Planting Soil

Q. Can you tell me where I might order good soil to put in raised beds I recently created?  I want to be sure to have good quality and no weed seeds, etc.  I put down weed block cloth and wire to try to keep out gophers. If you have any suggestions not only about where to get it but whether it should be top soil or whether I should add compost or anything else, I’d appreciate it.   I’ll need it delivered.  And, do you know a good source for pea gravel?  Where I used to live, some places had trucks with separate compartments so they could deliver soil, rock and bark at the same time.

 Thanks for any help you can offer.  I really enjoy your column, especially about good plants to grow locally that attract birds and wildlife but don’t take much water.  I’m gradually replacing the lawn with plants that can live with no or very little added water once they are established.  If you have any particularly good sources of information about such plants, I’d love to know that also.

A. To have top soil and pea gravel delivered to your garden, you should contact a landscape supply yard  directly. If you go through a landscaping service or garden center, you will likely pay more for the same service.

I assume your garden is in Monterey County. I found just one such service in Monterey County. Here it is with two others that will deliver to Monterey County.

Tri-County Landscape Supply  Location: Elkhorn (Monterey County) No personal experience.

Aptos Landscape Supply  Location: Aptos.  A few months ago, I bought rock mulch from this place, and was pleased with the service, but a friend recently complained that they delivered top soil that was much inferior to what she had selected at the business location. Weed seeds were not a problem, but the delivery resembled fill soil. A good practice would be to examine closely any supplier’s delivery before it is unloaded.

Central Home Supply  Location: Santa Cruz. I have use this service for years and always found them fairly priced and reliable.

You might call for phone bids from each supplier. It’s also helpful to walk around a yard to see what they have to offer. These places are good sources of ideas!

Delivery charges will be based on distance, as you might expect. These services have methods to keep separate different materials in the same load. Each delivery costs, so its most efficient to include all you need now (or could store) in the same delivery.

Best wishes

Q. Thanks very much Tom.  I live in the city of Monterey.  I gather that since you didn’t mention nurseries that either they don’t sell in bulk or that they are more expensive than the places you indicated?  Would you recommend that I also get some sort of compost to add to the top soil?  I don’t have a very big yard, so don’t compost myself.

A. My comment about garden centers also applies to nurseries (which grow plants to sell to garden centers). Most nurseries are wholesale operations that leave retail sales to garden centers and places like Home Depot. The retailers all sell garden soil in bags.

Depending on how much soil you need, buying bagged soil might be less expensive than a delivery from a landscape supply yard. Landscape supply yards offer material by the cubic yard. One cubic yard equals 27 cubic feet. Garden centers offer the same materials in bags that are typically 2 cubic feet. It’s worth comparing bids.

You should ask about the content of the soil that’s available. Ideally, it would be 4-5% organic material, which is typical of good natural garden soil. If the product doesn’t include about that much organic material, it would be good to ad compost to your raised beds. Again, the best price between bagged and bulk compost will depend on the amount that you need.

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