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Buying plants for your garden can add up quickly. Here are some easy ways to get free plants and get your garden going on the cheap!
If you haven’t done much gardening, you might not know that gardeners often divide their plants to give them more room to grow. These divisions can be planted to make new plants.
What does this mean for the frugal or beginning gardener? Two things: 1) Gardeners in your area have starter plants you can have for free and 2) You can divide what you already have and make more plants.
Just to clarify for novice gardeners: We’re talking about perennials here, plants that return year after year. If you’re on a budget or strapped for time, perennials are the way to go. Annual plants have to be purchased (or grown from seed) each season. More time consuming and expensive, so not for me!
I have a mainly perennial garden, largely populated by plants I got for free. And if you really want to save money (and help the planet), I recommend focusing on edibles so the free plants in your yard produce bountiful free food for your family!
(Most of what’s in my yard is edible. Find out how I grow plentiful food on 1/5 acre in my post about ways to get more food from your yard.)
My yard is filled with plants given to me by other gardeners that I’ve slowly divided over the years. A couple rhubarb divisions got me started on my obsession with rhubarb, and now 5 hardy plants give us more than we need for leather, crisps, and more. I’ve spread creeping thyme everywhere I can to create a living groundcover that saves on mulch, smells amazing, and attracts pollinators.
Lemon balm and mint make tasty additions to teas, while chives and oregano add flavor and healthy antioxidants to our cooking. My first raspberry plants and numerous daylilies, flax plants, echinacea, bee balm, yarrow, and other flowers also came from area gardeners thinning their beds.
And now I spread the love, inviting other gardeners to take divisions or plants growing where I don’t want them.
Want to learn to grow some of your own food, even if you know absolutely nothing about gardening? Grab my quickstart guide for newbie gardeners below!
Where to Find Free Plants
There are so many sources for free plants! Here are my favorites:
Your Own Yard
Start by shopping your own yard and thinking about what you’d be happy to have more of. What perennials are already growing in your yard? Take stock of what’s already growing that you could divide. Flowers, perennial herbs, and foliage plants can all be split after a season or two to get established and used to start new plants elsewhere in your yard. Sometimes plants will plant themselves places you don’t want (called “volunteers”), and you can dig them up and replant them where they can be more useful.
Also remember that some plants you might consider weeds can be useful, even attractive. Clover, for instance, not only adds nitrogen to your soil and attracts pollinators, but is also an excellent medicinal plant. Dandelions are extremely nutritious and provide food for pollinators while aerating your yard with their long tap roots.
Friends and Neighbors
Have you admired the perennial bed a friend or neighbor has? Just ask if you can have a few divisions the next time they’re thinning their beds. You could also arrange a plant or seed swap with a group of friends.
Freecycle, Craigslist, Other Community Lists
Freecycle can be a gold mine for gardeners looking for free plants (and seeds, tools and other garden gear). Put out a call for what you’d like, or if you’re not sure, just say you’re looking for some perennials, and does anyone have some they’re dividing or getting rid of? Freecycle and other community-based lists have been my primary source of free plant material, as well as pots, stakes, and other garden tools.
If you belong to other community lists that accepts such posts, put out a call for plants there as well.
Keep Your Eyes Open Around Town
Some gardeners will leave their unwanted divisions by the curb for frugal gardeners to scavenge. Be on the lookout for road work or other construction projects where plants may be rescued. Also ask when you see someone’s yard being redone by a landscaper. They’ll be tearing out existing plants, which they’ll likely be happy to give to you.
Community Drop Site
Our town operates a compost site where residents drop off leaves and pick up free compost to use in their yards. They keep a little pile of dirt by the entrance where gardeners can temporarily plant divisions till another gardener picks them up and gives them a new home.
Other places to look: Garden clubs and community garden organizations in your town.
Nurseries might also have some plants that don’t make the cut for selling that they’d otherwise throw away. No harm in asking!
Getting Your Plant Divisions
Gardeners will know about the preferences of the plants they’re giving you, so take advantage of their knowledge! Be sure to get any information the gardener has about preferred light, soil, and watering.
Different plants have different preferred times for divisions, but the owner of the plant will let you know. Expect early and mid spring and fall to be high dividing times. (It varies by climate and plant.) The height of summer heat is not ideal for divisions, so send out those requests for plants early and later in the growing season.
If you’re dividing your own plants, do some reading about the variety and when it’s best to replant. You should water the plant well before and after dividing. Here’s a helpful tipsheet from the University of Minnesota Extension. If you’re in a warmer climate, you might find something similar from your state extension service.
Aftercare: Expect your division to look a little droopy till it gets used to its new home. Be sure to keep it well watered and it will recover. After a couple seasons in your yard, you can divide it again if you want to spread it to additional areas.
Free Plants for the More Advanced and Adventurous Gardener:
Even if you don’t have something to dig up, you can start a lot of new plants from cuttings. It’s a little more finicky, but it’s doable. You can also propagate shrubs this way. Check out this tutorial on propagating plants from Anna at Green Talk.
And of course, you can grow plants from seeds (also easy to get free from other gardeners or harvest yourself), but that’s a topic for another post. 🙂
Now that you know how to get free plants, start finding some near you and enjoy your free garden this season! What plants have you gotten from other gardeners and which are you hoping to get? Share in the comments!
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