They say that dynamite comes in small packages, and this could be no truer than when we look at Maryland. Despite its small size — being the 8th smallest state — it contributes significantly to regional diversity. Famed for its blue crabs and historic trading post, the small state of Maryland boasts an abundance of ecological beauty and many native plant species.
Gardening is one of the best ways to truly engage with nature and contribute to building a healthier and happier ecological system in your community. Native plants form “symbiotic relationships” with the environment, creating sustainable habitats supporting local wildlife and preserving precious resources.
In this Maryland gardening guide, we’ll explore how you can grow a gorgeous garden sanctuary, all while sustaining local flora and fauna and boosting conservation initiatives. If you’re ready to plant with purpose and create an oasis for local wildlife species, this Maryland gardening guide is for you.
The miracle of Maryland’s native plants
Maryland is known for its abundant array of native plant life thanks to its vast landscape and the humid, subtropical climate in certain parts of the state. From the Silver Spring Woodlands with their terrific tulip trees and verdant tapestry of ferns to the water lilies that bloom in the salty waters of Chesapeake Bay Watershed, there is much for plant enthusiasts in Maryland.
Maryland wildflowers are particularly noteworthy, providing a kaleidoscope of color and sustainability to home gardens.
Wildflowers add color and charm to any garden. They also have a range of benefits that transcend their aesthetic offerings, including feeding local insects and birdlife and encouraging pollination. With our ZIP Code native plant finder, you can easily type in your zip code and find the right plants for your region. You can also search according to light and soil conditions.
Popular native Maryland wildflowers include the following plant species:
Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
Cardinal flowers boast ethereal charm. Legend has it that these stunning scarlet plants were named after the red robes worn by cardinals in the Catholic church. These velvet beauties are found in meadows and wet woods across Maryland, blooming between July and September. They thrive in rich, moist, slightly acidic soils and can grow in shade and sunshine as long as the soil remains wet. They are an excellent addition to pollinator and shade gardens, attracting a variety of wildlife.
Foxglove beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis)
These bell-shaped, bright blossoms are prevalent between late spring and summer and are an incredible attractor of bees, hummingbirds, and small and large butterflies alike. The name “beardtongue” was derived from the hairy protrusions on the stamens that look like beards. This hairy tuft enhances the likelihood of pollination when bees visit. The plant also has an intricate purple stripe that guides pollinating creatures deep into the flower and rewards them with sweet nectar as they transfer pollen between plants.
These plants grow best in full sun or partial shade. While they are drought-resistant, they do best in wet soil, making them perfect for rain gardens in Maryland.
Black eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
This late summer bloomer showers the state with bursts of taxi yellow between June and October and has been Maryland’s official plant since 1918. Black-eyed susans attract many valuable insects, including native bees, pollen specialist bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies. They are also a host plant to the Silvery Checkerspot butterfly caterpillar, a species of special concern in the region.
The seeds from black-eyed Susans also provide incredible nutrients for birdlife species like the goldfinch and smaller mammals, including mice and chipmunks. This makes them a shining addition to any native Maryland garden.
Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)
Wild bergamot is a perennial wide-leaf forb that forms part of the mint family. It blooms between July and August and can grow up to four feet tall. It is an excellent option for pollinator gardens and has been dubbed “bee balm” since it attracts many pollinators like native bees, specialist bees, hawk moths, and hummingbirds.
Wild bergamot grows best in dryer, well-drained soil but can handle moist conditions. Characterized by pink and purple tubular blooms, these native plants add a delicious pop of color to any Maryland garden.
The benefits of planting Maryland native plants
Did you know that planting native Maryland plants is one of the best ways to boost ecological sustainability and support local habitats? Native plants have adapted to the specific conditions of their environment, meaning that they require less maintenance and benefit local wildlife communities.
Planting Maryland native plants in your garden has many advantages for human and animal populations, including the following:
- Promoting biodiversity: Native plants have symbiotically developed with the environment, and their presence promotes biodiversity by ensuring an optimal balance of plant and animal life. Native plants enhance biodiversity by providing nutrients and food to pollinating creatures like native bees, hummingbirds, moths, and butterflies. By attracting these creatures, native plants ensure that plant populations — and the creatures who feed on them — continue to blossom.
