Soil vs Dirt, You’ll be Surprised to Know the Difference

Soil vs dirt. At first, I thought they were just the same. But that was before I fell in love with gardening. Many of you including those who are new to gardening may still have that misconception about soil and dirt. It’s time to see what makes them different as it can have a significant impact in gardening.


Soil vs Dirt

There is a big difference between soil and dirt. They are different regarding composition and usefulness and where you can find them.

An easy way to explain it is this: Dirt is soil, but it is not where it should be. For instance, you walked through your garden while it was raining and some soil stuck under your boots. The moment you entered the house, the soil under your boots is now called dirt. That is because it is no longer in the ground where it should be.

You can’t grow plants in dirt. They will not flourish. The soil is the perfect medium for growing plants. That is why dirt is completely useless while the soil is essential to gardeners.

soil vs dirt - soil


Understanding Soil

The soil is composed of organic and inorganic matter. It may contain nutrients, minerals, microorganisms, water, decaying organic matter, earthworms and other essential elements needed to sustain plant growth.

The overall quality of soil varies depending on geographical area. It may vary regarding pH value, chemical makeup, structure, color, and texture.

The soil is generally perfect for gardening. When you can see earthworms in the soil, it is a good sign of a fertile ground area where you can properly grow plants. Worms cannot survive in the dirt.

Understanding Dirt

Dirt is usually silty and rocky. Dirt is dead soil. It is void of any nutrients that plants need to grow. One sign that it is dirt and not the soil is when you add water to it. Dirt, when added to water, will not compact well. It is not able to hold plants. That is why it is not good for planting.

soil vs dirt - dirt


How Soil Becomes Dirt

In simple terms, the soil is what you can generally find on the surface of the earth. Dirt, on the other hand, is soil that has been taken out of its natural environment. This could be a result of siltation, volcanic eruption, and other natural and human factors.

The human factor is something we can control. One good example of how soil becomes dirt is when you dig in your backyard and transport the soil to another location. Without the correct procedure, the soil could lose its natural composition in the process and may no longer be able to support plant life.

Soil also becomes dirt when it loses its ability to support plant growth. A good example of this is the result of pollution. The soil in the city contains plenty of manmade materials including plastics and broken glass, burned clinkers, construction waste and garbage fill among others. While the soil is left to its natural environment, it is now full of pollutants. Plants cannot grow healthily in polluted soil. In this case, it is safe to call that soil, dirt.

soil vs dirt 001

Can Dirt Become Soil Again?

Yes. There is still hope for dirt to become soil again. One way to revitalize dirt and turn it back into the soil is by adding vermicast. Vermicasts are the product of vermicomposting. It is a process of composting that uses worms, particularly red worms. Red worms feed on organic matter. As a result, they leave casts or poops that are rich in phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium needed by the plants.

Even urban dirt is salvageable, according to Dr. Bryant Scharenbroch in an article published by deep root website. Dr. Bryant is a soil researcher at the Morton Arboretum. He also works as an assistant professor of soil science at the University of Wisconsin. His team is currently doing studies on it. However, he has the following tips to preserve soil and recondition dirt:

  • Don’t run anything on the soil except track vehicles.
  • Don’t export top soil off-site.
  • If you have to move topsoil, you can do it a maximum of three times.
  • Don’t use heavy materials to compress the soil other than your foot.
  • Don’t screen soil for rocks, clods or chunks of wood below 2 inches.
soil vs dirt 002

Different Types of Soil for Gardening


This type of soil is a combination of clay, sand, and silt. It is very rich in nutrients and organic water. It also drains well. Loam is perhaps the most widely used soil for gardening. You can use it to grow almost any type of flowers, vegetables, and trees.


Clay is silky smooth with fine grains. If adequately drained before planting, this type of soil is ideal for growing bergamots, roses, purple coneflower and prairie dock among others. One disadvantage of clay is that it is difficult to work with and is prone to water logging. On a positive note, clay is also extensively used in the construction industry. They are used for making bricks and ceramic tiles.


This type of soil is composed mostly of vegetable matter such as mosses and sedges. Peaty soil is acidic and is suitable for growing azaleas, primroses, rhododendrons and other acid-loving plants. It is also commonly used for adjusting the pH level of the soil.

soil vs dirt 003


Soil and Dirt are very different. You should not mistake one for the other. Knowing their difference makes a big impact in successful gardening. The soil is rich in nutrients and minerals that the plants need. Dirt does not have them. If it is soil, you can plant on it. If it is dirt, you can’t. But the good thing is even dirt which is considered dead soil has a chance of being revitalized.

Did you find this article useful? Please share with us your thoughts through the comment. Also, don’t forget to share this article with your friends to make them aware as well.

Ella Wilson

Hi! This is Ella Wilson, the founder of Being a devotee with plants and gardens, you will find numerous things with me. I have developed enough interest regarding plants that these things do not bore me anymore; instead this has become my passion.