How to Get Free Seeds and Plants for Your Garden

Anyone who is interested in their health knows that eating fresh fruits and vegetables are paramount to a healthy diet. But, if you are buying a lot of organic produce at the health food store or grocery store, it really adds up at the cash register! Buying in bulk and at farmer's markets or CSA shares can save you money, but another way is to grow your own!

Gardening is such a therapeutic activity that can bring movement to your life, get you outside in the fresh air and sunshine, get you exposed to microbes in the dirt and on your food. If you're barefoot, you can also practice grounding. Best of all though, is eating fresh produce right from the plant. Fruits in the grocery stores are usually not picked in the peak of ripeness because they need the shelf life to travel from farm to distribution center to store and then sit for a couple days until someone picks them out to bring them home. Because they are picked early, before they are fully ripe, they don't have the full nutritional profile of vitamins, minerals and enzymes. They also don't have the taste. (Fruits from farmer's markets and CSA shares are usually picked ripe.)

It is September here in Southern Arizona which is my favorite month in the garden. It's a busy one! Lots of stuff being harvested (tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, summer and winter squash, melons, fresh herbs) and it is time to plant seeds for the fall/winter garden. Yep, we are lucky enough to be able to garden year-round. One nice payoff for the extreme summer heat. So, I've been prepping the soil and planting seeds for peas, radishes, garlic, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, turnips, cilantro, dill, lettuces, spinach and swiss chard.

I also love getting my kids in the garden with me; they are picking their own tomatoes, green beans and strawberries while also helping me dig and loosen the soil to amend it and then plant the seeds. They get to see ladybugs, spiders and caterpillars in action and learn about the lifecycle of plants. What a great way to spend time with your kids and teaching them where fresh fruits and veggies REALLY come from.

 Planting garlic with the kiddos

Planting garlic with the kiddos

If you're completely new to gardening, I would highly recommend finding a book that was written for your area as a book is really the only way to hold enough information to get you started; not a blog post. :) Starting a garden really starts with the soil you're growing in; or the water you're feeding if you practice aquaponic or hydroponic gardening. I have a traditional garden growing in the ground, so that's where my experience and advise lies. My best advice is to start with a plan, get the help of a well-written gardening book, a master gardener or nursery person from an actual nursery (not Home depot or Walmart) to prepare your soil for planting.

Now to the focus of this post! How to get free seeds and plants for your garden! 

1. Regrow Roots  

Have you noticed roots still on some of your veggies in the grocery store? Well, you can place them in water or in the soil in your garden and the greens will regrow! I'll successfully done this with green onions and leeks, although, I've seen others do it with lettuce and celery as well.

 I've had better success doing this than starting green onions from seeds

I've had better success doing this than starting green onions from seeds

2. Start Slips

A slip is what you typically plant when you want to grow sweet potatoes. So next time, you have a sweet potato starting to sprout, don't throw it away, just cut off a chunk of the potato with the sprout and place in water; it'll grow roots and the leaves will develop and you can plant in the ground. You can also just put an entire sweet potato halfway in water to get the same result. This is how I get sweet potatoes started in my garden. 

 My mom's sweet potato starts for the farm (I usually just do 1 or 2 for my home garden.)

My mom's sweet potato starts for the farm (I usually just do 1 or 2 for my home garden.)

 One month later; happy slips ready to be planted.

One month later; happy slips ready to be planted.

3. Clone from Cuttings

Lots of plants can be regrown from cuttings as they will start growing roots from stems touching wet soil. You can also prune pieces and place in water until roots begin to form. Some of the many plants you can do this will are: tomatoes, basil, mint, berries, grapes, pomegranates and figs. Just ask a gardener friend if you can have some clippings from their plants to try to clone; most of them will be more than happy to help as gardeners are some of the nicest people I know.

 roots growing from tomato plant cuttings

roots growing from tomato plant cuttings

 grape vine cutting that I received from another gardener leafing out

grape vine cutting that I received from another gardener leafing out

4. Separate Roots

Some herbs just sprawl and sprawl; sending down more roots as they go, so you can just dig up a clump from an existing garden to establish your own. Herbs like thyme, oregano and tarragon are good choices for this.

5. Save Seeds from Heirloom Fruit

Now, the heirloom part is important. You won't be successful regrowing seeds from a hybrid variety as a hybrid is made in a lab by crossing two other varieties (the parents), so the seeds that come out of the resulting plant could be from one of the parents or a mutant of it's own kind. The chances of getting the same type of fruit again are very slim. So, if you're lucky enough to be growing heirloom tomatoes, or bought one at a farmer's market, save the seeds to grow in your own garden. 

6. Seed Library

Many areas have seed libraries where you can "borrow" seeds. In my area, the county library has just such a program. I used it this summer to borrow some Giant Loofah seeds for fun. Yep, I'm growing my own scrubbing loofahs like you'd use in the shower. I'll just save some seeds to return to the library and save some for myself to grow next year.

7. Cultivate Wild Edibles

Prickly pear, like most cacti and succulents are very easy to cultivate with cuttings. When we moved on to our property, the previous owner had planted the thornless variety, so I've since cut pads and planted in other parts of the property. If you're in the northwest, then I'm sure you know how easy it is to replant blackberry vines. Well, take advance of the native edibles in your area. They will be the lowest-maintenance plants in your edible garden as they are already adapted to the climate.

8. Collect Seeds

Let your plants go to seed so you can save seeds for next season; lettuces, green onions, herbs, artichokes, sunflowers. Just watch out for hybrid plants or plants that may cross pollinate like squash, cucumbers and melons.

9. Plants That Spread

Strawberries are what came to mind and they didn't seem to fit in any other category. Strawberry plants send out runners with baby plants that then root into the soil. Well, you can cut the runner once the baby has roots and you have a new plant! This is how my strawberry patch turns into a jungle every summer. When I have time, in January, I'll dig them up, amend the soil and then plant a fraction of the plants back in the ground so they have room to breathe and aren't competing for nutrients. Then, I have boxes of plants that I give away. Other berry plants do the same, but I covered them under #3.

10. Seed Exchange Groups

Find a local gardening group. You'll make new friends and have a wealth of knowledge to help get you started and have people to get these free seeds and plants from. :) In my area, there's a group on Facebook that last I checked was over 13,000 strong. The admins coordinate a seed exchange a couple times a year where I've given away boxes of strawberry plants and prickly pear pads and received succulent cuttings, tomato starts, grape cuttings, various seeds and just a good time. (Did I mention gardeners are great people?)

If you're new to gardening, or just on a tight budget, I hope you can use some of these methods to get free seeds and plants to get your hands dirty. (pun intended) You may find gardening to be as addicting as I do.

If you want more gardening posts, just let me know in the comments! Gardening is my favorite activity besides preparing nourishing meals for my family.

With love, hugs and smiles, 

Carolyn