Last Updated on July 25, 2021
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!
Don’t spend a fortune on your garden — you can get lots of plants for free using the strategies below.
How to Get Free Plants
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, free plants.
What does this mean for the frugal or beginning gardener?
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 free plants.
Choosing Free Plants for Your Garden
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!
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 delicious homemade fruit 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. It’s among the 35 herbs that grow in shade that thrive in less sunny yards like mine.
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.
There are lots more medicinal plants you can get free for your garden. Here’s more information on starting a medicinal herb garden if you want to cultivate more homegrown remedies.
If you’re interested in growing more food with less work, you might find some perennial vegetables you can get as divisions as well.
And now I spread the love, inviting other gardeners to take divisions or plants growing where I don’t want them. Better believe those other gardeners are thrilled to get plants for free also.
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
[2021 update: Since finding jumping worms in my garden, I’ve done a great deal of research on how to avoid spreading them. Plant exchanges are a potential source of jumping worms, so be cautious when bringing plant material, including mulch, compost, and nursery plants, into your garden. Sticking with bare-root plants is the safest bet. If you can remove soil from plants you get from others, you’ll lessen the chance of bringing in worms. Solarizing soil and mulch can help kill cocoons. Read the post on Asian jumping worms to find out more.]
There are so many sources for free plants! Here are my favorites:
1) Find Plants for Free in Your Own Yard!
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. Purslane is a prized as a superfood in much of the world, though unwitting American gardeners waste time eradicating it.
2) Get Free Plants from 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.
3) Find Free Plants on 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 plants, as well as pots, stakes, and other garden tools.
If you belong to other community lists that accept such posts, put out a call for plants there as well.
4) Keep Your Eyes Open for Free Plants 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.
5) Check the 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 for free plants: Garden clubs and community garden organizations in your town.
Getting Your Free Plants
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.
Caring for your free plants after transplanting: 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.
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, like the amazing elderberry. Here’s everything you need to know about propagating and growing elderberry, plus the best elderberry varieties to seek out from friends and neighbors.
Check out this tutorial on propagating plants from Anna at Green Talk for lots more on how to propagate to get plants.
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 plants 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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Photo credits: natacha85, Andrea44, SLF, strecosa, stanbalik
Susannah is a proud garden geek and energy nerd who loves healthy food and natural remedies. Her work has appeared in Mother Earth Living, Ensia, Northern Gardener, Sierra, and on numerous websites. Her first book, Everything Elderberry, released in September 2020 and has been a #1 new release in holistic medicine, naturopathy, herb gardening, and other categories. Find out more and grab your copy here.