skipper insect on a black-eyed susan flower
Updated: April 16, 2024

Gardens to support bees, butterflies, and beneficial insects

  • Pollinators need what every animal needs: food, shelter, water, and a place to raise a family. Nature usually provides all that pollinators need; we just need to stay out of the way and resist disturbing their natural environment.
  • Construct pollinator gardens with a variety of colors, shapes, and heights of plants and include plants that flower throughout the growing season to provide nectar and pollen.
  • Eco-region variation in Maryland (mountain, Piedmont plateau, and coastal plain) should be considered when planting pollinator gardens.
  • You don’t need a large yard or budget. Even a few plants will help. 
  • Provide host plants in addition to nectar plants, and habitat for reproduction, life cycle completion, and winter shelter. Some pollinators and beneficial insects need the shelter provided by perennial plants growing in untilled areas, woody plant material such as unused firewood and dead branches, and undisturbed soil in areas that are not mowed or cultivated. See Additional Resources below for lists of host plants.
  • Avoid planting invasive species like butterfly bush. There are many alternatives like blazing star (Liatris spicata), New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis), and butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) to plant instead.
  • Add a water source in or near the pollinator garden. Consider a dish or birdbath, or even a small pond, and change the water every other day to prevent mosquitoes from breeding.
  • Do not use pesticides in your yard or garden. Learn to tolerate some damage and control pests in natural ways. 

Plants for Maryland gardens

  • Maryland can be divided into three broad physiographic regions, each with unique features such as soil type, climate, precipitation, geology, and topography. The three regions include the (1) western mountains with cooler temperatures and higher average elevations, (2) the rolling hills of the central Piedmont plateau, and (3) the warmer coastal plain.
  • There are some plants that are common throughout all three regions, while others are found in only small pockets of the state. The variety of ecosystems in Maryland makes gardening a challenge and a delight!
  • Learn more about Maryland's different regions and host plants for Maryland native bees.
Pollinator garden
Garden showing native bee balm in bloom. Credit Diane Mitchell, Harford County

Plant native when possible

  • We all want to plant native species! There are many benefits to using native plants. Mainly, they are adapted to the environment in which they naturally occur. This means they generally require less tending from gardeners because they are more resistant to regional pests, require less additional watering and fertilizing once established, and in some cases provide the only food source for specialist insects that need specific plant nutrients or products (pollen, nectar, oils) in critical stages of their life cycle. 
  • Seek out sources of native plants. Though your favorite local nursery may supply some native plants you may want to visit nurseries that specialize in native plants or order them from online sources. 

There are several websites to help you find nurseries that provide native plants in your area:

Garden design 

Ideally, you want to design your garden with native plants that are specific to the region of Maryland in which you live. Before running to your local nursery, let's examine how to choose the right plants for your unique garden that will attract beneficial natural enemies and pollinators.

Helping pollinators in small green spaces

Designing a garden doesn’t have to be a daunting task! Here are some key factors to consider when you sit down to design your garden space.

  • Provide nectar and pollen resources for as long as possible, choose plants that have overlapping periods of bloom. For example, use plants from the daisy or sunflower family (Asteraceae) in a mixture with those of the carrot family (Umbelliferae).
  • Design a garden with structural complexity and variety, making sure to be aware of the sun needs of plants. Be cautious not to shade plants that need full sun.
  • Different plants attract different pollinators. If you want to target specific pollinators, such as butterflies, try to plant flowers they are attracted to. Butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds are attracted to larger blossoms and tubular-shaped flowers.
  • For butterflies, also include host plants that feed young caterpillars. For example, black swallowtail butterfly caterpillars feed on the foliage of native and some non-native plants in the carrot family. Plant some extra carrots, parsley, or dill to share with them!

Pollinator garden design templates for central Maryland

Pollinator Garden Design Templates, courtesy of Live Green Howard, Howard County Government

Maintenance of a pollinator garden

Additional resources

Managing City and Suburban Yards and Gardens to Sustain Insect Communities | University of Maryland Entomology

What Should I Plant to Help Pollinators | Maryland Grows Blog

(PDF) Keystone Native Plants | National Wildlife Federation

Native Trees: Creating Living Landscape for Birds, Butterflies, Bees, and Other Beneficials | Ohio State University

Neighborly Natural Landscaping in Residential Areas | Penn State Extension

Nesting Resources | Xerces Society

(PDF) Using Native Plants to Attract Butterflies | Maryland Native Plants Society

Margaret Hartman, M.S. student, Department of Entomology, University of Maryland. Rev 9/13/23

Still have a question? Contact us at Ask Extension.