Many people want to plant a garden, but are daunted by the upfront costs involved. In addition to getting the right soil, you need tools, containers, and several other materials. Getting plants for free would be a huge benefit, right? Well, here are some great ideas on how to score free seeds and plants for your growing project!
Many Reasons for Seeking Out Free Seeds
Are you new to gardening? Or interested in starting a community garden to help underprivileged people in your community? Maybe you’re aiming to donate the food you produce to a food bank, or perhaps you’d like to start a garden for your child’s school? Or perhaps you’re on a very tight food budget and need to find less expensive ways to eat.
Whatever reasons you have for gardening on a budget, at least you’re gardening! Food security is super high priority these days, and growing even a fraction of your own food is an amazing idea. It doesn’t have to cost much either. We’ve rounded up some great resources to help you feed yourself—and your community—on a budget.
1. Use Social Networking Sites
Most everyone we know, from our friends to our grandmothers, are on social media these days. These networking sites are ideal places to look for things you need. There are many groups on Facebook that involve seed exchanges, including those where you can trade free seeds with other gardeners.
Here are just a few to try:
Heirloom and Organic Seed Exchange
Rare Seed Exchange
Seed Savers Swap and Plant Exchange
Joining groups on Facebook also allows you to get help and mentoring through the whole gardening process. Post on Instagram and Twitter about wanting to procure free seeds (and gardening advice), and see who responds!
There are a number of websites where you can get items super cheap or even free. I have had a lot of luck with gardening related needs on Front Porch Forum, but that may be because gardening is very popular where I live. Try all the sites and see what you can find! Who knows, maybe there is a prolific gardener in your community just hoping to offload some of her extra seeds or plants.
Some of the best sites to check out are:
Front Porch Forum
Bartering is awesome. If you have things around the house that you don’t use, try bartering those items for something you need. Like free seeds for your garden.
I was once able to barter some brand new newborn diapers for a giant bottle of maple syrup and freshly picked blackberries. There’s a section on Craigslist just for bartering, and I’ve found that Front Porch Forum is a great place to start.
Are you new to bartering and worried about how it all works? Have no fear: check out Bartering 101: 3 Tips for Making a Good Trade. You may develop a passion for bartering and make some new friends in the process.
4. Forage for Seeds
Every plant produces seeds, and every seed has the potential to produce a plant if taken care of. Go out into your world, and forage for seeds or plants. This is a simple way to get seeds and plants for free.
Most of what you will find are wild edibles, like herbs, and wild fruits, but many weeds make wholesome and delicious food. So go for a walk and see what you can find. Follow these simple foraging rules to keep yourself and the environment safe.
5. Save Seeds from Farmers Market Produce
Save seeds from favorite fruits and vegetables you’ve bought at your local farmers market. Since they’ve been grown locally, you know they’ll thrive in your garden as well.
Be sure to save seeds from organic fruits and vegetables from the grocery store as well. Then plant away! You already enjoyed the food—the seeds are free in this deal.
6. Seed Swaps
Between February and April, many gardeners in a community will get together and swap seeds saved from their garden the previous year. Usually, to participate in a seed swap you need to bring your own seeds to exchange. That said, gardeners tend to be nice people and will often help a beginner by donating a few free seeds.
Do a Google search for seed swaps in your community and attend as many as possible. Get to know the gardeners in your area, learn from them, ask tons of questions. They’ll help in so many ways once you get started.
7. Seed Libraries
Seed libraries lend seeds to their members in a couple of different ways. Some offer seed “lending”, which allows members to “check out” seeds from the library’s collection, grow them, and then save seeds from their crop to replenish the library.
Attend seed swamps or exchanges, which allow library members or the public meet and exchange free seeds. Check out Seed Libraries for more information.
8. Ask Your Coworkers
Do any of your co-workers have a green thumb? Ask them if they have any free seeds they could share with you. Most of the time people don’t plant all the seeds in their seed packets, so they might have some to spare. Hint: people who are into container gardening are the best ones to hit up first.
If several people at your office have home gardens, consider getting together to create a community seed bank. You can exchange what you have, and encourage biodiversity in each other’s garden spaces.
9. Ask a Farmer
Ask some farmers or gardeners in your area if they have some extra seeds to donate to a beginning gardener. You might be surprised! If you’ve befriended some of the farmers at your weekly market, have a chat with them about your goals. They may be able to hook you up with some fabulous seeds to try out.
They might even have some older, unused seeds that they can pass along to you. You’ll have to test them for viability, but you’re still likely to get a few healthy plants out of the exchange.
10. Host a Potluck
Invite friends who have green thumbs. Ask them to bring a dish and some seeds to exchange with others. This is a great way to get a bunch of gardeners under one roof, while sharing great food and conversation. You’ll score some free seeds, and learn a lot of garden tips as well.
11. Non-Profit Organizations
Some non-profit organizations and seed companies offer free seeds to people in need. They also donate seed packages to those trying to establish community or school gardens. Some also give free seeds to people who will then save theirs to pass on to others in turn. Here are some places to start:
Seed Savers Exchange
West Coast Seeds
If you’re Native American, you may be eligible to get free seeds from Native Seeds.
The Global Seed Network offers a number of resources who work worldwide to help provide seeds and build stronger global food security.
12. Join A Government Research Project
In this case, the Canadian government is looking for backyard gardeners to plant and cultivate rare varieties to help maintain biodiversity. It’s a fun project and you get a chance to try growing some rare varieties you might not have the chance to try otherwise. Ask your local agricultural extension office if there are any programs like this in your area. They might be able to point you in the right direction.
13. Feed a Bee
Feed a Bee is a program to help propagate the bee population. They offer free seeds to people who will plant bee-friendly varieties in their gardens. It’s incredibly important for every gardener to offer bees nutritious plants in their garden, so take advantage of this!
14. Become a Butterfly Hero
The Butterfly Hero program is similar to Feed a Bee, but their focus is on saving Monarch butterflies.
15. Enter Free Seeds Giveaways or Sweepstakes
Seeds Now shares many giveaways and sweepstakes on their website. Many of them offer free seeds and other free garden goodies.
16. Local Garden Center
Ask for if they have any expired seed packets, as many seeds will still grow even if they’re a bit older. Learn how to grow seeds that are out of date.
You can also ask for discounts on plants that look weak. Bring them home and see if you can nurture them and give them a second chance.
17. Scour the Bulk Section
The bulk section of your grocery store is a good place to get some really cheap, practically free seeds. Just a teaspoon of fennel, mustard, dill, coriander, poppy, and celery seed will establish a good sized garden for pennies. Bring some to a seed exchange or seed library to trade for other plants.
Tip: for totally free seeds, ask if you can pick up seeds that have been spilled onto the floor around the bins. They’d just be swept up and thrown out anyway.
18. Regrow Vegetables
Try regrowing vegetables you bought at the farmers market or grocery store. Here are several vegetables that magically regrow themselves.
19. Save Your Own Garden Seeds
If you’ve grown some plants of your own, allow a few of each plant to go to seed at the end of each year’s growing season. Then you’ll be able to harvest those seeds, and plant them again next year. Seed Savers Exchange offers a nice guide on how to save seeds.
20. Allow Plants to Re-seed Themselves
Finally, just allow your plants to reseed themselves. This means either allowing the seed heads to scatter freely all over your garden, or letting a few vegetables rot in place. You’ll have brand new plants next season without having to do any work! Here’s a list of self-seeding crops you’ll never have to replant.
Try as many of these suggestions as possible, and enjoy your harvest!