topsoil and any new plants that will grow from the topsoil. Decomposed organic matter is also commonly called “humus.”

Nutrients

As organic matter decomposes, it breaks down and leaves the topsoil with nutrients at the most basic level. These nutrients include, but are not limited to:

  • Carbon
  • Nitrogen
  • Calcium
  • Sulfur
  • Potassium
  • Phosphorous

All of these nutrients have their own benefits, and are required for healthy plant growth.

The Importance of Bugs

The presence of worms, beetles, and other small insects are also common and healthy for topsoil functions. Worms in particular are great for helping plants and organic matter decompose faster.

Getting nutrient-rich topsoil is a key element to growing a healthy and lively garden. Additionally, there are other benefits that topsoil can provide. To learn more about how topsoil can help you – and which is best for your needs – contact DirtMatch today.

To start a garden project, you just need some soil, right? Not so fast. Soil can be composed of wildly different combinations of particles, from clay to silt to soil and more.

Each of these particles will have different benefits for your next gardening or soil-related project. To get the most out of your next projects – whatever it may be – make sure to use the soil that will make your plants grow the best.

Let’s explore what makes up different types of soil and their uses:

1. Sandy Soil

Sandy particles are some of the largest particles you’ll find in soil. The size of sand particles makes it difficult for water to stay in the ground for long enough to nourish growing plant life.

However, there are certain plants that excel in sandy soil: tulips, hibiscus, watermelons, peanuts, and peaches are just some of the plants that you can try to plant in a more sandy soil.

2. Clay Soil

Clay soil and sandy soil are often viewed as opposites. Where sandy soil thrives, clay soil fails – and vice versa. Clay soil’s density and small particles make it great for water retention and drier climates. However, it’s harder for air to circulate and water to drain through clay soil.

We recommend planting leafy greens in clay soil, as well as peas, tomatoes, peppers, roses, and asters.

3. Silty Soil

Silt is a sedimentary particle that is smaller than sand, but larger than clay. Its size allows it to enjoy a nice balance between circulating air and retaining water.

We definitely recommend choosing a more silty soil if you have a wide variety of plants in your garden: it can produce wonderful flowers, shrubs, and grasses.

4. Peaty Soil

You can recognize peaty soil from its darker color. It is high in organic matter and nutrients to feed and nourish plants, keeping plants protected through dry or wet weather. Shrubs like witch hazel excel in peaty soil.

Before you plant in peaty soil, however, you need to drain it. Peaty soil is usually high in water content. This type of soil is also great for regulating and balancing the pH levels of more basic soil.

5. Chalky Soil

Chalky soil is quite acidic (with pH levels around 7.5), which makes it less ideal for growing plants. Chalk deposits make this soil hard to work with and difficult for plants to grow in.

Chalky soils are more popular in the United Kingdom, where gardeners reserve them for growing herbs.

6. Loamy Soil

This is typically regarded as the ideal soil for growing plants and gardens. It usually contains sand, silt, clay, and humus (decomposed organic matter.)

With a pH of 6 and high calcium content, loamy soil allows plants to grow to their true potential. Loamy soil allows for a good balance of water retention and drainage, as well as circulation.

All of the plants we recommended for clay soil, as well as root vegetables, will grow wonderfully in loamy soil. Adding compost to loamy soil will enhance its growing abilities even more.

7. Saline Soil

If you see a white layer on top of your soil, you might have saline soil. This type of soil contains a high amount of salt, which can stunt plant growth and slow irrigation. There are not many plants who will thrive – or even begin to grow – in saline soil.

After you choose the plants you want to grow in your garden, you’ll need to figure out which types of soil will help them to grow to their true potential.

If you need help figuring out which soil is optimal for you – and where to find it – give DirtMatch a call for all of your soil and dirt needs.

When you’re landscaping, building, or doing any project that requires digging up a lot of dirt, eventually you’ve got to get rid of it. It’s one of the more frustrating parts of any project – without even going into the actual costs of dirt disposal!

Eventually, though, you have to deal with those costs. And if you have handled a number of these types of projects over the past several years, you may have noticed that the price for the disposal of dirt can change from project to project – why? And why has the cost of dirt disposal risen over the past few years?

There’s no simple answer, but we’ve got some the reasons why:

More Houses and Less Land = More Dirt Being Removed

To build a house, builders like to remove about 3 feet of dirt and soil in terms of depth. To build a house with a basement, they have to remove even more.

In the past, dirt could be moved or dispersed around to level out the surrounding area. But as more houses are being built and less nearby land is available to developers, there are fewer places for dirt to be dispersed.

Less land that is appealing to builders and developers is available as well. Rather than choosing an area that is already level, developers may have to build on sloping land. This will require even more dirt to be removed so the area can be level.

More Regulations on Dirt Disposal

Environmental agencies have made it harder to just dispose of dirt wherever you see fit. As we discover that more building materials may be hazardous (such as lead), we’ve also learned that the surrounding dirt may have been affected by those materials.

