Using sand versus soil for landscaping.
In: Landscape Tips

The terms ‘sand’ and ‘soil’ are often interchanged and used synonymously with one another. Many people consider them the same, but when scrutinized, they are quite different from each other. First and foremost, sand is a type of soil–so is silt, clay, peat, and loam. These types of soils are generated when rocks break up into their constituent parts and are acted upon by outside forces, such as wind, water, and natural salts. The broad definition of soil refers to the loose layer of earth that covers the surface of the planet. Sand, on the other hand, is defined as loose material that consists of rocks or mineral grains.

What is Sand?

Difference between sand and soil

As a naturally occurring granular material composed of finely divided rock and mineral particles, sand consists of many components. Depending on the location, sand will vary in texture and color from one location to another. Sand is composed of silica, calcium carbonate and other minerals. A grain of sand does not hold water, is non-porous, and has large spaces between the particles which allows air to pass through more freely.

What is Soil?

Along with air and water, soil is considered one of three major natural resources. It is made up of many things, but the three main components are minerals that come from nearby, organic matter that comes from the remains of plants and animals that use the soil, and the living organisms that live in the soil. Soil is porous, it holds water, and the fine particles that make up soil are small in size and packed together. This makes soil with very small particles much less penetrated and can even allow water to sit on top of it (e.g. silt and clay).

What is Best for your next Landscape Project?Difference between sand and soil


Sand is used for a number of landscaping projects, three common uses for sand include:

Between Pavers: If you are installing a paver walkway or patio, sand is used to provide leveling and fill space in between the pavers. The sand helps prevent shifting and breaking and makes the pavers much more stable.

Concrete: Because of its coarseness, sand can be used to make certain types of concrete which can be used used to make walkways, outdoor seating areas, edging, and much more.

Outdoor Play Area: The most obvious uses of sand is for a children’s play area. Play sand makes a perfect base for playboxes and flooring under play equipment. Because of its granularity, sand is more likely to remain in those play areas and not tracked around nearby landscaping. Sand also makes a soft surface for outdoor sports. By creating a smooth playing surface and edged with wood or small pavers, an authentic looking sports area can be created. And for greater durability, a layer of gravel can be included underneath the sand.


Compost is organic animal and plant matter that has decomposed. It is not a replacement for soil but an additive that will improve soil quality. Compost is rich in nutrients and can make nutrients in the soil more readily available to plants. Compost is great for amending topsoil for a garden.

Garden SoilDifference between sand and soil

Garden soils are formulated to target a specific type of plant such as flowers, vegetables, or herbs. Fra-Dor carries a 50/50 mix of topsoil and Mn Dot grade 2 compost which works well for vegetable and herb gardens. Other types of garden soil can be created or purchased, but it is good to know your planting plans prior to creating the perfect garden soil.

Black Dirt

Black dirt is less than ideal for most garden plants. Instead, black dirt is best suited for filling a low area, creating walkways, or preparing your yard for sod. Black dirt gets its color as it contains a significant amount of organic material, most of which comes from decomposing plant materials.


Ultimately, sand is a subset of soil but both provide benefits in their own right and can be used in different ways. Whether planting a garden or making a sandbox, there are many instances to have one material over the other. Next time you are in need of sand for residential or commercial projects; or if you need soil to start a vegetable garden or landscape project, contact Fra-Dor Landscape supplies for quality material at reasonable prices. We know sand and we know soil. We have multiple kinds of each and we’ll help you determine what product should cover the earth’s surface for your next project.


Related Articles:
Your Guide to Gardening & Landscaping Soil
The Best Soil for a Raised Garden Bed

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