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The Bend Magazine

Life’s a Garden. Dig it With Justin Butts.

07/07/2020 02:36PM ● By Luis Arjona

By:Luis Arjona  Photo: Rachel Benavides

After speaking on the phone with Justin and Kayla, it is difficult to not pick up on their charismatic personalities. Both are contributing editors to The Bend already and have an abundance of knowledge in their respective interests. Both welcoming conversation over the phone as if we were by a campfire, Justin and I discussed gardening tips for beginners looking to get into the craft. After our conversation, Justin did us the honor of responding to some questions I had penned for him. The Q&A exists to serve as a jumping-off point for those curious about starting their garden in the Coastal Bend.

Luis: With the COVID pandemic spiking in Texas, an article about at-home gardening seems relevant.  An independent food supply from tending a garden can be both beneficial and therapeutic in times of stress. Are there any beginner tips you would like to give to the locals?

Justin Butts: First, don’t wait to garden; begin immediately! No matter what time of year in South Texas, you can always start a garden. The sooner you start, the faster you will harvest vegetables, improve soil, and build your knowledge. Even if you only start with a cover crop of beans or vetch, start now!

Second, soil health is 90% of successful gardening! Don’t worry about becoming an expert in plants; become an expert in soil. Everything you do should contribute to healthy soil.

Third, plant the right plants for the current season. There are windows for growing certain plants. Growing in season gives more success and more fun.    

Any resources you would like to recommend?

The Bend's website honestly is an excellent resource for local gardeners. Search old issues and articles on their page or flip through an old issue for tips on preparing the soil and techniques for growing many plants.   

The Grow Biointensive website is one of the best resources on the web for gardening. Additionally, The Dirt Doctor is an excellent site for improving soil health. 

Are there any favorite fruits and vegetables that do better than others in our climate?

Nearly every vegetable and herb grow well in the Coastal Bend. Run a Google search for “plant hardiness zone 9” for a list of plants that grow in our area. The list of produce is exhaustive. Next, click on each of your favorite vegetables or herbs to learn when to plant each one. Investigate further to learn tips for the cultivation of each plant.

For those caring about sensibility, how about people designing their garden beds? Is there a source of inspiration you would like to mention?

The most important element of designing a garden bed is locating the bed! A vegetable or kitchen herb garden must receive at least 8 hours of direct sun per day. Insufficient sunlight is a chief reason that gardens fail in the Coastal Bend, due to shady plantings.  

Next, make sure the garden is protected from the relentless Gulf breezes in the summer, which dry out the soil.

Finally, always employ companion planting. Companion planting is the close spacing of two or more plants that benefit each other. 

Routine for beginner gardeners?  

Planting boxes and lumber borders are not necessarily needed! Skip the carpentry and get right into actual gardening in the dirt. Lumber borders can be added later, if at all. Start immediately by improving the soil and getting plants in the ground.  

Similar to the baking frenzy, I believe that gardening will also take a strong trend throughout the country during these times while we are all home more often. What are your thoughts on this take?

Gardening is currently one of the fastest-growing outdoor activities! A desire for fresh produce, healthy exercise, and simply reconnecting with nature is driving this trend. As new gardeners build their success, this trend will only increase.  


We hope the conversation helps anyone looking to begin their independent food source or are seeking a therapeutic activity to keep them productive at home. Good luck with your garden!