- Conserving water: Planting native Maryland plants is the waterwise solution to creating a garden paradise. Native plants have adapted to the local climate, meaning they typically require less water than non-native species, saving time and money on watering the garden and preserving one of Earth’s most important natural resources: water itself.
- Encouraging local wildlife: Maryland gardens filled with native plants become a meaningful refuge for local insects and birds, encouraging pollinators and providing food and shelter for larger animals. Native Maryland plants offer crucial habitats for birdlife and other species, including the celebrated monarch butterfly and the scintillating swallowtail. These plants provide nectar to pollinating insects, vital for human and plant survival on Earth.
- Supporting the climate: Native plants can also positively contribute towards climate change initiatives by absorbing CO2, reducing greenhouse gasses, and enhancing air quality.
- Creating a healthier environment for people and the planet: Choosing native Maryland plants for landscaping helps create a healthier planet for all living entities. Unfortunately, the all-too-popular suburban lawn is well-known for needing high amounts of chemical pesticides and artificial fertilizers, which damage local ecosystems. Planting native plants reduces the need for harmful toxins, protecting plants, wildlife, and local communities.
- Lower maintenance: Native plants have adapted specifically to the unique conditions of their environment, meaning that they tend to be more resilient than their non-native counterparts. Once these native species have been established, they generally require less watering, pest control, and zero fertilizing.
- Celebrating Maryland heritage: Supporting native plant life is a brilliant way to honor Maryland’s rich and diverse natural heritage. Native plant species encourage ecological harmony and foster a greater sense of connection with natural ecosystems.
Further reading: The Ultimate Guide to Native Plant Gardening
These collections are designed to benefit the local wildlife in Maryland:
Hummingbird Haven plant collection: This collection of native Maryland plants was specifically created to cultivate hummingbird life, offering them essential food across three seasons. Characterized by bright, tubular blooms, these plants add beauty and encourage key pollinators like hummingbirds, moths, butterflies, and bees. The collection consists of the cardinal flower, eastern columbine, wild bergamot (bee balm), and swamp milkweed (which is also a host plant for the monarch butterfly).
Pollinator Picnic plant collection: This beautiful selection of plants provides a pollinator paradise for butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. It adds a rainbow of color to any garden — thanks to its eclectic assortment of vivid plants — including black-eyed Susan, cardinal flower, foxglove beardtongue, and great blue lobelia.
The dos and don’ts for your pollinator garden in Maryland
When creating your native plant garden in Maryland, follow these key dos and don’ts:
- Do choose native plant species that promote biodiversity and encourage pollinators.
- Do determine the levels of sunshine and shade in your garden and select native plants that will thrive in these conditions.
- Do some research on your soil type and pick plants that will prosper in it.
- Do consult our ZIP code plant finder to find the best native plants for your garden.
- Don’t use harmful chemicals and pesticides that will harm wildlife.
- Don’t underwater or overwater your plants.
- Don’t plant non-native species.
Consider USDA gardening zones
The United States Department of Agriculture has divided the US into diverse plant hardiness zones to determine which plants will thrive in which locations. The data is based on annual minimum temperatures and allows gardeners to make informed planting decisions based on the temperature in their specific location.
Maryland has several hardiness zones, from 5b to 8a, depending on where you live within the state. The following zones reflect these temperature ranges, and different plants will thrive in different temperatures.
- Zone 5b: - 15 -to -10 °F
- Zone 6a: -10 to -5 °F
- Zone 6b: -5 to 0 °F
- Zone 7a: 0 to 5 °F
- Zone 7b: 5 to 10 °F
- Zone 8a: 10 to 15 °F
Maryland gardens: friends and foes
Gardens reflect the magic and variety of life, often teeming with a whole host of wildlife. Insects are often prevalent in gardens, many playing a vital role in pollinating plants and promoting the health of local ecosystems. Some insects, however, cause more harm than good.
