How Much Is a Yard of Dirt? Cost, Coverage Area and More

Dirt, also known as topsoil or fill dirt, is an essential material for many landscaping and construction projects. Knowing how much a yard of dirt covers and costs is key when estimating a project budget and materials. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about buying dirt by the yard, including average costs per yard, coverage areas, and factors that impact price.

What’s Considered a Yard of Dirt?

A “yard” of dirt refers to a cubic yard, which is a standard unit of measurement. One cubic yard equates to a volume of 27 cubic feet.

To visualize a cubic yard, imagine a cube that measures 3 feet x 3 feet x 3 feet (27 cubic feet). This amount could also be spread over a 1-yard square area with a depth of 1 yard.

When purchasing dirt, suppliers will specify the price and delivery amount in cubic yards. Loads are commonly offered in increments of half yards, single yards, or multiple yard volumes.

Average Cost per Cubic Yard of Dirt

The cost of a yard of dirt can vary significantly based on several factors, which we’ll cover next. However, on average, you can expect to pay:

  • $25 – $50 per cubic yard for basic fill dirt or topsoil
  • $50 – $100 per cubic yard for premium screened topsoil

Landscaping companies may mark up the price when delivering and spreading dirt. Bulk delivery of 10 yards or more may qualify for discounted pricing.

Always obtain quotes from multiple suppliers before purchasing dirt to compare rates. Prices can fluctuate based on demand and availability in your area.

Factors That Impact the Cost of a Yard of Dirt

Several key factors determine the price you’ll pay per cubic yard of dirt:

Type of Dirt

There are different categories of dirt at different price points:

  • Fill Dirt: The cheapest option at $15 – $30 per cubic yard. This is loose dirt with no organic matter. It’s used for filling holes, leveling the ground, or as a base layer.
  • Topsoil: More expensive at $30 – $60 per cubic yard. Topsoil contains organic matter like compost or manure. It provides nutrients for plants and creates a fertile growing medium.
  • Premium/Screened Topsoil: The most expensive at $50 – $100+ per cubic yard. This is high-quality topsoil filtered to remove rocks, debris, and large clumps. It has excellent drainage and consistency for landscaping uses.
  • Specialty Soil Blends: Customized soils with specific ingredients like sand, compost, or gravel can cost $75 per cubic yard or more.

The type of projects you need the dirt for will determine which soil type makes the most economic sense.

Delivery Fees

Having dirt delivered adds convenience but increases the total cubic yard cost. Some suppliers include delivery in their pricing, while others charge additional per-yard fees that can range from $10 – $25 per cubic yard.

Compare quotes to see if “free delivery” offers actually save money over suppliers charging lower base prices with delivery fees.

Quantity Ordered

Like many products, buying dirt in bulk quantities can lower the per-unit price. Suppliers may offer discounted cubic yard pricing if you purchase 10 or more yards at once.

Before ordering, calculate your needs so you don’t purchase excess material. But take advantage of volume discounts if available in your area.


If you live in an area where quality dirt is abundant, costs may be lower compared to regions with scarcer supplies. Transportation expenses also factor into the price.

Urban locations where most dirt must be imported generally have higher per-cubic-yard costs than rural areas surrounded by farms with fresh topsoil.

Delivery Method

Having dirt dumped from a truck is the most affordable delivery method. Optional services like spreading, grading, and leveling the dirt add labor costs and increase the overall price per yard.

If you don’t need the labor, opt for simple dump delivery to save money. Or rent equipment to spread and grade the material yourself.

How Much Area Does a Yard of Dirt Cover?

To estimate how many cubic yards of dirt you need for a project, you’ll need to determine the coverage area of each yard. The short answer is that 1 cubic yard of dirt covers:

  • 324 square feet at a depth of 1 inch
  • 162 square feet at a depth of 2 inches
  • 108 square feet at a depth of 3 inches
  • 81 square feet at a depth of 4 inches
  • 65 square feet at a depth of 5 inches

This accounts for some settling and compaction. To allow for more, you may want to decrease the area covered per yard by 10-20% depending on the project.

