How to Start a Garden for Free, According to Longtime Gardeners

As much as we love a beautiful garden full of lush greenery, it’s hard to deny that starting a garden and buying plants can start adding up in price.

And to add insult to injury, if you’re new to gardening or not sure plants will survive your trial and error, it might feel like you’re throwing money away.

Imagine our surprise when we learned there’s a whole world of free plants and ways to start a garden out there.

We turned to a few of our favorite gardeners, and they clued us in on some of the best-kept secrets for keeping your plant budget low this season and beyond.

Propagate Plants from Cutting

The Spruce / Cielito Vivas

If you’ve spent time on houseplant or gardening TikTok, you know the widespread love for plant propagation. Teri Valenzuela, the natural science manager at Sunday, shares this love and recommends it as a great way to source free plants.

Be warned, though, that this one takes some time. “Depending on your plant, don’t rush to get them in the ground,” she says. “Start by propagating indoors or controlled environment.”

This is key for developing a strong root system and makes for a much easier transition to the outdoors. But if you want to move things along, Cate Singleton, Tilly’s director of design, says you can use a good growth hormone and a humid environment to speed up the process.

“This can be created using plastic coverings or domes to help keep moisture in,” she says.

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Participating in Plant Swaps 

The Spruce / Autumn Wood

Another great way to source free plants is through plant swaps. You can look around for locally organized groups, or Valenzuela says she likes to simply ask her neighbors.

This is an especially great tip because then, you know you’re getting plants that will do well in your local environment. Plus, you can each serve as one another’s resource for tips and tricks to keep your plants happy and healthy. 

If you’re not sure where to start, Singleton suggests looking for anyone splitting and transplanting perennials in the spring. “Often, neighbors are happy to share!” she says. 

Community Events with Free Plant or Seed Giveaways

The Spruce / Ana Cadena

This one might sound niche, but Valenzuela suggests looking into local community events with a gardening or environmental focus. Often, organizers and vendors will come prepared with seed or plant giveaways as a way to encourage interest in the community. 

“This method not only saves money, but also supports my local gardening community,” Valenzuela says. 

Saving Last Year’s Seeds 

The Spruce / Lacey Johnson

If you’ve ever purchased seeds, you know how many usually come in a pack. Rather than ditch them, you can store them properly and save your future self some money. But note—the storage really is a key component.

“Generally, when kept in a cool, dark, and dry environment, many seeds remain viable for one year,” says Valenzuela. “Some can last anywhere from two to five years.”

Browse the Discount Racks

The Spruce / Almar Creative

This one might be a well-kept secret, depending on how your local garden center is organized. Often, Singleton says she loves to peruse the discount racks at her hardware store or nursery. 

Describing these offerings as half-dead or struggling, don’t be alarmed—Singleton says she’s had great success getting them to bounce back.

“These plants can be obtained with a deeply discounted or sometimes free price tag,” she says.

Don’t: Plant Your Produce

The Spruce / Nyssa Tanner

Sure, harvesting your salad ingredients for seeds might sound like a good idea in theory, but Singleton says she doesn’t recommend it. This goes for both store-bought fruit and vegetables. 

“Often, grocery store produce are hybrids between several varieties and the seeds will likely not produce the desired produce,” she says.

Instead, it’s always best to procure tried-and-true seeds with clear germination, handling, and storage instructions.  

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