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Discover thrifty ways to get plants for free. Learn how to bulk out your garden and growing space with plants that are free or cost practically nothing.
Who doesn’t like something for nothing? And when it comes to plants, most gardeners cannot resist a freebie to increase their collection. Shout ‘plants for free,’ and you could have a stampede on your hands! No need to panic, though – growing plants for free is simple, easy, and fun. You will soon be inundated with an enormous stock of new plants.
Learning thrifty ways and techniques for creating plants for free is helpful when you want to create a new garden or fill a new bed. It’s also essential if you wanted to start a nursery or small garden center. You can also support friends and neighbors by growing plants and sharing them with others. Gardening can be an expensive hobby, especially if you need to buy loads of new plants every year.
Ways to Get Plants for Free
- Seed swap and plant shares
- Saving seeds
- Volunteers (self-sown seedlings)
- Propagating by cuttings
- Offsets and suckers
- Set yourself up as a plant rescuer
- Make friends at the dump
- Seed libraries
- Call construction companies
- Magazine subscriptions
- Friends and family
Seed swap and plant shares
We can all be guilty of hoarding seed or growing too many plants but rather than let surplus go to waste, search your local area for seed swaps or plant shares. Community groups, allotment associations, the WI, and gardening groups periodically hold free events where you can take your copious stash and swap it for whatever has been donated. It’s an exciting way to try different varieties you may not have grown before and meet like-minded gardeners! Struggling to find an event near you? Then why not organize your very own seed swap?
Saving Seeds to Save Money
Saving seeds is one of the most satisfying ways to increase your plant stock. Every flower that goes to seed holds the blueprint to making many more for free. Wait for a windless day when the seed is dry; late morning is best once the early dew has evaporated; take a paper bag, pop it over the seed head and snip the head off, so all the seed stays in the bag. Dry your treasure inside on a piece of kitchen paper—once completely moisture-free, store in a cool dark place in a paper envelope. Remember to label your seeds!
Harvesting poppy seed is great fun. Give the seedpod a gentle shake; if you hear a rattle, the seed is viable. No noise? Don’t harvest. The seed needs more time to mature. Alternatively, save seed from vegetables you have grown—waste nothing. Pumpkins produce hundreds of seeds, as do beans and peas. Be warned, saving seeds is addictive!
Volunteers (self-sown seedlings)
Nature can be rather generous with sharing itself around. One of the easiest ways to get free plants is via self-seeders. A plant’s primary mission in life, other than surviving, is to reproduce, so they will often fling their seed far and wide. This results in copious little seedlings popping up where you least expect them.
To benefit from volunteers, allow your plants to set seed (or fruit) and for that seed to disperse naturally. Borage is one that self-seeds freely in my garden, but this works for alpine strawberries, chamomile, lettuce, tomatoes, and many more plants.
Gravel is one of the best growing mediums for this, but you’ll often find them in compost heaps or random places in your beds. Either leave your new seedling where it is to reach maturity or transplant (move) it to a more favorable location, a nearby border or pot. These happy accidents can save a considerable amount of money and may present you with some wonderful botanical surprises.
Propagating by Cuttings
Another thrifty way to get plants for free is from cuttings. Cuttings can seem a complicated science, but it is surprisingly straightforward. Depending on the plant, cuttings can be taken from stem, roots, and leaves, ideally from spring to summer when plants are at their most vigorous. Scented geraniums (Pelargoniums), lavender, ice plant (Sedum spectabile), rosemary, and even tomato plants can be propagated.
Take a sharp knife or scissors to fresh growth and cut below a node; that’s where the leaf grows out of the stem. Next, trim off the lower leaves. Pop this cutting in a jar of water, and hey presto, roots will appear in a few weeks. Alternatively, insert cuttings around the edge of a pot filled with free-draining potting mix. Roots take three to four weeks to emerge but sometimes longer, depending on the plant. To stimulate the process, use a dab of rooting hormone on the end of the stem.
Plants for Free with Division
Many herbaceous perennials benefit from being dividing. Depending on the time of year, you dig the plant up and chop it into two or more pieces. After replanting them, each becomes a separate plant. This ruthless splitting can seem harsh, but rather than damaging the plant, it stimulates growth, invigorates tired roots, and gives the plant a new lease of life. It also ensures that your new plants will be the same as the parent.
Hostas benefit tremendously from division, as do asters, hardy geraniums, and rudbeckia, but our veg gardens can also benefit from division. Over time rhubarb roots get woody, so dig up the entire plant and divide into clumps of one to three buds. This can be tough work and requires a sharp knife or spade. Mind your fingers and toes, and watch this video to see how it’s done. Once divided, replant and leave to re-cooperate for the following year; after that, you can start to harvest once more.
