Screened vs Unscreened Topsoil: Making the Right Choice for Your Landscaping Needs

When it comes to landscaping and gardening, the quality of the soil you use can make a world of difference in the success of your projects. Topsoil is a crucial component of any outdoor endeavor, providing the foundation for healthy plants, beautiful lawns, and thriving gardens. However, not all topsoil is created equal, and there are two primary options to consider: screened topsoil and unscreened topsoil. In this article, we’ll explore the differences between these two types of topsoil, their respective benefits, and best uses, and offer guidance on choosing the right option for your specific needs.

What is Topsoil?

Before delving into the screened vs. unscreened topsoil debate, let’s start with a basic understanding of what topsoil actually is. Topsoil refers to the uppermost layer of soil, usually extending from 5 to 12 inches (12-30 cm) deep, which comprises a blend of organic materials, minerals, and microorganisms. This layer is critical for plant growth because it provides essential nutrients and a hospitable environment for roots.

Now that we have a clear picture of topsoil, let’s explore the screened and unscreened varieties and their unique characteristics.

Screened Topsoil: The Pristine Choice

Definition and Process

As the name suggests, screened topsoil undergoes a meticulous screening process to remove debris, rocks, roots, and other impurities. This screening topsoil process typically involves passing the soil through a mesh or screen, which allows only fine particles to pass through while retaining larger objects. The result is a cleaner and more refined topsoil that is free from contaminants.


  • Improved Purity: The screening process ensures that screened topsoil is free from unwanted materials, providing a clean and pure substrate for your landscaping projects.
  • Consistency: Screened topsoil offers uniformity in texture and composition, making it easier to work with and ensuring even plant growth.
  • Enhanced Drainage: The removal of large debris improves water drainage, preventing waterlogging and promoting healthier root systems.
  • Reduced Weeding: Fewer contaminants mean fewer weeds and less competition for cultivated plants.
  • Professional Appearance: Screened topsoil gives your landscaping projects a polished and professional look.

Best Uses

Screened topsoil is the ideal choice for a wide range of applications, including:

  • Creating garden beds and raised planters
  • Seeding or sodding lawns
  • Establishing flower beds
  • Landscaping around buildings and walkways
  • Any project where a clean and polished appearance is desired

Unscreened Topsoil: Raw Potential

Definition and Characteristics

On the other hand, unscreened topsoil is as natural as it gets. It has not undergone any screening or refinement processes and is essentially the soil as it is excavated from its source. This type of topsoil contains a wide range of particle sizes and may include rocks, roots, and other organic matter.


  • Cost-Effective: Unscreened topsoil is often less expensive than its screened counterpart due to the absence of processing costs.
  • Nutrient Diversity: Unscreened topsoil can contain various organic materials, which may contribute to a diverse range of plant nutrients.
  • Natural Microorganisms: It contains a more extensive array of microorganisms, potentially enhancing soil health over time.
  • Erosion Control: In some cases, the inclusion of larger particles can help prevent soil erosion in certain landscapes.

Best Uses

Unscreened topsoil is well-suited for specific applications, such as:

  • Filling large holes or depressions in the landscape
  • Amending existing soil with organic matter
  • Building up the elevation of a site
  • Projects where cost is a significant factor

Choosing the Right Option

Selecting between screened and unscreened topsoil depends on several factors, and it’s essential to make an informed decision based on your specific needs and project requirements.

Factors to Consider

  • Project Type: Consider the nature of your project. For intricate landscaping or gardening, screened topsoil is often the better choice. Unscreened topsoil may be suitable for filling larger areas or when cost is a primary concern.
  • Budget: Assess your budget and determine how much you can allocate to the soil. Screened topsoil is generally more expensive, while unscreened topsoil is cost-effective.
  • Appearance: If aesthetics matter for your project, screened topsoil provides a clean and professional look.
  • Soil Health: Think about the long-term health of your soil. Screened topsoil can provide a more controlled and consistent environment for plant growth.

Case Studies

Let’s explore a couple of case studies to illustrate the decision-making process:

Case Study 1: Residential Garden

A homeowner planning to create a beautiful flower garden in their front yard would likely benefit from screened topsoil. Its purity and uniformity will enhance plant growth and provide an attractive appearance.

Case Study 2: Large Land Filling Project

A construction company tasked with filling a large area to create a level site for a commercial building might opt for unscreened topsoil. Its cost-effectiveness can be a significant advantage for such a project where appearance is not the primary concern.

Tips for Application

Once you’ve selected the right type of topsoil for your project, here are some tips for its proper application and maintenance:

Proper Usage Techniques

  • Prepare the Site: Clear the area of any debris or unwanted vegetation before applying topsoil.
  • Amend as Necessary: If using unscreened topsoil, consider amending it with organic matter or other soil conditioners to improve its quality.
  • Even Distribution: Spread the topsoil evenly across the designated area, ensuring consistent depth.
  • Proper Planting: Follow planting guidelines for your specific project, ensuring proper spacing and depth for each plant.

Maintenance Considerations

  • Watering: Adequate watering is essential, especially during the establishment phase of plants or lawns.
  • Weed Control: Monitor for weeds and take prompt action to prevent them from taking over your project.
  • Mulching: Applying mulch can help retain moisture and control weeds.
  • Fertilization: Depending on the type of topsoil you choose, you may need to fertilize periodically to provide essential nutrients for your plants.


In conclusion, the choice between screened topsoil vs unscreened ultimately depends on your project’s specific requirements, budget constraints, and aesthetic considerations. Both types have advantages and can contribute to successful landscaping and gardening endeavors when used appropriately. By carefully evaluating your needs and following best practices for application and maintenance, you can achieve the desired results and watch your outdoor projects flourish once you screen topsoil. Whether you opt for the pristine purity of screened topsoil or the raw potential of unscreened topsoil, the key is to make an informed decision that aligns with your landscaping goals.

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