A woman holds fertile land in her hands in the rays of the setting sun. Seedling season and soil preparation for sowing. With two hands of a woman, she holds out a handful of subgrade soil

Unscreened Soil vs. Screened Soil vs. Garden Mix: What to Choose for Your Southern Alberta Project

When selecting soil for your landscaping project, you might be tempted to reach for the first option you see or head to the sale section to grab whatever is on clearance. 

Soil is soil, right? 

Not quite. 

There’s actually a great deal of variety when it comes to soil, and selecting the best type for your project is incredibly important. Unscreened soil, screened soil, and garden mix are three common options with unique properties. Understanding their differences can save you time, money, and a headache in the long run. 

Local climate and conditions play a big role when selecting soil. What would work well in Lethbridge, a place known for windy and dry conditions, might not be a good choice for a rainier city. 

By the end of this post, you will know what makes unscreened topsoil, screened topsoil, and garden mix distinct from each other. You will also be able to make informed decisions on what projects each would be best suited for a Southern Alberta climate. 


It might seem like a basic question, but understanding what soil actually is will help you make informed decisions about what type to use in your garden or yard.

The contents in soil vary from type-to-type, but you will typically find a combination of organic and inorganic materials.


  • Bacteria
  • Fungi
  • Worms
  • Insects
  • Other microorganisms


  • Sand
  • Silt
  • Clay
  • Rocks
  • Minerals

Together, organic and inorganic materials create an ecosystem that is rich in nutrients and ideally-suited for gardening and landscaping projects. 

The contents of your soil impact moisture-retention, drainage, root development, and pH levels, just to name a few. For projects big and small, these factors play an important role in the health of your vegetation and the stability of your foundation. 

By investing a small amount of time in learning the basics about soil, you can better pair different soil types to your projects.


Top soil is made from a mixture  of clay, sand, silt, and organic matter. Like the name suggests, it is the upper layer of natural soil, putting it in direct contact with insects, plant decay, fungi, and other surface microorganisms. The result of this proximity is a soil with a high amount of nutrients and organic matter. 

Top soil can be screened or unscreened, which is an important consideration for your project. 


Screened soil is a type of top soil that has had materials such as rocks, bark, roots, and other debris removed. The process of screening soil ensures you retain the nutrients that make it beneficial for plant growth without the extra bulk that you might not want. 

Screened topsoil is a good choice for projects that maximize its nutrient-rich composition to encourage plant or vegetation growth. Examples include:

  • Improving your lawn
  • Flower beds

Since it is more finely distributed, screened soil does a great job of draining water and regulating moisture.


Unscreened soil has not had these bulky materials removed, meaning it will have a higher concentration of natural debris. You will likely find materials such as bark, rocks, and roots when using this soil. 

That said, unscreened soil is still a nutrient-rich option, but the bulkier texture means that these nutrients are not as evenly distributed as they would be with screened soil. 

Unscreened soil is best-suited for projects where it can act as a support to the growth or design of your space. Examples include:

  • Foundation or base of a garden
  • Installing landscape fixtures

Since it has not been as thoroughly filtered, unscreened topsoil is typically more affordable than screened soil.


Garden mix is top soil that has been enriched with materials that increase the soil’s nutrient contents, such as compost, peat, vermiculite, or perlite. 

Like the name suggests, garden mix is a popular choice for gardening projects. Projects you’d want garden mix for include:

  • In-ground gardens
  • Raised garden beds

Garden mix is often combined with other soils, such as potting soil or soil already in your garden, to improve the overall health of the ecosystem.


Choosing soil that is suited for your goals is an important part of any landscaping or gardening project. Soil choice can impact how your vegetation grows, the types of pests you deal with, or any water-retention issues you may encounter.  

It isn’t uncommon to use more than one type of soil for certain projects. By combining different soil types, you can refine the soil’s properties and create a mix that works for the region you’re in. 

If you’re unsure, garden centres and landscaping businesses can point you in the right direction.

103 thoughts on “Unscreened Soil vs. Screened Soil vs. Garden Mix: What to Choose for Your Southern Alberta Project”

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