Offsets, Runners, and Suckers
Plant offsets and suckers provide a fast track to plants for free. Lilac, forsythia, raspberries, cacti, and succulents all readily multiple by throwing up new suckers from their roots or creating babies next to the parent plant.
Once established, these can be separated from the original plant and potted on to grow independent of the parent plant. This is by far the easiest way to obtain newly grown free plants as the plant has done all the hard work for you. Strawberries are one of the best known for doing this in the vegetable garden, and their runners can create loads of new plants every summer.
Over time, aloe vera will create offsets or ‘pups;’ these are baby aloe vera that have grown from the original aloe parent but are now entirely independent. If they’re large enough, and their root system has separated, you can gently pull them away and pot them on. Suddenly one aloe plant can turned into six!
Become a Plant Rescuer
Plants on the brink of death can often be thrown out but advertise yourself as a plant rescuer, and you could find yourself the proud owner of an array of plants needing some TLC to nurse back to health. Often plants fall foul of over-watering, under-watering, low light levels, lack of food, or just general neglect, but with a little bit of know-how, you can nurture plants back to life, providing you with plants for free. And it’s a great way to recycle unwanted plants.
Make Friends at the Dump
Look for rescues at your local recycling center or dump. Some people leave perfectly good plants sitting beside the green waste bin since they don’t want them anymore but are reluctant to compost them. Ask a member of staff to set aside plants in an area for rehoming. This could help reduce waste and get plants to new owners! It’s a win-win.
Seed libraries are a great way to share and increase stocks. Some are literally within your public book-based library, some can be digital and managed by a gardening association, and others are makeshift kiosks run by private individuals. All are lovely ways to get free seeds or plants.
Gardeners can ‘borrow’ seed from these libraries to grow that year, and once their plants have gone full term, collect the seed and return a portion to the library to keep the cycle going. It is a wonderful way to preserve seed and gives many people the opportunity to grow with no financial restraints.
In some areas, decommissioned telephone boxes have been transformed into book and seed libraries so you can donate seed and take packets you wish to try. Garden Organic’s Heritage Seed Library has an annual membership fee in the UK, but you’ll then have access to varieties of seeds that you can’t find anywhere else.
Call Construction Companies to get Plants for Free
Construction companies will often rip out plantings when they build a new home. It seems an incredible waste when, with a bit of effort, plants could be relocated. When it comes down to the bottom line, builders are generally not interested in plants, nor is destroying them a financial liability. It’s possible to make the right contact and dig up trees, shrubs, and perennials before the bulldozer arrives. Just ensure you have official permission before you start digging!
Plants from the Supermarket
Supermarkets can be a surprisingly good source for low-cost plants, but not how you may first think. Rather than purchasing new plants, some plants will grow from food scraps—celery, lettuce, spring onions, pineapple crowns, carrot tops for the greens, and plant cloves of unused garlic.
You can also grow pots of supermarket herbs. Often it helps to divide the plant up first, but herbs like peppermint will live for years (perhaps indefinitely). One tip that I have is to divide pots of supermarket basil and plant them on. This will keep you in basil all summer long!
Garden magazines are a wealth of free plants and seeds, and some of them give away one to ten packets of seeds per issue. Subscribing to gardening magazines means you never miss out on seeds, and they are delivered straight to your door. You could also get magazines individually from newsagents, and that way, you can pick and choose what takes your fancy off the shelf. For the small cost of a magazine, you can score yourself a large number of edible crops and ornamentals, which could have your garden blooming throughout the year.
Friends and Family
Your greatest source of plant sharing is right on your doorstep: friends and family. Why not coordinate growing different plants from seed and then share the seedlings between you? If your friend has a plant you like the look of, ask if you can do a swap or an exchange of cuttings. It’s a brilliant way to share a passion for growing.
Gardening on a Budget
There is something about free plants and seeds that put a smile on gardeners’ faces. The hope and promise of what is to come, the special bond of sharing and swapping ideas, alongside the contentment of knowing you got a bargain. Gardening should be accessible to all, so if funds are tight, it’s reassuring to know that you can still have an extensive range of plant varieties at your fingertips.
There are many other ways to save money whilst gardening. Here are some ideas to give you thrifty gardening inspiration:
- Make a Recycled Bokashi Composter
- Use Woodchips to create Garden Paths
- Use these Recycled Containers for Seed Starting
- More Tips for Gardening on a Budget