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#111 - Soil or Dirt - What's The Difference?

I just wanted to do a quick post to answer a common question in gardening. I was having a discussion with someone the other day about garden soil, and soil amendments and he asked something that I hear quite a bit. What is the difference between soil and dirt, and aren't they really the same thing?


Unless you are a gardener, you probably never though about it before or assumed they were the same thing as I did for years. I just thought it was two names for the same thing like "pop" and "soda". Depending on which part of the country you come from, they use different names for things.


Soil and dirt are definitely not the same thing though and are in fact very different. Let's take a closer look at each.


Soil is dark brown or black, it has a smell that can be described as similar to a forrest floor after a spring rain. Soil is generally moister because it has a lot of organic matter in it which can hold onto water like a sponge. It also allows a heavy rainfall to percolate down into the ground faster lessening the possibility of localized flooding. You will see earthworms and insects in it. Soil is very much alive and is a living organism.


In soil you can grow big lush plants with lots of vegetables, fruit, and flowers because it is alive with microorganisms, beneficial bacteria, earth worms, beneficial insects, and more.


Dirt is typically lighter tan or grey in color. It typically does not have a particular smell or some may say it smells like rocks. It is typically dryer because of its lack of organic matter to hold water. In a heavy rainfall water will typically run off of dirt leading to localized flooding situations. You will rarely ever see any insect or earthworm activity in dirt. Dirt is dead.

Here in Hawaii, because of the volcanic activity our dirt has a reddish-orange color to it which looks like rust. This crap will stain almost anything it comes in contact with, it even stains orange stains on stainless steel, lol.