University of Maryland Extension

How to Attract and Conserve Pollinators and Natural Enemies in Your Garden

swallowtail butterfly on butterfly weed

Many beneficial insects feed on the pollen and nectar provided by flowering plants. Others need the shelter offered by perennial plants growing in untilled areas, woody plant material such as unused firewood, and undisturbed soil in areas that are not mowed or cultivated. You can be the architect of a garden that provides for these needs, and in return enjoy the pest control activities of these beneficial creatures. The following suggestions will help you get started:

  • Plant flowering plants in borders around the garden and as rows within the garden, to provide habitat and food for beneficials. See the Plants for Pollinators publications from Natural Resources Conservation Service.
  • To encourage beneficial insects, provide a water source in or near the home garden. Consider a dish or bird bath, or even a small pond, and change the water every other day to prevent mosquitoes from breeding.
  • Surround the garden with natural vegetation or perennial plant beds that offer sheltered overwintering sites, particularly for predaceous ground beetles.
  • If natural strips include cool season weeds, mow in late winter before seed-set.
  • Dandelion blooms provide nectar and pollen for the adults of some beneficial insects early in the season when nothing else is blooming. However, mow dandelions prior to seed formation, and to encourage movement of beneficial insects into the garden.
  • The best flowering plants to attract and conserve beneficials tend to have small, relatively open blossoms. Plants in the aster, carrot, and buckwheat families are especially good choices; alyssum provides pollen and nectar throughout the summer.
  • Parasitoids in particular will benefit from the blooms of wild parsnips, wild carrot, buttercups, and other wildflowers.
  • Other pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds are attracted to larger blossoms and tubular-shaped flowers.
  • To provide resources for as long as possible, chose plants that have overlapping periods of bloom. For example, use plants from the daisy or sunflower family (Asteraceae) in mixture with those of the carrot family (Umbelliferae).
  • In the fall, broccoli stubble can be left so that the side shoots bloom and provide a nectar source into early winter.
  • Excessive use of nitrogen fertilizers tend to favor an increase in the number of pests in the garden, so be careful with the amount of fertilizer used.
  • Minimize the use of pesticides and avoid pesticide application when plants are in bloom and beneficial insects are present.
  • Use straw mulch during the growing season to provide humid, sheltered hiding places for ground dwelling predators.
  • Cover the garden with mulch or plant a cover crop for the winter.
  • Leave parts of the landscape undisturbed to encourage ground nesting beneficials to become residents.
  • Unbarked firewood, bolts of wood, or nesting tubes can be used to attract and maintain solitary bees, such as mason bees.

Learn More! Go to HGIC's Pollinators and Natural Enemies pages. 

Additional Resources

  Authors: Mike Raupp, Jon Traunfeld, Chris Sargent

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