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How To Get Free Garden Plants

The warm weather we've been experiencing in Chicago has got me thinking of spring and I've begun to think about the next growing season and changes I'd like to see in my garden. While I seem to be left out of the seed and garden catalog rounds this year it hasn't stopped my planning and desire for new plants in the garden.

My garden is on a small city lot and like many urban gardeners I don't have the luxury of large planting spaces. Because of the size of my garden I've started to think about plants that will have to be moved or given away to make room for new flowers and interests. The realization that some perennials or bulbs will be pushed aside for new plants has prompted this entry on how to get free garden plants for your garden.

Join a gardening forum

A gardening forum is a great place to not only meet fellow gardeners and learn about gardening but a place where you can come across generous gardeners that are willing to share extra plants. In the spring many gardeners will find themselves in the position I mentioned above. They'll be moving plants to make room for new plants or will be thinning out established garden beds.

Black and red butterfly on purple coneflowerIf you join a gardening forum now and establish yourself as a member of the community, ask questions, post your garden photos answer questions where you can and make yourself known to the community- you could find yourself the beneficiary of new plants come spring.
Come out of lurker mode
The trick, if I can call it that, here is to become involved in the forum. Gardeners are generous but on-line they can spot who the people are who just joined because they saw the thread where someone was giving away free plants. Make sure you have an active history on the garden forum before responding to threads promising free plants. If you've been diligently reading a forum but not responding because you're shy or a new gardener break yourself of that habit now before spring arrives so you're not left out of the free plant giveaways.

Shortly after I joined GardenWeb I participated in a newbie gardener adoption thread. In the thread I was teamed up with an established gardener who had been on the forum for a while. When needed, my garden coach was able to answer questions, give me advice and of course; shared some extra plants with me. The daylilies in my garden came from the gardener I was partnered with and through this blog she's been able to keep up with the free plants she gave me.

Red and pink columbine flowerSome garden forums don't look kindly on people posting asking for free plants especially if you are a new gardener on the forum. Most of the times though you are free to reply to offers of free plants-you just aren't allowed to solicit for free plants yourself. Whatever the reasoning behind this "rule" on many forums make sure you abide by the rules of the forum and comport yourself according to the norms of the gardening community there.

Free plants on other websites

Two websites you should add to your favorites if you're gardening on a budget or are a frugal gardener are and While these two websites are not considered to be gardening related websites they are still good sources of free garden plants if you know how to use them effectively.

Visit these two sites now to get a feel of how to use them and in the early spring visit on a daily basis. Like on a gardening forum you'll find gardeners who are doing spring cleaning and are giving away plants because they are making room or just cleaning up garden beds. The difference with Freecycle and Craigslist is that the majority of the time plants are given free and clear. Meaning there is no need for you to try to befriend anyone or participate much in the community like on a gardening forum.

The bartering gardener

If you have some items around your house you have no use for or an expertise in an area barter those items on Craigslist for plants or gardening related items you'll need. I've seen an ad on Craigslist by a Bed & Breakfast owner bartering rooms for landscaping plants. Last year I had a used webcam that was in working order that I no longer wanted that I bartered for pots. Bartering it kept it out of a landfill and in return I got pots that I needed. I often see offers for "you dig plants" by gardeners or property owners that need to get rid of plants for one reason or another. In these cases you're expected to dig the plants yourself to save the gardener the trouble and time involved in digging out established plants.

Gardeners you already know

The best and most practical sources for free plants to start your garden or to add to it are the gardeners you already know. Unlike with strangers you shouldn't have any reservations of approaching a gardener in your area and asking if they'll be dividing plants in the garden. If asking for a whole plant doesn't seem practical ask for cutting of the plant that you can start a whole new plant from.

Plant rescues

Spring is the time people move from one dwelling to the next. Again, check your local freecycle or craigslist pages and keep your eyes open for people who need to unload items before they move. Drive around your community and check the curbs and alleys on trash days for plants that have been abandoned in the move. I'm always surprised at the number of houseplants I see that are left behind by an owner during a move. Even if you don't like houseplants or have room for an indoor garden rescue the plant and trade it for garden tools or plants that you do need. Lastly, new construction or remodeling are also a good places for frugal gardeners to look for free plants and plant rescues. Check with the owner of the property for permission or someone in charge at the construction site to make sure you're not violating any laws when you show up with your garden shovel and wheelbarrow to haul away plants that will be paved over or pulled out.


  1. Nice post. I'm in a couple of informal "garden clubs" here. We have a lot of fun.

    I haven't been at this residence long enough to have things become mature enough to divide, yet. But I plan to be sharing in 2009! ;-)

    So far, I haven't received many catalogs yet. I've just requested a couple, though.

  2. I hate to mention it, but I've gotten a fair number of plants by "dumpster diving" at nurseries and other stores. They will often throw out plants that are sick, dying, or out-of bloom plants that are not selling. True, you have to nurse them back to health, but hey, they are free! It is amazing sometimes what is tossed, including bulbs and other things that go dormant, and the staff just doesn't realize that it isn't dead, it is dormant!