To calculate your specific coverage:

  1. Measure the length x width to get the total square footage area needed.
  2. Determine the depth needed in inches.
  3. Divide the total square footage by the square footage covered per inch of depth (324, 162, 108, 81, etc based on depth from the list above).
  4. Round up the result to determine the minimum number of cubic yards required.

For example, for a 300 sq ft area needing 4″ of dirt:

300 sq ft / 81 sq ft per inch of depth = 3.7 cubic yards

Round up to 4 cubic yards

When planning a landscaping or construction project, this simple coverage estimate method will help you buy the right quantity of dirt.

What is Fill Dirt Used For?

Fill dirt, sometimes known as filling sand, builder’s rubble, or other names, is one of the most common and affordable types of dirt available. As the name suggests, fill dirt serves various “filling” needs:

  • Filling holes and depressions – Fill dirt can quickly level out bumps, dips, and holes in the ground. It provides an affordable way to smooth and prepare the base layer for lawns, gardens, foundations, etc.
  • Raising ground level – Need to elevate a part of your yard due to drainage issues or other reasons? Fill dirt can be imported and graded to boost the ground height.
  • Landscaping contours – For building hills, berms, and other landscaping features, fill dirt offers an easily sculptable material to create different elevation levels.
  • Construction foundations – Fill dirt is economically used as backfill material around foundations and other structures. Compaction provides stability.
  • Retaining walls – Fill dirt can provide the compacted structural support needed behind retaining walls of all types and materials.
  • Trenches and ditches – Often used to backfill utility trenches or temporary drainage ditches after underground pipework is complete.

While versatile and affordable, fill dirt lacks the organic matter and nutrients needed for healthy plant growth. It must be combined with or topped by quality topsoil when used for lawns, gardens, and landscaping.

What is Topsoil Used For?

While cheaper fill dirt serves structural purposes, topsoil provides fertility and beneficial growing properties. Topsoil is used for multiple gardening, landscaping, and agricultural needs:

  • New lawns – Spreading quality topsoil creates the ideal soft, nutrient-rich base for establishing new grass seed or sod.
  • Existing lawns – Top-dressing thin or bare lawn areas with 1/4 to 1/2 inches of fresh topsoil helps rejuvenate grass.
  • Planting beds and gardens – Blend topsoil with compost or manure to enrich planting beds and gardens that need improved drainage, nutrients, and fertility.
  • Potting soil – Many bagged and bulk potting soils incorporate screened topsoil as an ingredient for container gardening.
  • Landscaping features – For building planter boxes, berms, or other decorative features, nutrient-rich topsoil supports healthy plant and grass growth.
  • New trees and shrubs – Dig wide planting holes and backfill with topsoil so roots establish quickly in loose, fertile soil.
  • Erosion control – Applying a thick layer of topsoil can prevent erosion on newly seeded areas. The roots stabilize slopes and drainage ways.

While costing a bit more than basic fill dirt, topsoil is worth the investment for growing anything from lawn grass to fruits and vegetables. Be sure to buy high-quality topsoil free of weeds, debris, and chemical residues.

How Much Does Screened Topsoil Cost?

Screened topsoil represents the premium end of the dirt spectrum. While regular topsoil suffices for many uses, screened topsoil offers additional advantages that come at a higher cubic yard price.

On average, expect to pay between $50 – $100 per cubic yard for screened topsoil depending on your location and delivery fees. The screening process increases costs but produces several benefits:

  • No large materials or debris – Screened topsoil filters out rocks, roots, building materials, trash, and other undesirables. This creates a smooth, consistent growing medium.
  • Fewer clumps – Screening breaks up dense dirt clumps that compact and restrict water and root penetration.
  • Excellent drainage – The loose, friable texture allows moisture to soak vertically down rather than sheeting across the surface during heavy rain.
  • Blendable – The fine texture mixes easily with soil amendments like compost or manure.
  • Weed prevention – Removing the top 2 to 3 inches of native topsoil helps eliminate surface weed seeds.
  • Higher fertility – Screening blends soil from different sources for improved nutritional balance.

