A carload of free plants is a gardener's dream, and every frugal gardener can tell you a story of a major score of free plants from some time in their gardening life. Gardeners love plants, and even more, they love getting inexpensive and free plants. Using a few tried-and-true methods, it's not difficult to fill your yard with all the plants your heart desires at a nominal cost.
Plant and Seed Exchanges
Plant and seed exchanges are the best way to get plants that you may not be able to buy in garden centers. Gardening sites and garden clubs often sponsor plant exchanges several times a year. At these popular social events, gardeners bring their extra plants and trade them for others' extra plants. Trades are often set up in advance through online forums or email. Online exchanges often enable you to get a box full of plants for no more than the postage required to send off your half of the trade. An envelope full of enough seeds to grow hundreds of plants can cost only a couple of dollars for postage.
One of the best things about garden exchange events is that no one wants to haul their plants that weren't traded back home, and they will give them away to whoever wants them. If you aren't picky, you can end up with a lot more than you came with.
Friends and Neighbors
Many gardeners have ended up with a load of free plants when a friend or neighbor divides perennials or bulbs, or is redesigning their yard. Always offer to pay them, but even if they refuse, bake them or buy them some small token of thanks. Ask for seeds from an admired plant in an unknown neighbor's yard, and maybe you will make a new friend.
Also, check neighbors' yard trash when walking or driving around the neighborhood. You may find discarded plants or cuttings.
If you know of land that is going to be developed or a house to be torn down where there are nice plants growing, arrange with the developer to rescue the plants before the site clearing. Never go onto private property without permission. Some companies may want a representative to accompany you to the site for liability reasons.
Municipalities often replace plants in parks and on roadways seasonally. Get in touch with the person in charge and ask if you can have some of the plants they are discarding. Most of the time, they are happy to see them go to a new home instead of the landfill.
If you've ever seen a landscaper driving down the road with a truck full of recently dug plants you would love to have, you know there is a bounty to be had by getting them to dump those plants in your yard instead. They don't have to pay dump fees, and you can discard what you can't use or don't want. Bulbs, shrubs, annuals and perennials are all yours for a little tender loving care to get them back in shape.