    Another free source of plants is volunteering at your local botanical garden or park. Often extras, freebies or at least cuttings are available to those that volunteer regularly. At SF Botanical Garden, there are over 400 volunteers, but still a well stocked freebie area of extra plants, and always a huge exchange of material between volunteers.

  3. Another way is to come visit me in May, when I'm dividing things...I usually give away a heap of plants to local plant sales from nonprofit organizations I like, such as the no-kill animal guardian group, or the local historical society...or to friends who come visit. If you're ever in NS, of course....

  4. Anonymous12:43 AM

    Good suggestions. I've used Craig's List and Austin Freecyle to give away a large amount of pea gravel from a playspace in my yard. It was great for the takers, who got it for free, and it was great for me, who got it hauled off for free.

  5. I've learned to watch my language around gardeners. I now say "the garden/that plant looks great" rather than "I really like that" otherwise I'm going home with something.

  6. Great suggestions! I have done some swaps/trades off GardenWeb, and people have been really nice! I feel weird not exchanging though, so I try to find a situation where I can give AND get. Plus I swapped some stuff with my favorite "blog lurkers", and it turned out great.

  7. Anonymous8:15 PM

    Living on a busy road, folks take a lot of interest in my garden on their commute to and from town. On several occasions, I've had folks stop by and invite me to stop by and either dig up plants they didn't want any more or simply haul away and plant stuff they've already dug. I had one motorist stop and drop off half a dozen bulbs of heirloom garlic. I have no clue who it was and haven't seen him since. But the garlic is still going strong.

  8. I've never considered bartering; sounds interesting. DH & I are the people on freecycle who are always giving stuff away, but never getting anything. I might put some plants on that - I've always got way too much of Prairie Onions. My problem is that usually, the only plants I want are never given away. (Anybody got any Corydalis 'Berry Exciting' they want to share?)

  9. good ideas. My DH is great (maybe too good) at keeping an eye on Craigs list and free cycle for free plants. We have gotten a few fun deals that way.

  10. Anonymous9:09 PM

    Great information.
    Trading with my neighbors is how I have received the most free plants. Just telling people I love to garden has brought me many free and unwanted plants.
    I'm a dumpster diving scrounge from wayback, so this article really spoke to me, so to speak.
    BTW I stumbled you.

  11. Wow - Lots of good ideas I've never thought of. And here I thought Craig's List was only for anonymous sexual hook-ups!

  12. Some very good suggestions! The cheapest plants I've found recently were the one's at that got discounted at the end of the season or in the middle of our drought this summer. The "big box home improvement stores" just tried to move everything they could during the drought and I came up with some very good bargains. Sure I didn't find anything unique but I saved a few bucks to spend elsewhere.

  13. Thanks for stopping by everyone and commenting and sharing your tips on getting free plants.

  14. Our local Wild One's chapter has a native plant swap every fall and spring. I am always amazed that the redbud and black walnut and purple coneflower seedlings that I "weed" out of my garden are so desirable. Likewise I snap up the those cup plant or asters that have run amok in other's yards. I'll check out craig's list and curbs. I hadn't thought of that...

  15. When I read posts like this I wish I lived in a larger community.

  16. Definitely join a local garden club if you want free plants. Gardeners are the nicest peole, f I do say so myself, AND plants that grow in local gardens will likely grow well in your too!

  17. Very interesting reading. I belong to a few gardening groups and manage a Canadian garden group plus a freecycle garden group for my area. It is such a wonderful way to share your garden with others.

  18. Anonymous10:02 AM

    These are really great suggestions on how to get gardening plants for free. I'll try to follow some of these advices but visiting gardening forums has certainly already worked for me. A great advice I got from these forums is to use the WORX gardening tools, you might want to try that out as well.

  19. Stumbled upon your blog while looking for homemade seed starter pots to post to my garden exchange group.

    I own a ReUseIt( group and we also list our related plant exchange groups. Everything has to be free, just like on the main groups. I got a ton of free plants for my butterfly garden last year.

    Thanks for a wonderful blog!

  20. This comment has been removed by the author.

  21. Anonymous6:45 AM

    I have used craigslist extensively. Thanks for the heads up on freecycle. My town even has a group!

  22. I just found you blog and put in my fav's thanks for the great site. I will be checking back frequently!!!!

  23. Hi everyone,

    Thanks for the comments since the last time I check on the comments section of this post.

  24. Another easy way to get free garden plants is to propagate your own. Sow seeds, take cuttings, division, layering or grafting. Some are easier than others but all are possible.

  25. petalgal9:46 PM

    Is it ok to ask for free plants if they are to use as centerpieces for a charity function?

    This was a great article. This gardener wanna be learned a lot.

  26. Chris,

    That's a good tip.


    Yes, I think it is fine to asks for charity events. Check with your local garden centers and nurseries,they may be interested in providing some free plants for your event.

  27. Anonymous9:15 PM

    Nice tips, if only I could find forums!



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