If your budget allows, invest in screened topsoil for the highest quality dirt and best landscape or garden results. The extra cost often pays off in faster germination, healthier plants, and fewer problems.

Buying Topsoil in Bulk Bags

For small garden or landscaping projects, buying topsoil by the bag is an option. Bulk bags provide an affordable delivery method for quantities less than 1 cubic yard.

Typical bulk bag sizes include:

  • 1.5 cubic foot bag – Covers 16 sq ft at 3 inches deep
  • 3 cubic foot bag – Covers 32 sq ft at 3 inches deep
  • 1 cubic yard SuperSack – Covers 108 sq ft at 3 inches deep

Bagged topsoil averages $3 to $6 per cubic foot, or $45 to $75 per 1 cubic yard SuperSack. Bulk bags prevent contamination during transport and are easier to handle than bulk loads.

Check costs per cubic foot/yard to compare bagged soil versus bulk delivery. Factor in spreading labor if purchasing loose cubic yard loads.

Delivery Options for Bulk Topsoil

If your project requires several cubic yards of topsoil, loose bulk delivery is the most efficient and cost-effective option. Work with your local topsoil supplier to arrange delivery details:

  • Truck types – Stake bed trucks dump from the rear and can spread soil as they drive. End dump trailers require spreading after dumping.
  • Delivery fees – Prices vary based on mileage and minimum order amounts. Compare supplier fees.
  • Spreading/grading – Ask if they offer optional spreading using a tow-behind dirt pan or loader bucket to grade soil.
  • Load sizes – Buy increments of half, full, or multiple cubic yard volumes based on your needed amount.
  • Equipment access – Confirm they can access your delivery site with their truck equipment.
  • Site preparation – Remove debris, trim overhanging limbs, etc. to ensure easy access to the dumping location.
  • Permits – Most areas don’t require permits for bulk dirt delivery, but suppliers can confirm if needed.

With proper planning and coordination, bulk topsoil delivery allows you to enrich your yard efficiently and cost-effectively. Communicate details clearly with your supplier to ensure the process goes smoothly.

Key Questions to Ask When Ordering Topsoil

Since topsoil quality and content can vary drastically, ask the right questions when buying dirt to ensure you get the right material for your project:

  • Where was the topsoil sourced? Locally harvested topsoil matches your native soil environment best. Imported, recycled, or blended soils may differ.
  • What is the organic matter content? Higher organic content from compost, manure, etc. nurtures plants but can temporarily impede seeding if excessive. Ask for a percentage.
  • Is the pH balanced? Topsoil pH between 6 and 7 provides optimal growing conditions for most plants. Acidic or alkaline soils will require pH adjustment.
  • Is the soil screened? Screening removes rocks/debris and improves consistency. Unscreened soil may still contain sticks, building materials, and other items.
  • What are the soil structure and texture? Loamy, smooth dirt with a mix of particle sizes provides the best landscape performance.
  • Are any fertilizers, chemicals, herbicides present? Avoid chemically treated soils which can harm plants, pets, and people. Opt for all-natural topsoil.
  • Is the topsoil weed and seed free? Weed seeds lead to future problems. Request soil harvested below the top 2 to 3 inches of the surface to avoid seeds.

By asking questions, inspecting samples, and requesting lab analysis data, you can ensure the delivered topsoil meets your garden or landscaping needs. Quality topsoil leads to better outcomes.

