Champagne taste and a beer budget: how to get seeds and plants for a great garden without breaking the bank

Hello again! I’d hoped to post before now but first I got lost in starting my tomatoes, tomatillos and eggplants and then Mother Nature, by way of a virus, slowed me down for a few days. I still have a lot of seeds to get started but today is a dark and rainy day here (we desperately need the rain, just not all at once!); the dogs and cats have all found their comfy, warm spots to sleep the day away, hubby is working from home and I don’t fancy the swim to the greenhouse. So it’s the perfect day to sit down and write that follow-up post I promised you about more frugal/creative ways to acquire seed/plant materials for your garden.

If you’re reading this than perhaps the easiest way to get started is right at your fingertips, online seed swaps.

Dave’s Garden – although this is a subscription site, in my opinion the wealth of resources here is unparalleled. There is almost always an online seed/plant swap going and various regional groups around the country host in person plant trades once or twice a year — one of the highlights of my year is the North Central Texas spring and fall swap and pot luck; great plants, great people and great food (sometimes I go as much for the food as the plants).

GardenWeb – similar to Dave’s Garden but free (although I find it a little harder to navigate).


Facebook and Yahoo! Groups also support a number of seed swap groups, here are just a few:
Great American Seed Swap
Seed Traders
FREE Seed Exchange

Moving away from cyberspace, think about joining a local garden club – you’ll find that your fellow gardeners are very generous people, not only sharing their extra plants but also their hard-earned knowledge, and you are likely to make some wonderful friends.

Volunteer – are there community gardens, school gardens,  native plant demonstration gardens in your locale where you can volunteer? Depending on the organization you may be able to take home excess seeds, plants or produce. Regardless, you will meet great people and learn great skills without the trial and error you’d have at home.

Another idea is to collect your own; if you’re working with heirloom seeds you should be able to save seeds year-on-year. For plants in families that easily cross-pollinate (think cucumbers, squash, melons) you’ll want to make sure you have the proper spacing between each type of plant to get seeds that come true.

After looking to your own garden look to Mother Nature, in many areas you can collect plants and seeds from public rights of way. (Before doing so make sure to check your state and/or local laws to ensure doing so is legal in your area — you may want to carry a copy of the statue with you as law enforcement officers may not know this to be the case. Also make sure that the plants you’re considering are not threatened or endangered.)

Trade your time: do you know a local landscaper or nursery? They might be willing to trade you some plants for labor; not only will you get the plants, but you will likely gain valuable knowledge about growing/caring for them, as well as making good industry contacts.

For the creative and the brave consider bartering goods or services for materials. Do you have laying hens? That extra dozen eggs you have could get you a nice plant from one of your neighbors’ greenhouses.

Join Seed Savers Exchange: SSE is a non-profit, 501(c)(3), member supported organization that saves and shares the heirloom seeds of our garden heritage, forming a living legacy that can be passed down through generations. When you join SSE you get 10% off products from their catalog and gift shop along with access to publications — including their yearbook, where you can buy or trade seeds with other SSE members.

If, for whatever reasons, these are not viable options for you don’t despair. Here are some other ideas to ponder:

Consider forming or joining a coop to buy seeds in bulk. Buying in bulk will almost always save you money over packets.

Plan ahead for the next growing season and buy this year’s seed for deep discount when your local garden center puts them on sale. For example I recently bought a large quality of both Botanical Interests and Peaceful Valley seed at 50% off. With the proper storage (dark, cool and moisture free) seeds will keep for longer than you think. Over time their sprouting rate will decrease, but there are simple propagation tests that can be done to mitigate this issue. (I plan to revisit this topic again, so stay tuned.)

If you are not picky about varieties, origin, etc. shop the discount racks at Lowes, Home Depot, or whichever big box store you have access to. A lot of times these plants will have been abused and will look ugly, but with some tlc you can often turn them around and get a nice plant at quite a discount. For the brave among us, you can gain even greater savings with this trick: it is a little known fact that many (most?) big box stores accept plant inventory at no risk to themselves. If they sell the plant they get some money, but if they don’t the supplier comes back, takes the remaining inventory and takes the loss. So if you get to know the garden center staff at these stores you can find out when the suppliers come to take back their inventory. At that point you can either try to name your price with the store (they don’t care, as long as they sell the plant they make some money) or turn-up when the supplier is there and make them an offer – often times they will be happy to make some money, rather than taking a loss on the plants.

Finally, consider donating your excess garden produce to a local food bank. Ample Harvest can help you locate a group in your area that will be happy to have your excess produce and if the group is a registered charity you should be able to put a value on your donation and take a tax deduction –thus the tie-in to frugal gardening — (be sure to check that one with you accountant though).

Well as Porky Pig used to say… “that’s all folks”. Thank you for visiting my blog, writing and sharing with you inspires me to go out and practice what I preach, walk the talk, etc., etc. If you find value in what I’m saying please share my blog with your friends.

Until next time…

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