Depending on where you live, you might find that you need more garden soil. Maybe your land is rocky or is missing a lot of topsoil. Topsoil can become eroded when land gets tilled or doesn’t have a lot of trees or diverse plants. The exposed dirt can then easily be lost through wind and rain erosion. Fortunately, there are ways to you can get cheap (or even free!) dirt for your garden, and turn it into healthy soil.
The best ways to get cheap dirt for your garden include bulk delivery options, contacting a local cooperative extension, and checking forums. Construction sites and farmers might even give you dirt for free, as might friendly neighbors. To help with this, create posts mentioning you’re looking for free dirt.
Getting free or cheap dirt requires a little initiative, but it is possible! Let’s take a closer look at where to find it or how to make your own.
What’s the Difference Between Fill Dirt and Topsoil?
Before we get into the different ways to get dirt, if you don’t already know, you may find it helpful to know the difference between fill dirt and topsoil.
Topsoil is the uppermost layer of soil and contains the most nutrients. Often, this is the soil that gets eroded first. Underneath the topsoil is the fill dirt, or subsoil. This soil doesn’t have as many nutrients and often doesn’t contain many roots or insect life. Most of the dirt offered in bulk is fill dirt.
If you’ve been checking garden soil prices, you’ll have found that dirt is much cheaper than topsoil. Alongside dirt, topsoil is a component of garden soil.
Here are the differences between fill dirt, topsoil, and other related materials:
- Topsoil: Topsoil is the soil’s layer that contains the most organic matter and makes up the top 2-8 inches of ground soil. It usually sits on top of fill dirt (or subsoil) to provide a growing site for your plants.
- Fill dirt: The material found underneath the topsoil that’s commonly used to fill holes and uneven areas. It’s not fertile and needs to be mixed with compost to support your plant’s growth.
- Compost: Compost is a mix of organic matter created by decaying plants, animal manure, and kitchen scraps. When added to fill dirt, it acts as a fertilizer and can improve drainage.
- Mulch: Mulch is composed of materials such as wood shavings that will keep the moisture in and prevent the growth of weed when placed on the soil.
How To Get Dirt for Cheap
As with most things, including cheap or free dirt, it’s best to do your research and find out if there’s anything wrong with it.
Here are some potential issues with getting dirt from unknown sources:
- High sand or clay content
- Mold or plant disease
However, once you check that the dirt or soil is of good quality, getting it for cheap is the best way to get started on your garden on a budget. With the methods below, you can save hundreds of dollars on dirt.
When looking to reduce the cost of dirt, it’s essential to bear in mind that the delivery is a significant expense. So, if you are buying bags of dirt online, you might end up spending even more on delivery than you wish.
Here are some ways to get dirt for cheaper than $10 a bag, the standard cost in superstores:
1. Opt for Bulk Delivery
Tracking down a garden supply store and checking their bulk delivery options is the best way to reduce dirt and soil costs.
It’s common to get dirt at about half price compared to individual bags sold at nurseries and garden stores.
The main downside of this option is that you’ll obviously need to place a bulk order. If you need the dirt for a small garden or minimal touch-ups, this is probably not the best option.
2. Talk to a Local Expert
Local experts such as gardeners, garden centers’ specialists, and cooperative extensions are invaluable resources when looking for cheap but clean dirt.
Groups like cooperative extensions exist to promote information and knowledge about horticulture and gardening.
Not only will they help you find the dirt you need, but they can also examine the dirt you have obtained and check if it is clean and suitable for your project.
3. Check Online Forums
There are many reasons for which some homeowners might be able to give away dirt for cheap. They might be redesigning their backyards, for instance, or they might be excavating on their property and have extra dirt to get rid of.
While this is not a sure way to find the exact amount and quality of dirt you need, checking online ad boards, such as Craigslist, Reddit, and Facebook can help you buy dirt from a private source, which means you won’t need to pay a markup on the dirt’s price.
How To Get Dirt for Free
1. Talk to a Farmer
Speaking to a local farmer is a great way to find garden dirt that’s clean and free.
Farmers often have to do work on their land, and sometimes they find themselves with excess dirt or soil.
