skipper insect on a black-eyed susan flower
Updated: June 21, 2021

Gardens to attract bees, butterflies, and beneficial insects

  • Eco-region variation in Maryland (mountain, Piedmont plateau, and coastal plain) should be considered when planting pollinator gardens.
  • Pollinators need what every animal needs: food, shelter, water, a little bit of space to call their own, 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.
  • You don’t need a large yard or budget. Even a few plants will help. Share seeds and divided plants with gardening friends.
  • Provide host plants (e.g., parsley, fennel, or dill for the caterpillars of swallowtail butterflies) 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
  • 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.

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.

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 parsley. Plant some extra to share!

Pollinator garden design templates for central Maryland

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

Fall, winter, and spring maintenance of a pollinator garden

  • Pollinator gardens are natural places. They are planted to create a habitat for protecting and providing pollinators and beneficial insects what they need not just in the summer but all year round.

  • Garden maintenance is different from cultivating a perennial or vegetable garden. Pollinator gardens require less maintenance and perhaps to some can look unkempt. But unpruned perennials and ornamental grasses, leaves, and other garden debris are overwintering places for many of the insects we enjoy seeing in summer.

  • Don't prune them back too early in the spring either. If you can't wait, place the clippings in a pile in the garden that can be cleaned up later in the spring after the bees have left. For example, leaf-cutter and mason bees nest in the hollow stems of some perennials.

Additional resources

Xerces Society Blog - Put Down those Pruners: Pollinators Need your "Garden Garbage".

Xerces Society - Where do Pollinators Go in Winter?

Xerces Society - Nesting Resources

Maryland Grows Blog - Where are All the Pollinators?

Margaret Hartman, M.S. student, Department of Entomology, University of Maryland