If you are building near an area where lead or other hazardous materials may be present, environmental agencies want to know about it and prevent it from being spread to neighboring houses. State and federal regulations vary, but definitely provide roadblocks in trying to cheaply or casually dispose of dirt.

Fewer Landfills to Use

In the past, you could easily send unwanted dirt to a landfill. It’s not so easy nowadays, since fewer landfills accept dirt from construction or landscaping projects.

Some landfills completely refuse to take dirt, while others have composition requirements (too much grass or too many roots will increase the cost of disposal dramatically).

Dirt Disposal Alternatives

All of the above factors have contributed to the simple principal of supply and demand, which explains why simply disposing of dirt has become increasingly expensive. To sum it up: there are fewer places to dispose of dirt, so dirt disposal costs have skyrocketed.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

One of the most frustrating parts of dirt disposal is knowing that somewhere, a construction project is trying to get their hands on the dirt you’re trying to get rid of.

There are ways to find construction companies and other agents who could benefit from the dirt you have to dispose. To learn how, contact DirtMatch today.

If you are reading this blog post then it must mean you are as excited about dirt as I am (probably not) but the fact is that all dirt is not created equal and the different qualities that each possess make a big difference on what you are using it for. Soil is found absolutely everywhere, and consists of rocks that have broken down, due to both nature and man, into their constituent materials, including minerals, metals, and fossils. Soils are distinguished by not only their makeup, but also how big the particles are that make up the soil. I will break dirt down into 4 main categories but realize that there are lots of different classifications that lie between these.

Different Types of Soil

Soil is perhaps the most important aspect in successfully growing plants and vegetables, though not all soils are able to sustain plant life. Sometimes, different materials must be added to soil in order for it to be used for farming or gardening. Whereas if you are using the dirt to fill and compact a deep void you will be more concerned with the stability of the dirt over the nutrient content.

• Clay Soil

Clay has tiny particles (less than .002mm), making it ideal for water retention, and resulting in slower draining, as well as the ability to better hold nutrients. Because very little air is able to pass through its smaller particles, clay tends to take a while to heat up in the warmer months, and when it dries out, it may become difficult to work with, as it gets heavy, dry, and compact, making it hard to turn. Leafy veggies, peas, tomatoes, and peppers all thrive in clay, as do roses, heleniums, and asters.

When compacting clay soil it is very important to monitor the moisture content closely. Adding water to achieve optimum moisture will help you compact to your specifications. The problem is that if you add too much water it is very difficult to “dry” it out. As a general and broad test you can squeeze a handful of your clay soil and it should form to your inner fist. If the dirt squeezes through your fingers it is too wet and if it crumbles in your hand without forming your fist it is too dry. Clay soil is highly expansive and expands and contracts with moisture.

• Silty Soil

Smooth to the touch, silty soil retains water pretty well, and is very fertile, however, it does lacks some nutrients. If you have this type of soil in your garden, avoid stepping on it, as it becomes compacted quite easily, and may require aeration. The particles in this soil are tiny, and it is great for agricultural use. Almost all fruits and vegetables can thrive in silty soil, and the plants that work well in it include milkweed, and yellow iris.

• Loamy Soil

A gardener’s dream but a compaction nightmare, loamy soil is a combination of silt, sand, and clay, as well as a bit of humus. Its pH is around 6, and its calcium levels are high, and, along with its ability to retain water and nutrients, as well as its aeration, loamy soil is ideal for crops and plants, such as tomatoes, potatoes, and carrots, as well as roses and marigolds, among many others. Looking to grow other healthy crops and veggies? If your purpose is to compact a void Loamy soil will likely result in settling (Sinkage) in the future as the organic materials decompose.

• Sandy Soil

Containing the largest particles of all the soils, sandy soil is one of the worst types to try to grow plant life in. Because of the large particles, there’s a lot of space in between them, making it difficult for water to be retained. Roots have a tough time taking hold, as they cannot reach down far enough to where the water drains down to. The types of plant life that are able to thrive in sandy soil include: tulips, hibiscus, and cistus, as well as watermelons, peanuts, and peaches. Sand soil is great for compaction as is non-expansive and easy to control the moisture content while compacting. Because the particles are large water passes easier through and creates a more consistent moisture.

In geotechnical engineering, soil compaction is the process in which a stress applied to a soil causes densification as air is displaced from the pores between the soil grains. When stress is applied that causes densification due to water (or other liquid) being displaced from between the soil grains then consolidation, not compaction, has occurred. Normally, compaction is the result of heavy machinery compressing the soil, but it can also occur due to the passage of (e.g.) animal feet. Soil compaction is usually a combination of both engineering compaction and consolidation, so may occur due to a lack of water in the soil, the applied stress being internal suction due to water evaporation as well as due to passage of animal feet. Affected soils become less able to absorb rainfall, thus increasing runoff and erosion. Plants have difficulty in compacted soil because the mineral grains are pressed together, leaving little space for air and water, which are essential for root growth. Burrowing animals also find it a hostile environment, because the denser soil is more difficult to penetrate. The ability of a soil to recover from this type of compaction depends on climate, mineralogy and fauna. Soils with high shrink-swell capacity, such as vertisols, recover quickly from compaction where moisture conditions are variable (dry spells shrink the soil, causing it to crack). But clays which do not crack as they dry cannot recover from compaction on their own unless they host ground-dwelling animals such as earthworms — the Cecil soil series is an example.

