Houston area soil expert gives fall gardening tips

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

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

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

He’s heard about all the ‘dirt’ jokes his friends can manufacture, and he takes it like a champ. But the work he performs for clients is no laughing matter.

The native Houstonian who now lives in 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 handling jobs for a variety of clients, from large commercial projects to mom-and-pop landscapers or home gardeners.

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Monday night, he offered his expertise to the Lake Houston Garden Club members who met at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Kingwood.

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

“That’s where I learned about making custom soils. Back then, there were no companies offering custom blends, so I learned by making my own from scratch,” he said.

Now he rarely does landscape projects since his hands are full with a thriving soil business.

For 22 years now, he’s seen how his custom blends perform and he continues to develop different options. The last 12 years have been focused on developing products for home gardeners, landscape companies and other related businesses.

Outside of the custom recipes he develops for individual projects, he’s also helping develop a line of bagged products that’s now being offered through retailers.

“We also recycle a lot of materials that go into making our compost like leaves, grass, brush, things that I cut my teeth on in the ‘80s and were typically landfill or burn. Now we’re recycling those products and in doing so, creating a lot of local jobs,” Bowen said.

The custom mixes can be used for a wide range of products including potted plants, citrus, cacti, roses, orchids and much more.

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

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What about his own yard?

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

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

Heirloom Soils manufacture their products in Porter and customers are always welcome to come and visit.

“We’re also in 30 garden centers in the greater Houston area and we have plans to push out to Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio,” he said.

He’s proud of the team he works with and hopes he creates interest in seeing more people get into gardening.

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

“With high inflation, I hope they can learn how to grow and provide a healthy product for themselves,” he said.

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

“I love that aspect of it,” Bowen said.

His reward is watching individuals take the reins and make their own compost, blends, and whatever they need for sustenance.

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

Bowen is available to help other groups add tools to their toolbox for gardening. He can be reached at markbowenhoutx@gmail.com.

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

Here are a few fall planting tips for homeowners.

For home gardeners who are looking for a bagged custom mix, Heirloom Soils is currently offered in 30 retail stores in the Houston area.

For home gardeners who are looking for a bagged custom mix, Heirloom Soils is currently offered in 30 retail stores in the Houston area.

Heirloom Soils

Plant during the fall

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

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

He added that by the next summer, if there’s another drought or extended period of 100-degree or hotter temps, they’ll be more likely to survive.

Loosening soil

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

Rose soils

For new beds with a multi-purpose soil, for a wide variety, use a good rose soil to make 6- to 8-inch-high raised beds. Rose soils tend to be the highest quality blends of many soil companies.

Starter blend

For a good all-purpose seed starter blend, mix one part each leaf mold compost, coco coir and perlite.

Enhance your soil

If your beds have not been performing as well as lately, put a 1/2-inch layer of compost down first before mulching (over the compost) the next time around. The compost under-dressing will gradually help boost your soil’s performance, and the mulch layer will protect the compost.

Top-dress your lawn

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





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