Houston-area soil expert shares fall gardening tips


Mark Bowen is a 54-year-old adult who still plays in the dirt. So much so that he has made it his calling as a horticulturist and product development manager for Heirloom Soils à Porter.

There are mounds and mounds of dirt that Bowen can play with outside his office and create custom mixes for various soils in the Gulf Coast region. Whether it’s troublesome Beaumont clay, also known as gumbo clay, or builder’s fill, Bowen can whip up a mix to brighten up homeowners’ landscapes.

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“I played in the dirt and never missed a puddle,” he laughed as he grew up.

He’s heard of all the “dirty” jokes his friends can make, and he’s taking it like a champ. But the work he does for clients is no laughing matter.

The Houston native who now lives at The Woodlands is the author of the books “Habitat Gardening for Houston” and “Southeast Texas and Naturalistic Landscaping for the Gulf Coast.” He is experienced in managing jobs for a variety of clients, from large commercial projects to mom-and-pop landscapers or home gardeners.

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On Monday evening, he offered his expertise to members of the Lake Houston Garden Club who gathered at the Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Kingwood.

Bowen got into the business in the 1980s working on landscaping projects with a landscape design and construction company.

“That’s where I learned how to make custom floors. At the time, no company offered custom blends, so I learned by creating my own from scratch,” he said.

Now he rarely does landscaping projects as his hands are full of a thriving soil business.

For 22 years now, he has observed the performance of his custom blends and continues to develop different options. The past 12 years have been focused on developing products for home gardeners, landscapers and other related businesses.

In addition to the custom recipes he develops for individual projects, he also helps develop a line of bagged products that are now offered by retailers.

“We also recycle a lot of the materials that go into making our compost like leaves, grass, brush, things I cut my teeth on in the 80s that were usually landfilled or burned. Now we are recycling these products and in doing so we are creating a lot of local jobs,” Bowen said.

Custom blends can be used for a wide range of products including potted plants, citrus, cacti, roses, orchids and more.

“We’re like the dirt version of a craft brewery,” he said of high-quality micro-industry.

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What about his own backyard?

“I would say that my garden is beautiful, but not immaculate. It’s well-designed, well-maintained, but I also like projects that are organic in nature and not too contrived,” he said. “I want something natural, not necessarily lined plants.”

Its plants are more native, drought tolerant and provide a habitat that attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.

Heirloom Soils manufactures its products in Porter and customers are always welcome.

“We also have a presence in 30 garden centers in the greater Houston area and plan to expand to Austin, Dallas and San Antonio,” he said.

He is proud of the team he works with and hopes to spark interest in seeing more people take up gardening.

Part of the spreading of the dirt gospel came Monday night when he was the guest speaker at the Lake Houston Garden Club. His subject ? Preparing the garden and flower beds for the fall and winter season.

“With high inflation, hopefully they can learn to expand and provide themselves with a healthy product,” he said.

He also says that gardening is very therapeutic with the silence of gardening.

“I love that aspect,” Bowen said.

Its reward is seeing individuals take the reins and make their own compost, mixes and whatever else they need to feed themselves.

“It can be contagious and spread throughout the community,” he hoped.

Bowen is available to help other groups add tools to their gardening toolbox. He can be contacted at [email protected]

Heirloom Soils is a division of JMJ Organics LTD owned by longtime Huffman residents Dean and Bernice Warren who also own Kingwood Garden Center, Warren’s Rock and Mulch and Warren’s Southern Gardens. They are well-known philanthropists who give back to the community through product donations. For more information, visit their website at heirloomsoils.com.

Here are some fall planting tips for homeowners.

For home gardeners looking for a custom bagged mix, Heirloom Soils is currently available at 30 Houston-area retail stores.

Heritage floors

Plant in the fall

This is the best time to plant long-term plants like trees, shrubs and ground covers.

“It’s much better now, not only because it’s cool, but because when you plant in the fall, these products have more time for roots to become established than in the spring,” Bowen said. .

He added that by next summer, if there was another drought or a prolonged period of temperatures of 100 degrees or more, they would be more likely to survive.

Soil loosening

Consider amending or mixing 3 to 4 inches of a compost and expanded shale mixture to beds that have become too compact before replanting this fall. The compost will help lighten and loosen the soil and the expanded shale will improve drainage and soil structure.

land of roses

For new beds with versatile soil, for a wide variety, use good rose soil to make raised beds 6 to 8 inches high. Rose soils tend to be the highest quality mixes from many soil companies.

Starting mix

For a good all-purpose seed starter mix, mix one part each of leaf, coco, and perlite soil.

Improve your soil

If your beds haven’t been doing so well lately, put on a 1/2 inch layer of compost first before mulching (over the compost) next time. The compost undercoating will gradually help improve the performance of your soil, and the mulch layer will protect the compost.

Dress up your lawn

Early fall is a great time of year to compost your lawn. Ideally, aerate your lawn to the core, then sprinkle a ½ inch layer of leaf mold compost over your lawn. The aeration and compost combo will help loosen your soil, improve moisture absorption and help the lawn resist the challenges of disease, pests and root compaction.

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