How to get free soil for your garden

hands holding soil
September 27, 2022

If you are planning a raised bed or container garden, the price for healthy soil can quickly get out of control. The average 1.5 cubic foot bag of garden soil from Home Depot costs $8.73, and with a 4 ft x 8 ft raised bed taking 21.44 cubic feet of soil… you’re out almost $125 for the soil alone.

For many people, the cost of soil prices them out of building a home garden. But would you be ready to start your garden if you knew that you could get soil for free? Read on for several different ideas to help you get started.

Use the soil in your backyard

Some people are surprised to learn that they can plant directly into the soil of their backyard. If there are parts of your yard with exposed soil (without grass or heavy growth), you may be able to avoid using raised beds or containers and plant straight in the earth.

Not all soil is ideal for planting, so you may need to have it tested, or you may want to build a healthy layer of organic material on top of your soil hügelkultur or “no-dig”-style. You can do this by adding layers of organic materials like branches, cardboard, mulch, and compost on top of your topsoil.

Get free top soil locally or online

There are a variety of creative ways to find free topsoil for your garden. You may even drive by a property in development and see “free top soil” or “free dirt” signs posted with a phone number.

There are a variety of websites, like Fill Dirt, that help you connect with local companies that are trying to get rid of dirt. You can Google “free top soil near me” and see what the results are, and start calling around to see if anyone is offering soil for free — or even better, free with delivery.

Whenever you are getting free fill dirt or top soil, it’s important to ask a number of questions. Here are a few questions you may want to ask when you call around for free fill dirt or top soil:

  • Is the soil free?
  • Can it be delivered?
  • Where did the soil come from?
  • Was an environmental assessment done?
  • Are there any known contaminations or issues with the soil?
  • What type of soil is it?
  • What is the composition of the soil? Is it sandy, or clay-y?
  • Are there large rocks, roots, or branches in the soil?

Fill dirt vs. topsoil

Note that some sources will have free fill dirt, which is probably not what you want. Fill dirt is often sandy or rocky and lacks minerals and organic materials. Free topsoil is likely to be easier to amend into something useable for your garden as long as it comes from a healthy and non-contaminated source.

Using topsoil in your garden

Topsoil, especially from external sources, often lacks vital nutrients that your plants will need to grow. It can also be more clay-y or sandy than is ideal for raised beds and container gardening. You may want to have your topsoil tested for composition, ph, and nutrient balance, and then amend it as needed. You can also try mixing it with compost, mulch, and/or aged manure to improve the quality for planting and growing.

Ask for garden soil in your local buy-nothing groups

Buy nothing groups are one of my favorite ways to “shop” for free — one person’s trash is another person’s treasure! You can join our free community here to share gardening resources and knowledge, or search on Facebook for “[my city] + buy nothing”.

Then you can browse posts nearby to see what people are offering, or post for yourself to see if anyone nearby has extra soil. You’re very likely to find small amounts of high-quality garden soil in buy nothing groups, because people often buy just a bag or half a bag too much soil that they have no use for once they’ve filled their gardening beds or containers.

Don’t let the pricetags at Home Depot discourage you from starting your home veggie garden! If you put your mind to it, you can acquire almost everything you need completely for free.

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