I can’t have a completely free garden, because every year there is a plant (or 2 or 3…) that I just want so badly and don’t want to wait for a free resource to come along. I splurge occasionally on seeds or a plant, but I also use these tips to stay within my budget.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, I receive a small amount of compensation at no extra cost to you.
Know How to Propagate and Save Seeds
Learning to save your seeds and multiply your own plants will save a bunch of money in the future. It’s not difficult, once you learn the basics. However, some plants require an extra touch or step, so research specifically which plant you want to propagate or save seed from.
The grocery store is one place for cheap plants and seeds, since you can regrow or save seeds from certain foods. Dried beans are the easiest seed to grow from the grocery store, and they’re often cheaper that what you get from seed catalogues. However, seed companies will likely have fresher seeds, which will have a higher germination rate.
Swap, Trade, Barter
Many towns hold annual plant swaps, which is where I’ve gotten most of my perennial herbs. Check GardenWeb to see if there’s a swap near you. If you’re a brand new gardener with nothing to swap, ask the organizer if you can pick up any leftovers. Also, lookout for non-traditional plant and seed exchanges, since they’re sometimes included with special events at homestead and garden festivals, plant nurseries, or farmer’s markets.
If you don’t have local swaps (and don’t want to start your own), GardenWeb has a section for online exchanges — Check under “Exchanges and Trades.” There are also seed exchange groups on Facebook, like the Great American Seed Swap/Trade Project, The Serious Seed Trader, Free Seed Swap, Seed Swap, and Seeds and Plants for Sell or Swap (USA). If you have no seeds to trade, some people will exchange them for a little extra postage.
Ask for Freebies
Gardeners are generally friendly people who don’t mind giving plants away. If you see a plant you like while you’re out and about, ask the owner if you can take a cutting or gather seeds (if it’s the right time). Keep supplies in your car, like pruners, gloves, and plastic bags.
People won’t know to give you plants and seeds if they don’t even know you’re a gardener. If you know a fellow grower, ask about their garden. Then slip in how you wish you could afford different plants. They may surprise you and offer cuttings or divisions of theirs, or you can offer to trade if you know they have something you want.
If your significant other gives flower bouquets for special holidays, talk to him/her about giving you rooted plants instead. Or learn to root rose cuttings.
Know When to Look
Plants are typically divided in the fall and pruned in late fall or early winter. Those are the times to check Craigslist, Facebook, and other garden or bartering groups for plants and cuttings.
In February and March, some garden bloggers offer seed giveaways. Many have low entry numbers, so try your luck if you see one. Garden blogger groups on Facebook sometimes have posts about the giveaways. SeedsNow also has regular giveaways of their seeds, though they often have a higher number of entries.
Some people rave about the clearance deals on half-dead plants at Lowe’s or other big box stores. If you find a great deal, that’s awesome. I’ve personally never had good luck there, as the pickings were too slim or the plants were way too far gone. But I always look when I’m there, just in case.
In the Spring, gardeners often sell their excess seedlings at yard sales and flea markets for cheaper than you’ll find at nurseries and big box stores. School plant sales (sometimes held by the Future Farmers of America, or FFA) often have low prices, too.
Watch for sales, especially when placing seed orders. I’m a big fan of SeedsNow. They have .99 sampler packs, frequent coupon codes, and amazing Black Friday deals. For something closer to home, Walmart and dollar stores usually have seed packets for .25 or less, and their other seeds are often steeply discounted in late spring.
Keep Your Eyes Open
For a few years, I’ve wanted paw paw trees (They are fruit trees, native to the southern US), but the cheapest I found them was $30 each…and you need 2 to pollinate for fruit production. $60 was more than my yearly garden budget, so I’d basically given up on having paw paws. Then I saw a promotion from my local electric company – 2 free paw paw trees! No strings attached; we just had to pick them up on the designated day. They weren’t skimpy little seedlings either but were already a few feet tall. Moral of the story: You never know where free garden supplies may come from, so keep your eyes open.
How have you gotten free or cheap seeds and plants? I’d love to hear how you stay within a budget!