Visitors to Berkeley Hort are sometimes confused by the array of mulches, soil amendments, manures and container mixes that we sell. The following is intended to answer some of the more routinely asked questions so that next time you’re in the nursery you can confidently say “Give me two chicken, one fir and a large planting mix”.

Tastes change, and what was once “in” soon becomes passé. Such is the case with GreenAll Firmulch, which used to be our number one seller among organic soil amendments. In my opinion it’s still the best all-around soil conditioner—a combination of ground composted fir bark and 15% chicken manure, worm castings, bat guano and kelp meal. You just can’t beat this product for amending the hard clay of Berkeley and Oakland or the sandy soils of Alameda.

What seems to have superseded Firmulch in the hearts of many is G & B Raised Bed & Potting Mix. Perhaps this is because of its versatility and OMRI Certification. Not only can you use this winning combination of recycled forest products, coir, perlite, kelp meal and mushroom compost as a soil amendment, but it also does double duty as an outdoor container mix. Light in texture, slightly acidic in pH, this is an organic soilless mixture of many uses.

If you’re looking for a container mixture for indoors, GreenAll Potting Soil can’t be beat. What distinguishes this product from planting mix is the addition of a soil (mineral) component, in this case green sand. This makes for a heavier blend which retains water well and has enough fertilizer added to get your houseplants off to a good start before supplementary feeding is required.

An enduring favorite among old school gardeners is Steer Manure. This is used to amend and fertilize soil and for many is the traditional top dressing for roses. Of greater fertility, and therefore to be used with greater caution is Chicken Manure. This is a wonderful natural fertilizer around flowers and veggies when blended with liberal amounts of your native soil.

A relative newcomer to the soil amendment scene, but already amassing a devoted following, is Azalea, Camellia & Gardenia Planting Mix. In addition to fir bark, redwood bark and peat moss, this nutritious blend has feather meal, bat guano, earthworm castings, gypsum and a bunch of other good stuff for acid-loving plants.

What goes on top of the soil is another matter. A mulch is spread around plants to keep weeds down, water in, as decoration, or all three. In all categories one of our favorites is Shredded Cedar Bark. It does a great job of suppressing weeds and retaining moisture when applied in sufficient quantity. Many folks consider the looks and smell of cocoa bean hulls to be the perfect finishing touch for flowerbeds, and others prefer bark chips…it’s your choice!