What is Soil? Knowing the Difference Between Soil and Dirt

difference between soil and dirt

Spring is in the air, and it’s almost time to start clearing out and setting up this year’s garden. As you prepare your yard, have you considered the differences between soil and dirt? Often these two words are used interchangeably, but there are some differences in what many people mean when they use one or the other more specifically. The kind of earth you use in your garden could make a big difference in how well your plants grow over the coming months. To help you get started, Ranger Mac will take a closer look at the difference between soil and dirt, and what makes soil so important.

Soil vs. Dirt

To begin with, let’s go over the difference between soil and dirt before you start your gardening for the year:

Dirt - This is a substance that’s often rocky and lacking in good nutrients and microbes that a healthy plant would need to grow. To know if what you are using is just plain dirt, simply add some water to a handful. If it’s dirt, it won’t compact down well at all and will probably just wash away. Due to this substance lacking any real benefits to growing plants, dirt is not a good gardening medium for you to use.

Soil - This really is the perfect garden medium. It’s rich in nutrients and microbes that your plants will need to thrive. When you pick up this substance in your hands, you’ll notice that it clumps and forms into a loose ball. It can usually do this even without having to add any water to it at all. If you notice any earthworms present in the soil, you can be sure that it’s fertile ground for you to grow your plants in. Worms do not thrive in plain dirt.

What is Soil?

So you just learned more about the differences between soil and dirt, but now let’s look more closely into what exactly makes soil so great for your plants:

Soil is a substance composed of bedrock and mountain stones that are broken down over years by the wind and rain. It’s also comprised of both living and dead plant, animal, and bacteria particles that contribute to the soil over time. In other words, soil is made up of all the elements that have been decomposing since the earth was created!

There’s also clay soil that tends to hold a lot of water and makes it harder for plants to grow. If you happen to have clay soil and want to make it better for your plants, you can add compost. Compost is made up of organic matter that has broken down from what is called 'humus.' It has some nutrient value and helps aerate the soil and improve the drainage. If you’re using worm compost, it’s even better. As the worms eat the food scraps and organic matter, they leave behind nutrient-rich waste that plants love!

If you want to dig further into just what type of soil you have in your garden, you can have it tested. The test will let you know what minerals your soil contains, as well as which minerals it lacks. This information will let you know what type of fertilizer you need to use and which plants you can expect to grow well in your area.

Dirt is Not Soil

The important thing for you to understand before you go out into your garden this spring is that the basic dirt you find in your yard is just that - dirt. Remember that dirt is what you bring in on your shoes after a long day of being outside. It’s just dirty, not something that’s great for the growth of your plants. Unless you’re very lucky with your location, your yard is not made of a soil that will help your plants grow their best.

To create a beautiful, bountiful garden, you’re most likely going to need to add something to your dirt as you plant to create nutrient-rich soil. This could be a bag of topsoil you buy at your local gardening store, some fertilizer, or compost from your own pile. As you start your gardening adventures this spring, you can go talk to the employees at a local gardening shop and see what the best soil for your garden is, based on the area you live in and the plants you want to grow. These gardeners are full of good advice and ideas that can help you grow your best garden yet. So get ready to dig in and put the right soil into your garden this year!

If you want more information on soil, check out Ranger Mac’s blog on soil conservation here!