A crawler-backhoe is here equipped with a narrow sheepsfoot roller to compact the fill over newly placed sewer pipe, forming a stable support for a new road surface.

A compactor/roller fitted with a sheepsfoot drum, operated by U.S. Navy Seabees.

A Hamm vibrating roller with plain drum as used for compacting asphalt and granular soils.

Wacker Neuson vibratory rammer BS 60-2i in action.

In construction

Soil compaction is a vital part of the construction process. It is used for support of structural entities such as building foundations, roadways, walkways, and earth retaining structures to name a few. For a given soil type certain properties may deem it more or less desirable to perform adequately for a particular circumstance. In general, the preselected soil should have adequate strength, be relatively incompressible so that future settlement is not significant, be stable against volume change as water content or other factors vary, be durable and safe against deterioration, and possess proper permeability.
When an area is to be filled or backfilled the soil is placed in layers called lifts. The ability of the first fill layers to be properly compacted will depend on the condition of the natural material being covered. If unsuitable material is left in place and backfilled, it may compress over a long period under the weight of the earth fill, causing settlement cracks in the fill or in any structure supported by the fill. In order to determine if the natural soil will support the first fill layers, an area can be proofrolled. Proofrolling consists of utilizing a piece heavy construction equipment (typically, heavy compaction equipment or hauling equipment) to roll across the fill site and watching for deflections to be revealed. These areas will be indicated by the development of rutting, pumping, or ground weaving.
To ensure adequate soil compaction is achieved, project specifications will indicate the required soil density or degree of compaction that must be achieved. These specifications are generally recommended by a geotechnical engineer in a geotechnical engineering report.
The soil type - that is, grain-size distributions, shape of the soil grains, specific gravity of soil solids, and amount and type of clay minerals, present - has a great influence on the maximum dry unit weight and optimum moisture content. It also has a great influence on how the materials should be compacted in given situations. Compaction is accomplished by use of heavy equipment. In sands and gravels, the equipment usually vibrates, to cause re-orientation of the soil particles into a denser configuration. In silts and clays, a sheepsfoot roller is frequently used, to create small zones of intense shearing, which drives air out of the soil.
Determination of adequate compaction is done by determining the in-situ density of the soil and comparing it to the maximum density determined by a laboratory test. The most commonly used laboratory test is called the Proctor compaction test and there are two different methods in obtaining the maximum density. They are the standard Proctor and modified Proctor tests; the modified Proctor is more commonly used. For small dams, the standard Proctor may still be the reference.
While soil under structures and pavements needs to be compacted, it is important after construction to decompact areas to be landscaped so that vegetation can grow.

Compaction methods

There are several means of achieving compaction of a material. Some are more appropriate for soil compaction than others, while some techniques are only suitable for particular soils or soils in particular conditions. Some are more suited to compaction of non-soil materials such as asphalt. Generally, those that can apply significant amounts of shear as well as compressive stress, are most effective.

The available techniques can be classified as:

  1. Static - a large stress is slowly applied to the soil and then released.
  2. Impact - the stress is applied by dropping a large mass onto the surface of the soil.
  3. Vibrating - a stress is applied repeatedly and rapidly via a mechanically driven plate or hammer. Often combined with rolling compaction (see below).
  4. Gyrating - a static stress is applied and maintained in one direction while the soil is a subjected to a gyratory motion about the axis of static loading. Limited to laboratory applications.
  5. Rolling - a heavy cylinder is rolled over the surface of the soil. Commonly used on sports pitches. Roller-compactors are often fitted with vibratory devices to enhance their effectiveness.
  6. Kneading - shear is applied by alternating movement in adjacent positions. An example, combined with rolling compaction, is the 'sheepsfoot' roller used in waste compaction at landfills.

Test methods in laboratory

Soil compactors are used to perform test methods which cover laboratory compaction methods used to determine the relationship between molding water content and dry unit weight of soils. Soil placed as engineering fill is compacted to a dense state to obtain satisfactory engineering properties such as, shear strength, compressibility, or permeability. In addition, foundation soils are often compacted to improve their engineering properties. Laboratory compaction tests provide the basis for determining the percent compaction and molding water content needed to achieve the required engineering properties, and for controlling construction to assure that the required compaction and water contents are achieved. Test methods such as EN 13286-2, EN 13286-47, ASTM D698, ASTM D1557, AASHTO T99, AASHTO T180, AASHTO T193, BS 1377:4 provide soil compaction testing procedures.