What is the Difference between Mulch and Topsoil?

axstj-lanscape04-1013-3648Healthy soil is the foundation of any productive garden. Without it, roots cannot efficiently pull the water and nutrients they need. As a result, it is very important that you know the difference between topsoil and mulch.


Mulch is usually applied to the soil surface to discourage weeds, offer shade and reduce the loss of moisture through evaporation. In most cases, items such as wood chips, bark and shredded waste can be used as mulch. However, if the material is not manufactured by a state approved composting facility, the end product will not be considered as compost. This is because un-composted organic material can contain untreated pet waste, weed seeds and lawn chemicals. A well-managed composting process ensures that all pollutants are broken down. It does this by killing all the weed seeds and pathogens present in the compost.

Materials such as fresh wood mulches can sometimes compete with different plants for nutrients. However, compost still makes excellent mulch for retaining moisture and shading roots during the summer time. In addition, any unwanted airborne pollutants that usually take residence in a planting bed can be easily removed during a routine maintenance in cases where mulch is used. Using mulch also allows earthworms to till the compost deep into the soil. This in turn helps to rebuild the topsoil with no additional effort on the part of the gardener.


Topsoil is the partially decomposed organic matter found between the surface and subsoil. However, it is not compost. Some people refer to is as humus. If the topsoil of your garden is poor or non-existent, its productivity levels will become very low. You can build them up with lighter and more frequent compost applications. However, you should keep in mind that compost and topsoil are not interchangeable. Even though compost can be used to improve or make topsoil, it is still the wrong product for a variety of applications that require the use of topsoil.

Call Kurtz Brothers in Columbus for expert advice!