Understanding the Differences in Bagged Soil Products

| Prepare, Video

When it comes to buying soil for your in-ground or raised garden beds, the bottom line is you get what you pay for, but you have plenty of choices. In this video, I break it all down and show you how to get the best bang for your buck.




When buying soil, if you need more than can fill half a pickup truck — that’s 1 cubic yard — I advise buying in bulk. It’s more economical that way, and in addition to saving money, you can find some really great soil from reputable companies.
If you are buying by the bag, the number of choices can almost be overwhelming when you go to the garden center and look at the sea of choices.

Bag No. 1: Topsoil

Not all topsoil is built the same. Again, you get what you pay for. 

A cheap bag of topsoil for under $2 may look like a deal, but consider what you’re really getting. I opened up a bag and found nothing but semi-composted wood fines. Now, there’s nothing wrong with wood fines when they are a component of a whole, but wood fines should not be your sole topsoil input. 

Bag No. 2: All-Purpose Garden Soil

Next, I opened a bag of all-purpose garden soil, and it looked quite the same as the cheap topsoil. The big difference here is the addition of synthetic fertilizers and the promise of “up to nine months of continuous feeding.” This cost nearly $4 per bag — more than twice as much as the poor-quality topsoil.

According to the list of ingredients, this bag contains forest products, peat moss, Sphagnum peat moss, coir and fertilizer. For the extra money, you’re getting a bit more. The soil binds together OK, but not great.  

Bag No. 3: All Natural Garden Soil for Flowers & Vegetables

This bag of “All Natural Garden Soil for Flowers and Vegetables” is rated for both in-ground growing and raised beds. I can tell right away when looking at this soil that it has more of what I am looking for. When I give it the “squeeze test,” it binds together well and also breaks apart nicely when I run my fingers through it.

It’s evident just by looking at and touching this bagged product that it is more “soil-like” than other products that are essentially just wood. The ingredients list revealed that the bag contains processed forest products, recycled wood products, arbor fines, Sphagnum peat moss, humus, compost, composted poultry manure and organic fertilizer. 

This bag costs just $3.50 per cubic foot of soil, which is about twice the cost of the bigger all-purpose garden soil bag. If you’re willing to invest some money in your soil, this is a good one. You can plant right into this. 

“Bag” No. 4: Soil3

This product I love so much that I get it by the cubic yard in a big yellow bag that can actually fit that much soil. It’s called Soil3, and it’s made of composted cow manure, composted grass clippings and compost.

It easily passes the squeeze test, binding together and breaking apart readily in my hand. And the blend is very consistent.

Since I discovered Soil3 about four years ago, I have used it twice a year to top-dress garden beds. You can also plant right into it. It’s $6.44 per cubic foot of soil, which clearly costs more than the rest, but I believe it’s worth it. It’s available to residents of the Southeast.

If you have a dollar to spend on your garden, put 90 cents into your soil and 10 cents into your plants, and you will not regret it. It’s money well spent. 


soil3 big yellow bag

Soil3 is delivered in a big yellow bag around the Southeast. It is high-quality humus compost that can be used for top dressing or planted directly into.


Learn to make your own garden soil with my online course The Perfect Soil Recipe Master Class. Over the years, I’ve developed a mixture of elements that have brought me abundant gardening success. In this course, I walk you through how much of each ingredient to use and how and when to apply them.

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Links & Resources

Some product links in this guide are affiliate links. See full disclosure below.

Episode 043: Raised Bed Gardening, Pt. 2: Perfect Soil Recipe

Episode 153: The Science Behind Great Soil

Episode 223: How Soil Microbes Make Good Soil Great

Episode 282: The Vital Role of Soil Bacteria in the Garden, with Jeff Lowenfels

Episode 283: A Soil Chemistry Primer: How Protons and Electrons Influence Soil Moisture and Fertility

joegardenerTV YouTube: How to Turn Fall Garden Cleanup into Compost to Enrich Your Soil

joegardener Online Gardening Academy™: Popular courses on gardening fundamentals; managing pests, diseases & weeds; seed starting and more.

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Organic Vegetable Gardening: My new premium online course membership opens in 2023. Sign up for the waitlist here.

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Beginning Gardener Fundamentals: Essential principles to know to create a thriving garden.

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Growing Epic Tomatoes: Learn how to grow epic tomatoes with Joe Lamp’l and Craig LeHoullier. 

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Master Pests, Diseases & Weeds: Learn the proactive steps to take to manage pests, diseases and weeds for a more successful garden with a lot less frustration. Just $47 for lifetime access!

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Perfect Soil Recipe Master Class: Learn how to create the perfect soil environment for thriving plants.

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Disclosure: Some product links in this guide are affiliate links, which means we get a commission if you purchase. However, none of the prices of these resources have been increased to compensate us, and compensation is not an influencing factor on their inclusion here. The selection of all items featured in this post and podcast were based solely on merit and in no way influenced by any affiliate or financial incentive, or contractual relationship. At the time of this writing, Joe Lamp’l has professional relationships with the following companies who may have products included in this post and podcast: Rain Bird, Corona Tools, AeroGarden, Milorganite, Soil3, Greenhouse Megastore, PittMoss, Territorial Seed Company, Earth’s Ally, National Wildlife Federation  and TerraThrive. These companies are either Brand Partners of and/or advertise on our website. However, we receive no additional compensation from the sales or promotion of their product through this guide. The inclusion of any products mentioned within this post is entirely independent and exclusive of any relationship.

About Joe Lamp'l

Joe Lamp’l is the creator and “joe” behind joe gardener®. His lifetime passion and devotion to all things horticulture has led him to a long-time career as one of the country’s most recognized and trusted personalities in organic gardening and sustainability. That is most evident in his role as host and creator of Emmy Award-winning Growing a Greener World®, a national green-living lifestyle series on PBS currently broadcasting in its tenth season. When he’s not working in his large, raised bed vegetable garden, he’s likely planting or digging something up, or spending time with his family on their organic farm just north of Atlanta, GA.

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