Bagged Top Soil

Raleigh, NC

for all the beginners out there, thought I'd just share this tidbit of wisdom.

We have hard red clay soil. I'd heard the easy way to make garden beds was to make raised beds and fill with storebought bagged topsoil.

Then I created a temporary bed for some newly purchased plants by pouring out the generic brand of top soil from Home Depot, nice rich black dirt, about 10 inches deep and heeling the plants in. Very pricey, but a quick fix. One unopened bag got covered up and forgotten.

Found it 2 years later. Guess what? The bag was rock hard, only 1/3 full, but weighed nearly the same. Opened it and saw it was a solid clump of hard red clay dirt!

Asking around, I discovered the "topsoil" was really our local dirt mixed with sand and compost. I've bought compost and sand in bulk even since.

So, if you need a quick fix or have a small project and have the cash, bagged topsoil is a good quick way to go. But, if you have large beds or need to economize, find out what your soil really needs and add that instead. Many, many gardeners don't bother with soil tests, but it's actually the first thing we should do. Our county extension service tests soil for free.

Vicksburg, MS(Zone 8a)

Isn't it sad that stores will resort to that kind of low-life trickery? They do it with "composted cow manure" too. Most of it is primarily sand. The only brand I've found that isn't is called "Black Kow." It's sold in bright yellow bags with black print on it at Lowe's. I've also found it at our local Co Op. I use several bags of it every year because I can't make enough of my own compost to keep up with my large garden. Thought I'd pass this info on too. It's good for us to keep each other aware of such things.

Raleigh, NC

when you think about it, though naturelover, that's all topsoil is, the underdirt well mixed with organics by insect and worm action. so it's not much of a rip off. but as a beginner, I didn't know that, nor did I know how quickly the organics broke down. But I really didn't want to haul heavy purchased dirt when I already had it.

I've had problems with Black Cow being too hot. Our local 4H clubs and garden societies will sometimes gather manures, compost, and sell in black plastic bags as fundraisers. It's the best!

Tuscaloosa, AL(Zone 7b)

I, too, have hard red clay instead of soil. Unfortunately, I cannot dig it up to amend it. It's so hard, like concrete, that my 22-year-old grandson couldn't dent it with a pick axe. So, I built some raised beds and filled them with purchased soil.

I found much of the bagged soil is really junk. However, I did find one brand carried by both HD and Lowe's here that is good. If I remember correctly, it is bagged in MS. I can't remember the name right off hand, but it comes in a white bag with blue and green writing on it. I do amend it in the fall by adding leaves and by spring the leaves have rotted down nicely.

Another thing that helped my beds was to add coffee grounds. One of the coffee shops here saves them for me, and we pick them up about 3 times a week. The grounds really get the earth worms going. They love it.

I haven't tried Black Cow. There is a brand of composted manure sold here by the local Farmer's Co-op that is really a waste of money, 90% sand. Sure glad I only bought two bags.

The fall before last I tried something different. I laid down several layers of cardboard over the grass and piled leaves on top, then put on a layer of alfalfa pellets, and another layer of leaves. By spring the leaves had all composted down, and stuff grew beautifully in my faux lasagna beds. They did so well and it was so easy and cheap that this last fall I expanded the area.


(Zone 7a)

I used the Black Kow from Lowe's last year and it's wonderful. I filled in a nice space with about 20 bags.

Vicksburg, MS(Zone 8a)

I've used Black Kow for several years and never had it burn anything. I always amend the soil of things I plant in my garden. Maybe that's the trick--I mix it well into the soil I dig out of the planting hole. I know some folks who put it in the bottom of the planting hole and put the plant roots directly on top of it.
glendalekid--are you close to any woods over there in AL? I go to our hunting camp and look for fallen trees that have rotted down and bring home as much of it as I can dig out, including the soil under the rotted tree. I work that into my gardens and the plants just love it! I love free stuff.

Tuscaloosa, AL(Zone 7b)


There is a wooded area right behind our property. It belongs to the next-door neighbor. He would probably not have a problem with me gathering stuff from there, but it's almost a straight-down slope. I would more than likely slip and break my neck going down it. LOL.

I gathered about 40 bags of leaves from the roadside in the fall. I love free stuff, too. Nice of those folks to put them in bags for me.

I've have about half of them spread out in my veggie garden, composting in place. I also used some for winter mulch. I still have a bunch of bags left. After I get everything planted this spring, I'll use the rest of them for mulch around my new plantings and to renew the winter mulch.


Vicksburg, MS(Zone 8a)

Oh gosh--sounds like y'all have land that looks like ours--straight up, straight down, repeat, LOL! But we do have some "relatively" easy-to-access places in the woods and I take full advantage of them. I gather leaves from our drainage ditch out by the road and get hubby to disk them into the garden sometime during the winter. They do wonders for the soil. I started out with really bad "soil" because we had to have our property graded down approx. 20 feet to build the house (the garden spot is behind the house). I have been adding compost goodies for the last five years to build it up and it's finally beginning to make a difference--my garden looks soooo much better! The first garden I had here looked worse than my very first garden I had almost 40 years ago!

Tuscaloosa, AL(Zone 7b)

We are in the hills by Lake Tuscaloosa, so it's really up and down and steep. The red clay is just full of little round rocks, so clearly even though it's a hill now it was once a river bed.

I do see some improvement in the underlying soil where the composted leaves over time are beginning to make a difference even though they are on top.


Raleigh, NC

See now, y'all don't like paying for sand in your manure. I would love that. I buy sand to add to the clay every year. I don't want to buy clay.

The plants I received early were 80 TB irises. my temp bed topsoil was perfect for them, but the Black Kow in the permanent bed was too strong.

Woodway, TX(Zone 8a)

A better amendment for clay soil is organic matter. Sand eventually percolates down into the subsoil. Plus, it doesn't have any nutrients like organic matter does.

Vicksburg, MS(Zone 8a)

I agree dp72. The more compost I add to my clay soil, the softer and more workable it becomes. AND, the better my plants grow in it! The only sand I'd like to add to my soil is greensand (if I can ever find any here locally) because my soil could use the boost of nutrients it would provide.

Raleigh, NC

have heard of greensand but have no idea what it is

Stamford, CT

We love Coast of Maine brand bags of compost and soil amenders. That stuff really is black gold. Remember to mix it with your local soil, 50/50 or so, so the roots don't girdle. Of course the best is your own compost.

Thumbnail by abbyday
Ozone, AR(Zone 6a)

I buy a potting soil made in Canada from a local nursery. But i also live in a hardwood forest and have a steady supply of organic leaf soil.but it takes a long time to make naturally.

Raleigh, NC

forgot to respond to dp and naturelover!

I agree that organics are the best thing to add to clay. But somehow when I add the sand too, it feels better, and by that, I'm talking about when I get down and work in it. It feels better in my hands. and it seems to slow the process of re-clodding. guess that's the best way to put it, it seems to help the clay stay friable.

I grow mostly TB irises, have over 1000 cultivars. They are not as fond of lots of organics, their history starts as desert plants. so sand works for me. in my hosta beds, I don't add sand.

Tuscaloosa, AL(Zone 7b)

In this area they add gypsum to the clay soil for an amendment rather than sand. I don't add either one, because I can't dig the stuff up to work amendments into it.


Raleigh, NC

I add pelletized gypsum, too. just started that two years ago and can't tell yet if it has made a difference.

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