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What Is Fill Dirt?

What is “fill dirt” and why might you need it?  What are the different kinds of fill dirt, and what kinds are good for what applications?  

In a nutshell, fill dirt is soil that has no organic content – the nutrients that help plants grow.  Fill dirt is what construction companies, landscapers, and home gardeners use to shape their landscapes – filling in holes, creating elevation changes, terracing, hillocks, and the like.  Read on below to learn everything you need to know about fill dirt, its composition, applications, and how it differs from simple topsoil.

Topsoil vs. Fill Dirt

As explained above, fill dirt is a kind of soil that differs from topsoil in that fill dirt does not have any organic materials in it.  What does that mean in practical terms?  Topsoil, which gardeners and landscapers use for planting flowers and shrubs and the like, contains organic materials like nutrients that help plants grow.  Topsoil is lighter and softer than fill dirt.  

If you dig a hole in your garden, you’ll find fill dirt in a layer underneath your own topsoil.  You’ll note that it is denser and more compact than the topsoil, and its composition will vary depending on where you are in the world.  Some areas have a very clay-like soil, and other parts of the world have a more sandy type of soil.  

Fill dirt’s lack of nutrients means that there is nothing that will decompose, and decomposition of materials is what causes holes, depressions, and shifting in soil.  Without decomposition, fill dirt will keep its shape and structure, which makes it ideal for shaping landscapes or filling holes.

Neatly landscaped home
Excavator unloading fill dirt

Uses of Fill Dirt

Construction companies often use fill dirt in big construction projects like building up the shoulders of highways, leveling the soil on a parcel of land, or shifting the level of a building’s foundation to make it more stable and reduce flooding chances.  Landscapers like to use fill dirt to shape an outdoor space, creating artificial waterfalls, molding the land around swimming pools, creating terraced plantings, or filling in holes created by environmental damage or wild animals.

In Your Own Yard

If you’ve got a yard of any size, you probably have areas that you don’t love the look of.  Maybe it’s an odd depression in one part of your yard that you’d like to shore up.  Maybe you have dogs that like to dig holes or running tracks around your yard.  You might even have a problem with moles or other burrowing critters that like to make your yard into Swiss cheese.  

Maybe you have an aesthetic vision for your yard – you’d like to take that corner over there and create a multi-level rock and planting garden, for example.  Perhaps your yard slopes in a particular direction, and you’d like to terrace that slope with interesting plantings.  Fill dirt can definitely help you build those visions into a beautiful reality.  Of course, if you’re planting anything, you need to build a layer of topsoil on top of your fill dirt so your plants have something to eat, but the bulk of your project can be done with fill dirt. 

Dog digging up yard
Neat row of flowers in soil

Types of Fill Dirt

Fill dirt comes in different varieties, largely determined by location and composition.  Your particular project might be best served by a specific type of fill dirt, so it’s important to do your research before buying fill dirt.  

Construction companies that are building a foundation will need fill dirt that is higher in clay, stronger, and more compactable.  You might consider highly compactable fill dirt if, for example, you’re putting in an in-ground hot tub or swimming pool.  You don’t want your hot tub or swimming pool shifting and cracking in unstable soil.  

On the other hand, if you’re just building a visually striking landscaping feature, like a terraced flower bed, then you may not need such clay-heavy fill dirt under your topsoil. 

Fill dirt can be generally divided into some specific types: fill sand and rockfill are two of the most common.  

Fill sand is great if you’ve got problems with flooding because it can improve drainage and water distribution.  Thus, it’s often used around, for example, septic tanks, ponds, and other areas with a heavy presence of water.  Fill sand is prone to shifting and isn’t as compactable as other forms of fill dirt, so it’s not recommended for heavy-duty applications.

Rockfill, as the name suggests, is a rock-heavy form of fill dirt that is primarily used to fill in big holes. This kind of fill generally comes from excavation or blast sites, and it is perfect for leveling out uneven terrain or building up landscaping features.  

There’s also a subtype of rockfill specifically designed for landscaping projects.  People who live in arid regions or other areas where a green, grassy yard isn’t possible can use landscaping fill to build an attractive rock garden as an alternative.  Landscaping fill can also be used for driveways and garden paths, and it can be found in different compositions – lava rock, river rock, and road gravel as examples.

Choose Carefully

One thing that is important to remember with fill dirt: don’t just use any fill dirt for any application.  Unless you know where your fill dirt has come from, you won’t know what it’s made of.  It might have contaminants or other impurities that will wreak havoc on whatever project you’re trying to do.  Fill dirt of unknown origin might even contaminate your groundwater, which will create major headaches for you. 

Look for fill dirt that is “clean,” which is a label that means it is free of contaminants.  In the case of dirt that is made from subsoil, clean fill dirt just means it’s free of roots, nutrients, or other objectionable substances.  If it’s a rock-based fill, clean fill dirt will be free of anything that might prove a hazard to groundwater.  

Garden landscape with wood floor

Why Buy from Hawkins Landscape Supply?

Whatever your project, Hawkins Landscape Supply can help you find the right fill dirt.  Come see us today, and we’ll make sure you have everything you need to make your project a success.