What is the British Standard for Topsoil?

The British Standards Institute (BSI) has published a British Standard for topsoil – BS 3882:2015. The standard is a guide for the provision of topsoil and can be used when ordering topsoil materials.

BS 3882:2015 covers the following and tells a lot about the soil and its current condition:
– Description of topsoil
– Texture
– Soil reaction (pH)
–  Stone content
– Contamination testing

Soil that is full of debris or contaminated with nasty chemicals simply will not meet the standard. The standard doesn’t judge whether soil is right for your project but it will tell you that it is safe and useable. A specialist low nutrient soil for wildflowers can be certified for BS 3882 and so can a general-purpose soil for growing flowers, fruit and vegetables.
Your supplier should be able to provide you with a copy of the certificate showing the results of soil testing. It will tell you about the composition of the soil, whether it is clay, sand, silt, loam or a blend. You will also be able to see the proportions of the nutrients in that soil.
Our Regal Topsoils (and all other suppliers of approved topsoil) are subject to regular testing to the BS 3882:2015 standard.  Our customers can have total confidence that our products are safe for the environment and free from contaminants.

Questions to ask when purchasing topsoil.

When sourcing topsoil it is very important that you choose your supplier very carefully. A reputable supplier, like ourselves, should be able to answer the following questions: 

  • What is in the soil? 
  • Is it safe?
  • Where is it from?
  • Will it all come from the same source?
  • What can it be used for?
  • Does it meet British Standard BS 3882:2015?
  • Is it peat free?
  • Is an independent test analysis certificate available?
  • Does the testing include analysis of P.T.E.s (Potentially Toxic Elements)?
  • Can I get hold of the same soil year round?
  • How is it delivered; in bags or loose?

What to look for in a good topsoil.

  • A nice friable texture.

    You should be able to work the soil with your hands. Plants need to be able to push their roots deep into the soil to find food and water. If it just forms a sticky, muddy ball in the palm of your hand then it’s probably not particularly plant-friendly!

  • No big lumps.

    Avoid buying cheap topsoil with lots of rocks, roots or debris in it.

  • A sweet smell.

    Soil smells like – well – ‘dirt’. It is not an unpleasant smell. Even well-rotted manure has a lovely earthy aroma. If you are offered cheap topsoil and it smells dusty or chemically or just plain ‘nasty’ then the soil could be contaminated. 

  • A rich colour.

    Good quality topsoil contains a rich mix of nutrients necessary for healthy plants. It appears darker in colour than subsoil because of the organic matter it contains. Unless you particularly need a sandy soil (which is a lighter colour) topsoil should be brown or very dark brown. If it looks grey it’s most probably subsoil and unlikely to be suitable for growing plants.

The perils of poor quality topsoil.

When you are planning your garden, it is natural that you are going to be thinking in aesthetic rather than practical terms. Choosing a topsoil may not be as enticing as choosing your plants, in fact it is most probably considered one of the least exciting parts of renovating your garden but a good topsoil is imperative for your garden to thrive. If you don’t invest in a top quality topsoil, it could be detrimental to the life of your new plants. 

Some people find it difficult to accept that they are going to have to spend money on what is essentially ‘dirt’ or ‘mud’ and although it might be tempting to save money by procuring cheaper products just bear in mind that ‘cheap’ and ‘good value for money’ are not necessarily the same thing.  

Topsoil which is extremely cheap may contain contaminants that are bad for you and bad for the environment. Unscreened soil could be full of unwanted debris. It goes without saying that bricks, rubble, roots and weeds won’t help your plants grow. Unscrupulous traders have been known to sell subsoil as topsoil which are different very things. Subsoil will never support strong plant growth. Good soil structure is important for landscaping; you need to know that your soil will be the right consistency. Pots, planters and flower beds need nutrient rich and well drained topsoil to do well.

To summarise, topsoil is pretty important! It is the foundation of your garden and without it you wouldn’t have any plants. Investing in a good quality topsoil is going to be one of the integral parts of any gardening project as the topsoil contains all the nutrients that your plants or vegetables will need to have a strong and healthy life. It is therefore essential to spend a little time, money and effort in choosing the correct topsoil for your project; removing and re-laying topsoil is an expensive operation. The cost of digging out a substandard material and replacing it with ‘the real McCoy’ can end up being a lot more expensive than that initial ‘saving’! It pays dividends to establish the quality of any materials prior to use to save you time, money and hassle down the line. As the saying goes….prevention is better than cure! 

So, as you can most probably gather, there is quite a lot to consider when choosing a topsoil – so much depends on the natural characteristics of your garden and what you plan to do with it. 

For further information on our topsoils or if you require help and advice please feel free to Contact Us.