DIY Soil Testing Methods

Before spreading new topsoil, it’s wise to analyze the soil yourself using a few simple DIY testing methods:

  • Ribbon test – Squeeze moist soil in your fist. If it forms a ribbon shape when pushed between fingers, the texture is ideal. If not, adjust with compost.
  • Ball test – Form soil into a ball then crumble. Soil should clump slightly but break up easily if friable.
  • Mason jar test – Fill a jar 1/3 full of soil and the rest with water. Shake then set aside. Layer settling shows the ratio of sand/silt/clay components.
  • pH test – Use indicator drops, litmus paper, or inexpensive pH meters to determine acidity or alkalinity. Most plants prefer slightly acidic pH between 6 and 7.
  • Drainage test – Fill a hole with water, allowing it to drain completely. Refill to see how fast it drains the second time. Faster is better.

While professional lab tests provide the most accurate data on soil composition, these quick home tests can indicate if conditions are appropriate for your intended use before spreading any new topsoil. Adjust as needed.

Should I Have My Soil Tested Professionally?

For large landscaping projects, new lawns, gardens, or any agriculture use, professional soil testing provides valuable data to refine and amend the soil for optimal outcomes.

Professional labs offer complete testing services that home test kits cannot match in accuracy and detail:

  • Texture percentage – Labs determine your exact soil makeup percentages – sand, silt, clay. This indicates drainage capacities and nutrient retention ability.
  • Nutrient testing – The levels of major nutrients are measured – nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and others. This shows what’s present and what nutrients may need to be added.
  • Micronutrient testing – Other trace elements like iron, copper, boron, zinc, manganese are measured. Deficiencies affect plant health.
  • Cation exchange capacity – This shows the soil’s ability to hold positively charged nutrients and buffer acidity. Higher is better.
  • Heavy metals testing – Checks for potentially toxic levels of aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, lead and other metals.
  • Organic matter percentage – High organic content boosts fertility but can reduce seed germination until it fully decomposes.

Using the detailed lab results, soil amendments and fertilizers can be fine-tuned to create an optimal growing medium for lawns, gardens, crops, or landscaping. The small cost of testing pays dividends.

How to Spread and Grade Delivered Topsoil

Once your delivery truck unloads the topsoil, follow these steps to spread and grade it properly:

  • Use a dirt pan – Drag a dirt pan or grading box behind a tractor or skid steer. Set the proper angle and height to smooth and level as you drive.
  • ** Employ a front loader** – Use the bucket on a front end loader to grade and transport soil. Lift and carry rather than push dragging for best results.
  • Rake by hand – For small projects, use a landscaping rake to smooth and distribute soil. Add the right thickness in layers across the area.
  • Water for settling – Lightly water to encourage natural settling prior to final grading. Allow it to dry between watering to prevent over-compaction.
  • Grade again – Once settled, make a final pass with equipment or by hand to achieve the finished grade height and smoothness.

Proper spreading and grading ensures an even, consistent layer of topsoil for planting grass seed, sod, or other landscaping. Preparing the soil thoroughly leads to greater project success.

Common Problems to Avoid When Ordering Topsoil

Buying the wrong type of topsoil or poor planning during delivery can create problems down the road. Avoid these potential pitfalls:

  • Assuming all topsoil is equal – Test and inspect soil to ensure it fits your needs. Don’t assume one load matches another.
  • Not ordering a little extra – It’s usually better to have leftover soil than to run short on a project. Calculate a 5-10% overage.
  • Forgetting access for trucks – Ensure delivery equipment can easily reach the drop-off point safely. Clear away obstacles beforehand.
  • Allowing trucks to drive on wet soil – Prevent deep rutting and compaction by only allowing equipment on firm, dry areas.
  • Failing to spread quickly – Leaving soil in piles for extended periods will negatively impact the consistency when spread later.
  • Limited base stabilization – Growth settles into loose or low underlying soil. Ensure the base layer compacts properly to prevent sinking.
  • Spreading soil too thin – Don’t “stretch” topsoil too far. Provide adequate depth for roots to reduce surface