Different Types of soil and thier meanings

All The Different Soil Types Explained!

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Looking at all the different types of soil available in garden centres can get confusing fast, particularly for new gardeners.

This list will break down all of the types of soil I could think of and tell you what they are for!

Top Soil


Topsoil is exactly what it says on the label, the top layer of soil.

This is usually taken from building sites, fields and other such projects.

It is usually decent-quality soil, but it will have stones, sand, clay etc., mixed in.

It is not as good for your plants as compost and is usually used as a bulk soil for building areas up and laying under new lawns.



Loam is a soil mix of sand, silt and clay. It is a lovely, light soil that is great for growing in.

You can buy loam in big bulk bags, which is usually cheaper than compost.

It is excellent if you have a lot of space to fill, such as new raised beds.

It is not as packed full of nutrients as compost.

Multi-Purpose Compost


Compost is made from broken-down plant and sometimes animal material and is great for all plant life.

It is a rich, well-draining soil that is packed full of nutrition and absolutely ideal to grow in.

Commercial compost usually gets hot enough that all weed seeds in it are killed naturally, so you don’t need to worry about any pesky weeds popping up.

As default, you should use a multi-purpose compost for most jobs in your garden where to plant to grow anything in it.

Peat Free Compost

Peat Free Compost
Peat Free Compost

Peat-free compost is the same as regular compost but without the peat.

Peat is often added to compost mixes as it has a lot of qualities that make it great for growing in.

There are environmental concerns with peat, though, which is why it is being phased out in favour of peat-free composts.

The peat is usually substituted for coir (coconut fibre) or woodchip in peat-free composts.

Ericaceous Compost

ericaceous compost is for acid loving plants like hydrangeas
ericaceous compost is for acid-loving plants like hydrangeas

This is compost, just like the types above, but it is acidic.

All this means is it has a lower pH level than regular compost. There are some plants that love acidic soil, which is why this product exists.

Common plants that like acidic soil are Rhododendrons, Azaleas, Camellia, Magnolia, Hydrangeas & Blueberries.

Municipal Compost

Municipal compost is regular compost but is made by your council. This is where all the waste from your garden bin goes.

It is often cheaper than commercial composts and usually very good stuff.

Some people have concerns with it though, due to how the materials that go into it are sourced.

Many people chuck stuff in their bins that they really shouldn’t. This then ends up in the compost.

Lawn clippings treated with chemicals are a common issue people raise with municipal compost. These chemicals can survive in the compost and still work as weed killers, killing plants you try to grow.

Most chemicals break down quickly, though, and this isn’t an issue, but it is one of the reasons this compost is commonly cheaper.

Many commercial composts have some municipal compost in them though, so it isn’t always straightforward to avoid this problem.

Seed Compost

Seed Compost
Seed Compost

Seed compost is designed for starting seeds and cuttings.

The main difference is that it is usually finer than regular multi-purpose compost and often has sand or vermiculite in to improve drainage.

It is also usually poorer in nutrients than multi-purpose compost. This is done on purpose.

That is because tiny seedlings don’t need nutrients initially, and giving them too much too soon can produce long leggy growth.

That said, I tend to start my seeds in regular multi-purpose compost. Maybe with some vermiculite thrown in.

Worm Castings

Worm Castings
Worm Castings

Worm castings are the stuff made by worms breaking down plant material into useful soil.

It is incredibly rich and great for your garden.

However, it is very potent and should be used as a fertiliser more than a substrate to grow in.

Just scatter some around your garden or add to planting holes to give your plants a nutritious boost!



Manure is the gardener’s friend. Commonly it is made from horse muck, but chicken manure is also very common.

With manure, you want to let it rot before applying it to your garden.

Most people let manure sit for around a year before using. If you don’t do this, then you risk damaging your plants.

This happens because manure is packed to the brim with nitrogen, especially when fresh. This may sound like a good thing. But if you use fresh manure in your garden, then it will be a case of too much of a good thing.

Nitrogen burn is a common issue when fresh manure is used.

It will also continue to decompose as it sits on top of your soil, and it can create such heat doing this that it can again damage your plants.

Well-rotted manure, though is an ideal natural fertiliser. You can tell it is ready when it no longer smells like much and instead smells nice and earthy.

Mushroom Compost

This is the compost left over from mushroom farming, and while that may sound like a bad thing it is still very useful for gardeners.

It is packed full of organic matter and still has a lot of life left in it.

Mushroom compost is usually very alkaline in nature and is useful if you are trying to increase the pH level of your soil.

Most vegetables do best in a slightly alkaline soil which is one reason mushroom compost os coveted by veg growers.

Leaf Mould

Leaf Mould
Leaf Mould

Leaf mould is a compost made from leaves, hence the name.

The leaves rot down to make a very good compost that is very light and great for improving compacted, heavy soils.

You can make your own by collecting leaves and putting them in black bin bags with a few holes punched in. Leave the bags for a year or two and you will have brilliant leaf mould!

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