Does Garden Soil Have Cells in It?

Like most people, you may not have ever considered soil to be anything other than the medium your plants thrive in. However, there are a lot of unique and extraordinary things about soil that make it one of the most potent life channels in existence. So does garden soil have cells in it? 

Garden soil itself doesn’t have cells in it, but the organisms living within it make up billions of cell communities, making up the basis of life beneath the surface of the earth – and the enabler for all living things. 

In the rest of this article, we’ll discuss exactly what makes up soil, the ecosystems which enable life to form from the soil, and whether or not soil can be considered a living thing. Additionally, we’ll discuss how soil is formed and whether it is a renewable resource. By the end, you’ll better understand the components of your garden soil and why it’s so valuable to us.

What Is Soil Made Of?

Contrary to popular belief, your garden soil harbors some of the most intricate biological systems and processes. These systems are essential for maintaining many life forms and consist of more than just dirt and plants. 

A mere handful of soil consists of billions of bacterial cells. This bacteria is the foundation of soil matter, enabling microorganisms, microbes, plants, and animals to thrive. 

This living matter within your soil promotes a living and breathing cycle that supports: 

  • Breeding 
  • Propagation 
  • Gas exchange 
  • Chemical balance 
  • Energy storage
  • Organic decomposition

So, while the soil itself is not necessarily a living thing, the existence of creatures both microscopic and visible to the naked eye within the soil means that, in some senses, it does contain cells. These webs of life are the fundamental parameters that make up soil. 

Additionally, the bacteria and fungi that call the soil their home are the building blocks of all plant life. Plants can thrive in your garden soil primarily because the processes of decomposition by bacteria digest and expel that all-important organic matter that plants so dearly love.

In turn, this organic matter promotes the overall structure of the soil, allowing aeration, drainage, and other essential mechanisms that make the favorable conditions for life to emerge and sustain.

Understanding the Soil: How Does It Work?

As a gardener, understanding how your soil works is one of the best ways to ensure your plant life flourishes over the long term. However, the way soil functions can seem complex at first, so we’ll break it down into bitesize explanations for ease.

Imagine your soil like the human body: the body is a conduit that contains all the organs and their complex functions. The organs and other essential components of the body can function as needed if given the correct conditions to do so. 

When you put nutrients into your body and keep it healthy – such as eating lots of leafy greens, exercising regularly, and consuming sufficient vitamins and minerals – it allows your organs to perform their functions efficiently. If the conditions are just right, your body will be able to thrive. 

The soil works in precisely the same way. If the right conditions are available and nutrient needs are met, the microorganisms within the soil can perform their jobs properly. If the conditions in the ground are just right, the living things inside the soil will create an optimal environment for life to flourish. 

Once those conditions are perfected, bacteria and other microscopic organisms within the soil can create the energy needed to provide essential gas exchange, such as the excretion of carbon dioxide. 

Over time, these organisms will enable the natural decomposition of organic matter, turning this organic matter into the vital life force of plants. In the process, natural water and air filtration channels are formed, enabling life to sprout. The plant matter is then “digested” back into the soil, creating the perfect environment for more bacteria to thrive, and the process starts all over again. 

This is essentially a cyclical process and one that will endlessly repeat itself if the conditions are met. For this reason, soil’s appearance and physical properties constantly change over time because the dynamic nature of the ecosystem within the soil means it is always performing specific biological processes. These natural processes are as essential to life as a beating heart. 

It is precisely in this sense that you might assume that garden soils have certain lifelike characteristics. While it doesn’t have cells itself, it contains cells that are essential to support life. These cells can function perfectly if provided with the right environment. 

Is Soil a Living Thing?

Now that you understand the basic parameters of garden soil, you might be wondering whether or not soil can be considered a living thing. In many cases, this is a subjective question, and different people will have different answers.

Many biologists consider soil a living thing because it constantly changes its form. The way it looks, its natural composition, whether or not it can support life, its ability to absorb nutrients, its water drainage capacities – these are all things that make the soil so dynamic. 

This dynamic nature is the reason many consider the soil itself to be a living thing. It breathes and needs water, just like other living things. So, in this sense, although it may not have a nervous system or other recognizable characteristics that we might think make something living, it does emanate the essential processes that fundamentally create life in the first place.

Since soil creates and sustains life, it must be living, right?

Well, if you’re from a more literal school of thought, you might think differently. From this perspective, soil cannot be a living thing, primarily because it does not contain cells. It only contains cells (which are the basic building blocks of living things) when it houses microbes, fungi, plant life, and the like. Therefore, the soil does not meet the specifications of a “living thing.”

Whatever school of thought you consider to be correct, soil still needs specific conditions to create life. It still has needs and ceases to support life if those needs are not met.

How Is Soil Formed?

You may be wondering where soil comes from. Does it appear naturally in the ground, or is it a product of another biological process?

Soil is formed through the breakdown of organic compounds and rock formations. Over thousands of years, rocks and minerals have been broken down by weathering, fossil formation, gravity, and complex chemical reactions. This process is called pedogenesis.

Pedogenesis essentially refers to the parent material from which the soil was formed. That parent material begins with rocks. This fact alone is one of the many reasons why many experts don’t consider soil to be a living thing since it was created by something that doesn’t contain cells and therefore is not considered a living thing. 

When the rocks are broken down, they react with the other building blocks of soil, such as microbes, animals, fossils, and insects. The erosion of the parent material by temperature fluctuations and weathering is the most crucial aspect of the creation of soil, alongside water erosion and the decomposition of organic matter. 

It can take many thousands of years for soil to form as we know it today. 

Is Soil a Renewable Resource?

This brings us to our final point. There is a common misconception that, since the soil is found naturally in nature and doesn’t need to be “created” like other essential resources, it must be considered a renewable resource. 

Soil is not a renewable resource. However, many people don’t realize it. Since soil takes such a long time to form, the process isn’t fast or efficient enough to be considered renewable. In fact, we are using (and abusing) natural soils far quicker than they can be regenerated. 

Unsustainable land practices are rampant in the global agricultural industry, and over 50% of all soil-covered area used for agriculture has been neglected. Over time, this could lead to a shortage of available land for agricultural development since the soils have sorely degenerated. 

Since soil is one of the most essential pillars of life – and one that gives us the most basic needs, such as food and medicine – this is a worrying statistic. It brings into question the validity of current agricultural practices and whether or not they are sustainable enough to allow for soil regeneration over time.

Final Thoughts

While garden soil doesn’t have cells, the organisms within the soil certainly do. Whether or not you consider soil to be a living thing is based on your perspective. However, it undoubtedly provides us with the basic necessities of life. The life that forms as a direct result of our soils’ ecosystems is one of the most powerful determinants of human and animal existence. 

Your garden soil is far more powerful than it seems. On the face of it, it’s just dirt. In reality, it contains billions of different cells, organisms, and chemicals that bring life to our planet.

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of, a website dedicated to gardening tips. Inspired by his mother’s love of gardening, Alex has a passion for taking care of plants and turning backyards into feel-good places and loves to share his experience with the rest of the world.

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