Here are some of the reasons why they might have excess dirt on hand:
- Clearing land for buildings or crops
- Flattening hilly land
- Digging irrigation
Additionally, local farmers could have extra manure to provide, which will immensely help your dirt transition to healthy soil.
However, keep in mind that if a farmer is offering manure, you’ll most likely need to compost the manure before you can use it.
2. Ask Construction Sites
Construction sites are everywhere, and, in most cases, the company has to pay to get rid of the dirt in a specific location. Because of this, sometimes they can offer a free delivery since you’re saving them the cost of disposal. This is also true for wood chips and other materials.
However, it’s essential to check whether this dirt is clean or not. If the development company is working on land previously built or had a commercial building on it, the dirt might contain excess chemicals and debris that can hurt your land (and potentially—health).
3. Create a Post (Both Online and Physically)
If you don’t know who to ask to get some free dirt, you might consider creating a post that you can put in front of your property, at coffee shops, or other high trafficked areas.
You can also use the forums mentioned previously to expand your reach. In this case, it’s best to join local groups online, such as a Facebook group or subreddit for your city.
A post as simple as “Clean Dirt Wanted” can help get your message across. Know that you might have better luck in some communities compared to others.
How Much Does a Truckload of Dirt Normally Cost?
A truckload of dirt costs about $150 to $400 on average. Standard dirt is at the lower end of this range, but clean dirt is about $200 to $300 without delivery costs, which are usually another $200 to $400. Clean dirt is worth the extra cost, as it’s often certified and free of harmful materials.
When purchasing a truckload of dirt, it’s crucial to understand what to expect.
First, a truckload can contain an average of 10-14 cubic yards of dirt. While delivery is included in the costs below, you might need to factor in an additional $200 and $400 to the cost.
The average cost of a truckload of dirt is between $150 and $400, depending on the type of dirt you are looking for. If you need standard dirt, you can lower this cost to $150 to $250.
However, you should opt for clean fill dirt, which can be more expensive and often costs between $200 and $300.
Clean dirt is certified to meet the Unified Soil Classification System’s standards and be free of organic matter, flammable materials, refuse, debris, and toxic substances.
Does Home Depot or Lowes Have Fill Dirt?
Home Depot and Lowes do have fill dirt that you can use for your garden. These companies sell fill dirt both in bags and in its bulk form. However, when ordered in bulk, delivery will need to happen on a solid flat surface and through a commercial truck.
While this type of dirt does not contain fertilizer, it allows you to buy high-quality dirt in bulk quality, which is more economical for large projects.
How to Turn Dirt into Soil
The easiest way to turn dirt into soil includes mixing together compost, topsoil, and fill dirt. Additionally, you can add manure to the mix to speed up the nutrient and beneficial microbe growth in the soil. For best results, avoid tilling soil. Instead, cover it. Soil doesn’t like to be exposed to the elements.
Once you have your cheap or free dirt, to turn dirt into suitable garden soil, you’ll need to add manure or compost and other elements such as mulch.
You can add all of these materials in equal parts. The goal is to create a well-draining soil that allows for oxygen flow and water retention. Also, it should have enough nutrients and organic matter to encourage plant growth.
The main characteristic that distinguishes dirt from the soil is that dirt is not fertile, and virtually nothing can grow in it.
To learn more about making fertile garden soil, check out this video by Alberta Urban Garden Simple Organic and Sustainable.
Need More Help?
You can always ask us here at Couch to Homestead, but you should know the other resources available to you! Here are the resources we recommend.
- Local Cooperative Extension Services: While we do our best with these articles, sometimes knowledge from a local expert is needed! The USDA partnered with Universities to create these free agriculture extension services. See your local services.
- 7 Easy Steps to Grow Fruit Trees (Free Guide): Need more fruit tree help from the ground up? See our free guide to make growing fruit trees a breeze.
- Ask the Free Community: Join The Couch to Homestead Community and connect with other members discussing gardening, homesteading, and permaculture.
- 30-Day Permaculture Food Forest Course: Learn how to turn your backyard into a thriving food forest in just 30 days with our online course.