The lone voice of horticultural reason

“Dirt is dirt, and ‘fill’ is dirt”

Boy, can this myth bite you in the butt. I’m doing a job right now in west Minneapolis, and the homeowners raised their large, sloping yard by paying $400 for “fill” from some earnest guy they trusted. If I find one more rusted section of a swing set in it, or another log big enough sit on, while I’m digging the foundation for a stone wall, I’m going to crack.

I had the fill tested. The pH was 7.6 and it was about sixty-percent clay. It includes 3” to 6” stones, Class V gravel, and the aforementioned swing set. I’m planting trees and shrubs in it, and seeding some of it for lawn. I’ll deal with it, but my extra time, and expense to the homeowner, could have been avoided.

Never order what is advertised in the trade as “fill” for areas to be gardened or landscaped. Fill will almost always have utter crap in it, bits of asphalt, rocks, deer skeletons, you name it. You use fill for underbase, for when you need to raise up an area but will be adding at least two feet of good black dirt on top of the fill.

“Black dirt” also runs the gamut. Never order dirt for your yard without first seeing it. You can run into a lovely looking pile of black dirt at a supply yard that, upon closer inspection, will be little more than peat-coated balls of pure clay. Pulverized soil means it has been run through a machine and screened and will be the highest quality. Unpulverized is often quite good. For you local Renegades in the Twin Cities, you always get a good-quality black dirt product from Hedberg Landscape Supplies in Plymouth (763-545-4400), Gertens in Inver Grove Heights (651-450-0277), or, the best, Dale Green Company in Burnsville (952) 894-5812. Dale Green sells a variety of mixes, including a mineral soil, horse manure, and sand mix that is superb. All deliver.

For those of you outside the Twin Cities and around the country, call around, talk to landscapers in your area, visit landscape supply yards, and find out who has good “black dirt,” and who doesn’t. It matters.

Don Engebretson
The Renegade Gardener