Whether your vegetables are planted in the ground or in a raised bed, you want your plants to thrive. Because the soil plays an important role in that thriving, you might be wondering if it’s okay to use regular dirt in your garden.
As a general rule, you shouldn’t use regular dirt as your garden’s primary soil. Although people often use dirt and soil interchangeably, they’re actually not the same thing. It’s important to know the difference as a garden’s success is dependent on the quality of its soil.
Read on to learn more about dirt vs soil and what soil is good for your plants.
Using Regular Dirt in Your Garden
Soil is your garden’s lifeblood. That’s why it’s so important to understand the difference between dirt and soil and to know how to give your soil what it needs.
Dirt vs Soil
So what is the difference between dirt and soil? And why shouldn’t you use dirt for your vegetable garden?
Dirt is often dry, dusty, or rocky. When you pick dirt up, it’ll be crumbly and fall apart in your hands.
Dirt is usually devoid of beneficial nutrients or microorganisms. Which are the things a plant needs to survive and thrive.
In other words, a vegetable planted in dirt would struggle.
Soil, on the other hand, is rich and full of nutrients. According to the Soil Science Society of America, soil is “a mixture of minerals, dead and living organisms (organic materials), air, and water”.
Soil will be darker in color. And when you hold soil in your hand, you should be able to form a ball. This is because the components in soil helps retain moisture and fullness.
In essence, soil supports life, and vegetables planted in soil will have a greater chance of thriving.
What Soil Should I Use for My Vegetable Garden?
An ideal soil combines sand, clay, and silt. Sand helps with drainage, clay helps with water retention and silt helps to bind everything together. In the right proportions, this combination will produce loamy soil that encourages good bacteria and microorganisms to flourish.
For vegetables planted in the ground, you want rich garden soil, which can be bought in bulk or by the bag. Look for soil specific for gardens, or for growing fruits and vegetables.
You can also buy soils that combine different mediums. In Ontario, we have what’s called triple mix, which is a combination of good topsoil, compost, and peat moss. Check with your local garden centers to see what type of product is available in your area.
To learn more about bagged soils, check out my article on the subject. You’ll find it helpful.
You can also formulate your own soil by using your own combination of materials such as high-quality topsoil, manure, mulch, and sand, to name a few. Even if you’re new to gardening, experiment a little to see what promising combination you can create.
If you’re unsure of your soil’s viability, then test your soil to see its composition. Soil testing kits are available at local garden centers or online. Or you can have the soil tested through your local agricultural services center.
Raised Bed Garden
When it comes to a raised garden bed, you also want to have rich soil. However, you shouldn’t use soils specific for inground gardens. Nor should you use dense, heavy soils, such as a triple mix. In raised garden beds with bottoms, these soils can become too compacted and may not drain properly.
There are soils tailored to raised beds. If you’re new to gardening, using this type of soil may be a good option. If you do want to use heavier soil, make sure to mix in sand or perlite, or another medium. This will help keep the soil aerated and draining well. This article from Better Homes & Gardens reviews other things to consider with a raised garden bed.
7 Ways to Turn Dirt into Good Soil
If your soil is more dirt-like than soil-like, don’t panic. Here are seven ways you can help turn your soil into a richer loam.
- Mix in a commercial soil, such as garden soil, into your existing soil.
- Amend your soil with compost.
- Add manure to your soil (Tip: don’t add fresh manure or add an excessive amount).
- Add a layer of mulch between your plants. This will help hold water and provide food for the living organisms in the soil.
- Increase nutrients organically by adding things like worm castings, banana peels, or fish tank water.
- Don’t walk on the soil. This helps reduce compaction.
- Rotate your crops each year. Different crops need different nutrients, so rotation helps with nutrient depletion.
Remember, amending soil is not a one-and-done task. Each year, take steps to keep your soil healthy and full of life.
Can I Mix Regular Dirt with Soil
You can mix soil with dirt. Adding healthy soil to dirt will help make your ground more suitable for growing your vegetables. And over time, as you mix in more rich soil each year and follow the above steps, your garden soil can become a healthy, thriving ecosystem.
However, before you start amending your dirt, keep this in mind.
First, don’t just grab any old bag of topsoil and dump it onto your dirt. Not all topsoils are equal. Topsoil comes from the first several inches of a section of ground. Depending on where that section came from, that topsoil can either be good quality or poor quality (almost as poor as your dirt). So it’s important you know the topsoil you’re using is high-quality.
If your current soil has a lot of clay, then add compost or another organic matter. Don’t add sand.
If your current soil is very sandy or dry, then add a medium, such as peat moss or coconut coir to help with water retention.
If you’re starting your gardening journey, your best bet is to begin adding high-quality garden soil and some compost, then layer the top with mulch.
- You should not use only dirt in your garden.
- There is a difference between dirt and soil.
- Rich, loamy soil meant for gardens is the best type of soil for your vegetables.
- Don’t use too heavy a soil in a raised bed with a bottom.
- You can amend your poor soil to bring it back to health.
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