All About Virginia Dirt and Soil

By Britt Altizer 

Buying soil here in Richmond can be confusing.  Here is what you need to know!

Soil is the building block for life!  Without soil, we’d be in bad shape.  With the wrong soil, your lawn and garden will surely be in bad shape too.  Most commercially available soils are one of three types: fill dirt, topsoil, compost.

Fill Dirt 

Most commonly available soils are Virginia heavy clay soil.  This soil dries like a rock and when wet is sticky and nasty.  The positive is that it can be compacted to create a firm base.  Additionally, clay soils can retain water and nutrients, which can be very important to plant life.   Fill dirt is cheap and readily available.  It can normally be purchased for less than $20 per cubic yard plus delivery costs.  If you know where to look and have a trailer, you can even find this material for free!


Topsoil is the real hard worker when it comes to Virginia soils.  Topsoil is the uppermost layer of dirt that generally supports plant life.  It is composed of silt, sand and clay in varying amounts.  Good topsoil can be hard to find, especially if it is clean–without rocks, sticks and debris.  Expect to pay $20-$50 per cubic yard of topsoil, plus delivery costs.  Keep in mind not all topsoil is created equal, so inspect it before purchase.  What sets some topsoil apart from others is its organic content–but we’ll talk more about that in the next section.


Does your grandmother have that stinky pile of leaves, grass clippings and kitchen scraps in the back of the garden?  She should!  Compost is nothing other than decomposed organic matter.  Fungi, worms and other processes help to break down wastes and make them into a substrate that plants love!  Common commercial composts include leaf mould, vermi-compost, mushroom compost and others.  Here at Altizer Lawn & Landscape we find leaf based composts to provide the most bang-for-your buck.  While compost is good alone, we recommend tilling it in to existing native soils.  This increases the organic content of your topsoils and really provides a great home for plants.  Commonly available composts range in price from $30-$70 per cubic yard, plus delivery fees.

To learn more about composting, we recommend checking out the EPA’s website.  It is chocked full of good information on the topic.  Heres a link: EPA Compost Information.

Composting can be a fun task to do with kids–and its free!


Possibly one of the most underutilized means of ensuring soil fertility is testing.  Soil testing is relatively cheap (maybe even free!) and can easily by done by a homeowner.  Here in Henrico County, Virginia we are lucky enough to get two free tests per year.  Check out this link for details: Free Soil Test — Henrico County, Virginia

Most counties in Virginia offer soil testing at low or no cost.  Check with your local extension office or library!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *