July 31st, 2023

Topsoil is Expensive: Identifying Cost Saving Alternatives for Engineers and Contractors

As Civil Engineers and Contractors, we are often confronted with the paradox of topsoil. While it's an essential part of our work in landscaping and revegetation, the cost of this precious resource can prove prohibitive. Numerous factors contribute to topsoil's high price tag, from extraction to transportation and amending efforts.

Yet, cost-effective alternatives exist, promising both financial and environmental savings. This blog post aims to provide an overview of the financial realities surrounding topsoil and compost-manufactured topsoil.

Sediment Control Logs on dirt slope
What is topsoil?

Topsoil is the uppermost layer of soil, usually the top 2 inches to 8 inches. It's characterized by high organic matter and nutrient content, which makes it fertile and ideal for plant growth. It also has a good structure that holds water but drains well, making it the perfect environment for plant roots and topsoil organisms.

What is compost-manufactured topsoil?

Compost-manufactured topsoil (CMT), as the name suggests, is a type of produced topsoil typically consisting of 75% topsoil blended with 25% compost by volume. Compost, made from decomposed organic matter, is mixed with existing topsoil to maintain its nutrient content, structure, and water-retaining properties. This process can transform lower-quality soil into a potentially improved growing medium that performs similarly to traditional topsoil.

What are topsoil and compost-manufactured topsoil used for in civil engineering?

In civil engineering, topsoil and CMT are used for various applications. One of the most common uses is in landscaping and revegetation projects that follow construction. These materials provide a fertile environment for grass, plants, and tree growth. Beyond providing aesthetic appeal, they also play a role in soil stabilization, reducing erosion, and improving water retention, which are critical factors in many civil engineering projects.

What is the cost of topsoil and compost-manufactured topsoil?

The cost of topsoil and compost-manufactured topsoil can vary widely based on soil quality, location, and quantity required. Based on TXDOT Bid History Tabulations over the last 12 months, Average Unit Prices for topsoil can range from $3.50 to $6.50 per square yard (furnished and placed at 4" depth), and Average Unit Prices for CMT can range from $2.50 to $11.50 per square yard (furnished and placed at 4" depth), although this can be vary by area based on the desired quality and quantity of material. Additional costs for transportation and application may also apply.

What are the best alternatives to topsoil and compost-manufactured topsoil?

There are several effective alternatives to topsoil and compost-manufactured topsoil. Soil amendments, such as compost, manure, or biochar, can be mixed with existing soil on-site to improve its nutrient content and structure. If the need is solely focused around mitigating topsoil loss, geosynthetics offer another alternative for soil stabilization and erosion control, reducing the need for extensive topsoil application. Products like ProGanics Biotic Soil Media also provide a cost-effective, sustainable solution, particularly for sites with challenging conditions or where traditional topsoil application is impractical.

What is ProGanics?

Created for sites stripped of organic matter, nutrients and biological activity from construction, mining, energy development, and other disturbing activities, ProGanics accelerates the development of depleted soils/substrates with low organic matter, low nutrient levels, and limited biological activity, crucial elements for sustainable vegetation establishment. We like to think of ProGanics as a condensed, nutritious topsoil solution, which can be hydraulically applied for material and installation cost saving opportunities. Learn More


Though topsoil costs vary depending on location and quality, topsoil is essential for agriculture and landscaping. Cost considerations for topsoil include transportation and quality, with richer, loamier soils tending to be more expensive.

Budget constraints may force project managers to cut corners or seek lower-quality alternatives, potentially compromising long-term sustainability.

Thus, while topsoil and compost-manufactured topsoil are vital for many civil sitework projects, their cost can present a significant hurdle to project execution and completion. Now is the time to seek out cost effective, high performance alternatives for the benefit of your next civil sitework project. If you have questions about confidently improving your project's timeline and budget, Ask a GEO Pro.

Free Webinar
Reduce Topsoil Requirements & Quickly Establish Vegetation
Learn More

Topsoil Cost-Savings Calculator
Reduce Topsoil Required For Your Projects

Learn How
Your Civil Sitework Solutions Advisor

For over 20 years, our team of registered professional engineers and industry experts have partnered with leading producers, innovators, and technologies to understand all worthwhile options available in pavement construction, site stabilization, erosion control, and stormwater management. This experience allows us to guide our customers to the best purchasing decisions regarding their civil design, construction material, and site inspection needs.
Call Us | 844.468.4743

Corporate Billing/Mailing Address:
7011 Bee Caves Rd, Austin, TX 78746

© 2022 GeoSolutions, Inc.