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.
If 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 modeThe 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.
Some 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 freecycle.org and craigslist.org. 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.
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.