Luckily, choosing native plants can decrease pests by creating a natural pest control system that attracts beneficial insects that prey on destructive pests. Native plants are also more hardwired to handle local pests and have built-in defenses against them, unlike non-native plant species.
Foes: common pests in Maryland gardens
Native plants can help to reduce the likelihood of common pests. Common pests in Maryland include:
Aphids: Aphids might be small, but they can certainly cause a lot of damage when they’re not controlled. They suck vital sap from plants, resulting in weakening, discoloration, and stunted growth. Happily, aphids can be managed by natural predators like lacewings and ladybirds, so native plants that attract these creatures are vital to aphid management.
Snails and slugs: Snails and slugs love to chomp on tender new plant growth, hindering the development of emerging gardens. They can cause significant damage and even contaminate plants with their slime trails. Luckily, many native plant species attract insects like fireflies and birds that eat snails and keep these pests away.
Friends: allies that replenish your garden and boost biodiversity
Native planting can encourage many incredible insect allies and bird friends who add beauty and abundance to your garden and the planet by pollinating plants and keeping pests away. These include:
Fireflies: Fireflies are also called lightning bugs and are part of the beetle family. They are super handy to have in gardens as they eat snails and slugs — two critters who love snacking on edible plants like tomatoes and beans. They’re also non-toxic and won’t bite, making them a win-win in any native garden.
Native bees: Bees are brilliant pollinators as they carry pollen between diverse plants to fertilize them. Without bees, the wide diversity of fresh produce would significantly diminish on Earth. Creating safe havens for local bee populations is essential to promote biodiversity and sustainability. Native planting in Maryland encourages bee species and keeps them healthy, fed, and doing what they do best: pollinating plants and feeding the planet.
Hummingbirds: Hummingbirds play a critical role in the pollination process, and some plants rely on them as their primary pollinators. While pollinating, they carry pollen on their heads and transfer it to different plants. Tragically, some species are at great risk in some climates due to the limited availability of nectar-producing plants and habitat loss. Planting hummingbird-friendly plants, as seen in our Hummingbird Haven collection, is a great way to ensure their survival.
Butterflies: Without butterflies and other pollinators, many plant species would be unable to reproduce, and so plant populations would dramatically decline. Butterflies are hugely significant insects as they can carry pollen over long distances and enhance genetic variation as well as resistance to diseases by doing so.
Planning and planting your Maryland garden
Planning a native Maryland garden might feel a little overwhelming to begin with, but with the right resources and plants on your side, you can soon create a vibrant, eco-friendly paradise. When it comes to planning your garden, follow these steps.
- Evaluate the unique space: Not all gardens are created equal — and that’s part of their wonder. Take time to evaluate your garden, looking at the availability of sunlight, soil type, and moisture levels. Use our native plant finder for plants that will prosper in your environment.
- Choose an array of native plants: Select native wildflowers, shrubs, trees, and grasses designed to succeed in your region. This will significantly reduce maintenance and make for a stunning natural habitat that attracts an exciting repertoire of garden-friendly creatures.
- Celebrate local wildlife: Create special pockets to encourage biodiversity. Water features are an excellent addition if you want to invite local birdlife and create a haven for them to thrive.
When planting your native garden and putting those green fingers to work, remember the following:
- Prepare your soil so that it is well-drained and free from debris.
- Opt for water-wise plants that require less watering and hassle.
- Prune your plants often to keep them happy, and make sure that the soil bed is clean.
- Keep pests at bay with native plants and avoid harmful chemicals.
With these tips and tricks at your disposal, your home garden in Maryland can harmoniously become part of the greater ecosystem. Planting native plants contributes significantly to biodiversity by creating bigger connections between different habitats so pollinators can better move between them.
If you’re ready to explore the magic of Maryland’s native plant species, why not check out our curated plant choices for Maryland gardens? Find the best plants for Maryland using our ZIP code native plant finder and choose carefully curated plant selections that will enrich your local habitat.
Transform your garden into an ecological paradise and support local ecosystems with our simple plant-finding tool.
If this guide has inspired you to dabble in the wonders of native plants, why not share it with your fellow green-fingered companions?
Garden for Wildlife — Maryland Native Plants
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