Want Free Plants? Join a Local Plant Swap

Most plant lovers know what it's like to impulse buy and overspend at the nursery. To save money and still be able to experiment with growing new things, find or start a plant-trading group in your area.

By: Margeaux Emery

If you’re a plant lover and looking to save money, you need to discover the world of plant swaps. There’s scarcely another place — physical or virtual — where you can get plants for free, trade plants you don’t want and have fun meeting with plant-loving brethren.

I serve as the admin of a local plant swap group on Facebook. In the five years I’ve been at it, I’ve seen the group surge from 135 members to more than a thousand, with new members joining each day. Plant lovers young and old, experienced and novice, are united by the same goals: obtaining new plants, giving away an over-abundance of established plants and meeting fellow gardeners. Plant swaps aren’t just for plants: anything garden-related can be bartered — flowerpots, containers, garden tools and hardscaping materials like pavers and bricks.

My Big Win

My favorite score came when I posted a photo of an 18-inch Euphorbia that I didn’t want. Two of the cactus-like plants came in the pot, and I wanted only one. Within minutes of my post, a member reached out to ask what I might want in exchange. He guessed I didn’t need another houseplant because I’ve foisted more than a half-dozen on him to date. But, having seen my raised garden beds, he suspected I could use a cold frame, and he was right. He even delivered and assembled the 9’ x 3’ x 3’ vinyl cold frame. We were both delighted, we both got rid of something we didn’t want and got something new. In fact, the Euphorbia launched him into collecting other plants in this diverse family.

GBY1810-2_3h_Euphorbia-Rudolph_s4x3

GBY1810-2_3h_Euphorbia-Rudolph_s4x3

Holly Spence Martin has been a member of Grow Share Charlotte — based in Charlotte, North Carolina — for three years. “What is so wonderful is all the ‘plant people’ you meet. I recently needed to divide up my iris and didn’t know what to do with them all, so I posted on the group’s Facebook page and all sorts of people responded," she says. "Some people even offered trades so, I was able to get a climbing hydrangea and six other iris varieties just by one post.”

How to Find an Area Plant Swap

Try searching your town or area’s name plus the words “plant swap” using quotation marks to make it a phrase. Search on Facebook among area garden groups; Facebook may suggest a relevant related group. You can also ask on other local garden forums if members know of a swap. There’s an online directory of plant swaps, but it is far from complete. If you don’t find one nearby, consider starting one of your own.

Some organizers coordinate local swap events. We usually have swaps at a city park each spring and fall. Everyone meets in a parking lot and displays plants in flea market fashion. Depending on the group’s rules, some swaps are trade-only, with no cash transactions. The trading doesn’t have to be a social event; you can easily arrange a trade at the end of your driveway or meet your fellow plant trader at a designated public spot.

Six Steps to Become a Swapping Pro

Here are tips on how you can enter the action like a pro.

  1. Figure out what plants or garden items you have to offer. This is where talent at propagating plants comes in very handy. Perhaps you have an overgrown iris patch or bulbs that need to be dug and thinned. Bingo! Is there a house plant you’re tired of? I regularly freshen my home by trading away one houseplant in exchange for another.
  2. Sow seeds to trade. Late winter is a great time to buy packets of vegetable and ornamental seeds and start them in small containers. Balloon flower seedlings were a hot item one year at our swap. Mine never bloomed, so balloon flowers are still a mystery to me. They sound tantalizing. I’d probably trade for one again.
  3. Have a plant you want removed from the yard? People will come and dig it out. Someone removed an overgrown Itea from my yard. Another swapper took away rose bushes. They got pricked. I didn’t. One person even dug out monkey grass that I didn't want.
  4. Garden tools and amendments make good trades. At in-person swaps, it’s easy to find homes for remnant bags of soil, piles of plastic nursery pots and also old garden magazines. I'm the grateful recipient of a pair of garden clogs that someone else bought in the wrong size. There may even be avid composters — I am one — motivated to swap for your bags of fall leaves.
  5. Study how your local plant swap operates. Many participants of our swap event fail to notice that the swap website has an online forum. Swappers arrange trades in advance on the forum by posting messages about plants they’re seeking and listing the plants and other items they plan to bring. Trading in advance isn’t necessary to participate in a swap event, by any means, but doing so can give you a head start in securing plants you really want.
  6. Trust in people’s goodwill. Plant lovers seem to have generosity in abundance. If you have nothing (or nothing much) to offer and see a plant you passionately want, let the swapper know of your interest. You might find they send you home with the plant for nothing but a smile in return.

Plant swaps are fun and they’re free. Consider taking part in one to enrich and expand your plant life.

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