Topsoil Specifications for Landscape Planting

Within the UK there is no statutory guidance for specifying the performance criteria of soils for landscape planting. There are however, several generic specifications available for assessing soils for general landscape planting, which are briefly discussed below. Although generic specifications can give a good indication of soil quality they are not ideal for specific end-uses, i.e. sports pitches or wildflower planting. In these instances we would always advocate the use of a specification designed for the proposed scheme.

British Standards
A British Standard for topsoil was first introduced in 1965, BS3882:1965 Recommendations and Classification of Topsoil. It provided guidance on the description of topsoil, classification by texture, pH, stone content and stone size and notes on the testing and designation of soil.

This was replaced by the second edition of the standard, BS3882:1994 Specification for Topsoil. This version of the standard introduced performance requirements for 3 grades of topsoil (Premium, General-Purpose and Economy) in terms of pH, salinity, textural characteristics, stone content, organic matter and nutrient status. It also provides guidance for the use and handling of topsoil.

The third and current edition of the standard, BS3882:2007 Specification for Topsoil and Requirements for Use was introduced in November 2007. The current version of the standard provides a classification of Multipurpose topsoil and Specific purpose topsoil.

Voelcker Topsoil Standard
Voelcker et al (1989) produced a two-part guide to specifying topsoil, which was published in Landscape Design. This built on the original British Standard and provided a set of criteria based on the authors’ experience of analysing soils, which were to be used for landscape planting. Although not intended as a definitive specification for all situations this specification provides a good assessment of a soils physico-chemical quality with regards to its suitability for use in landscape planting.

At Terragen our Soil Scientists have extensive experience of assessing soils conformance with specifications and can also provide advice on creating a specification for a particular landscape scheme. For further advice on soil specifications please contact Paul Brewer