Not everyone has the budget to buy new plants for each season or occasion. That doesn't mean a garden has to look drab or bare, nor do gardeners need to be deprived of their favorite pastime. The sign of a beautiful garden is not how much money is invested, but how well it's cared for, its design, and choice of plants.
There are a variety of ways to fill your life with plants that are little to no cost. Through cuttings, seeds, plant sales, plant rescuing, and other resourceful ways, a garden can look like paradise without breaking the bank. Here's how:
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Cuttings are one of the most obvious and popular ways to sample different plants in your region. You can propagate them through layering, rooting, dividing, or simply transplanting the plant directly into soil.
This is a popular way to add to your succulent garden, especially for those who live in the western United States and dry or drought-stricken regions that feature succulents in landscapes throughout the year. There's such a frenzy of succulent lovers out there that Facebook groups devoted to collecting and sharing information have had to limit membership due to overwhelming response.
Don't even think about stealing a succulent from a private or public garden. Instead, find the owner and ask for a cutting. Most likely they will be flattered and happy to share.
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Just as dogs, cats, and many other living things need to be rescued, so do plants. While some plant rescue groups focus on saving and preserving specimens native to a region, others actually rescue all types from being discarded. Think about sources for unwanted plants that you could nurse back to health and transplant to containers on your patio or in planting beds. Some ideas:
- The trash areas and bins of home and garden centers, nurseries, and florists. Many merchandisers report the excessive waste of some retailers that throw out plants that were returned or don't look their best.
- The yard maintenance companies hired by neighbors and homeowners often discard plants from last season as they swap out new ones. Approach the crew and ask for the rejects—maybe offer a small tip or some bottles of water.
- An abandoned home in the neighborhood that will be torn down. While it might seem like trespassing, digging up a few surviving specimens and giving them a chance for life in your garden will not get you arrested. After all, they will probably destroyed along with everything else on the site to pave way for a new structure and landscape.
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Flea Markets and Car Boot Sales
Flea markets and farmers' markets are a great source for cheap and sometimes free plants. In the United Kingdom, a car boot sale is a term for a group of people who gather together to sell household and garden items.
Most people price plants to be affordable. After all, that's why people attend and sell at these kinds of events.
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In spring or fall, organized garden tours give locals and enthusiasts opportunities to visit residential gardens. It's a chance to see what grows well in the region, and many tours sell cuttings of plants at stops along the tour.Continue to 5 of 12 below.
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Join the Arbor Day Foundation
One of the perks of joining the Arbor Day Foundation: receive 10 free trees. There are also options for 10 trees to be planted in your name in a national forest or rain forest.
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Yard and Estate Sales
Plants are among the least-popular items at an estate or garage sale—everyone has an eye on a valuable piece of jewelry or a cool Mid-century Modern teak buffet. Strategically arrive at the end of the sale, when items are often reduced drastically as the sellers want to pack up and move on.
Offer a low but reasonable amount to take several potted plants off their hands, and be prepared to move them yourself, swiftly and easily. With a little gardening know-how, pruning, and TLC, you can have those plants looking healthy in a month or so.
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Garden Clubs and Environmental Organizations
Plant sales are an excellent way to raise money and awareness of local garden and horticulture clubs. That's why they hold seasonal plant sales. And those sales are where someone who is looking for more unusual plants at a great price should attend.
An added bonus: most members include information on how to grow the plant. Who knows? You might end up joining one of the clubs, where the monthly meetings are often good places for free plant swaps. Check local environmental groups' social media sites for sales and swaps—they're often posted on Facebook or Instagram.
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Request a Plant as a Gift
Your friends and family are always bugging you for gift ideas around the holidays and your birthday, anyway—so why not ask for something you actually want, like plants? You can also request seeds or gift certificates to a garden center or nursery. Your gift giver will be happy to know he or she has selected something you really want. And it's a gift to you, which means it didn't cost you anything.
Pay it forward and share cuttings with other plant lovers.Continue to 9 of 12 below.
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Do your research online for plant-swapping groups and individuals who have plants to give away for free. Among them:
- CraigsList: Find your region, then enter "free plants" or even the name of the particular plant or plants you are looking for. Nothing's guaranteed, but it's a good idea to check frequently. This is also a forum for sharing your extra cuttings with others.
- Facebook Marketplace: This hyperlocal site for used and new items includes everything from cars to Art Deco furniture to plants. Some people try to avoid paying a professional by offering a "Free Tree", which means you must bring the right equipment, friends, and a truck to haul the deep-rooted specimen.
- NextDoor: Another hyperlocal social network that limits its reach to neighborhoods and sections of a city or region. People get chatty and tend to post about coyote sightings, stolen packages, and strange noises at night. But search in the For Sale/Free section for plants, or post a request—you might end up with lots of succulents and some new friends.
- MeetUp: Locate a garden or plant-swapping group near you.
- Facebook: Search for a particular plant or for groups in our region.
- GardenWeb Plant Exchange
- World Plant Exchange
- American Conifer Society
- The American Primrose Society
- Alpine Garden Society
- North American Rock Garden Society
- Seeds of Diversity: Seedy Saturdays
- Facebook group: Great American Seed Swap/Exchange/Trade
- My Village Plants
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Seeds have always been one of the most inexpensive ways to grow vegetables, herbs, flowers, and other plants. You don't have to get scientific about it, with grow lights and a miniature greenhouse. If you want, just add soil to a pot or garden bed, water regularly, and be pleasantly surprised when seedlings sprout in days, weeks, or even months.
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Highly Discounted at Retailers
Take those green thumbs of yours to a garden center or home retailer a day or two after a major plant-giving holiday, like Mother's Day or Easter, where they might have a corner for potted specimens that were neglected or have spent blooms. Don't see a "rejects" section? Just ask. With a little TLC, you can nurture that highly discounted miniature rose bush back to a ravishing beauty.
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Church, School, or Work
During holidays like Christmas and Easter, churches decorate altars with seasonal potted plants that are often donated by local nurseries and florists. At the end of the holiday—or sometimes after the holiday service— clergy will offer plants to parishioners to take home, rather than throwing them away.
While we aren't suggesting you hang out during the holidays at local churches to score free plants, if you happen to be attending a service or are a member of the congregation, you can inquire about the fate of the plants. Better yet, volunteer to distribute them to other members of the parish, and take one or two leftovers home for your garden.
The same goes for school and work functions—if plants are being thrown out, speak up and take them home.