Sink your hand into the sun-warmed soil and reconnect with nature in the midst of your outdoor garden. Gardens provide many benefits, from the aesthetics of a flower garden to the bountiful harvests of a vegetable garden. Wherever you garden and whatever you grow, several gardening maintenance tips and strategies can help you keep your outdoor garden in a lush and healthy state.
Know the Climate
Not all garden plants can grow in all climates or all year. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) separates the country into hardiness zones, ranking them by their maximum and minimum temperatures. Gardeners should only grow plants that are listed for their zone; this is usually noted on the seed packet or can be obtained by asking the nursery that's selling them. Additionally, some plants react negatively to frost. Gardeners must know their area's frost dates so they can take the necessary steps when planting, harvesting or insulating outdoor vegetation. The U.S. National Arboretum publishes a hardiness zone map online, and the Farmer's Almanac maintains a yearly frost chart.
Amend the Soil
No matter what's being grown, all garden plants enjoy soil that's rich in organic matter. Stirring in 2 to 3 inches of aged compost, whether from a backyard compost bin or from a nursery, instantly conditions the soil. Compost adds organic matter, increases nutrient levels and helps the soil retain moisture.
Mulch offers two major benefits to the backyard gardener. First, it helps prevent moisture loss, thereby keeping the plants hydrated while reducing the cost of watering. Second, it blocks weeds from growing. The latter is especially relevant in bare flowerbeds or vegetable gardens where weeds are drawn to open, fertile patches of dirt. Mulch can be organic matter like wood chips or weed-free straw, or artificial mulch like plastic sheeting.
Outdoor gardens are home to many insect organisms, some which are nasty pests that attack plants and damage produce. Gardeners can practice companion planting to naturally limit problem pests. Companion planting consists of pairing vegetables, herbs and flowers in a beneficial manner. Cornell University recommends planting strong-smelling herbs, such as garlic, chives and basil, to drive away pests. For example, the university says that chives repel aphids; garlic helps drive away borers; thyme wards off cabbage moths; and lavender planted as a garden border can help keep out slugs.