How to get free seeds: 7 budget-saving solutions to increase your collection for less
Follow our expert tips on how to get free seeds for your garden and fill your flower and vegetable beds fast
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Looking to discover how to get free seeds so you can save money and grow lots of beautiful blooms and tasty vegetables? We're here to help.
Seeds are central to every thriving flower and vegetable garden out there but the price can quickly tot up at the start of the growing season. Fortunately there are other ways to pick up seeds and increase your stash, often for free.
There are many ways free seeds are distributed, mainly through seed swap forums, libraries and exchanges, the details for which can be found online.
In time you can build up your own collection of special varieties to create a flower and vegetable garden that's uniquely yours. You'll also have the opportunity to acquire more rare varieties that are not widely available.
Saving your own seeds makes sense, particularly if you're on the lookout for cheap garden ideas and want to grow your own food. By saving your own seeds you have control over the provenance and it allows the varieties you're growing to adapt to the specific conditions in your own garden. Saving your seeds is the best way to propagate your garden too – and the cheapest!
It makes sense as a sustainable choice too, as there's no packaging or transportation involved if you harvest your own seeds. 'One of the key principles of organic growing is reducing the amount that you buy or bring into your garden,' says Anton Rosenfeld, organic growing expert at Garden Organic (opens in new tab). 'An annual seed order is often a task for gardeners, but this doesn’t need to be the case – there are a number of different ways to find out how to get free seeds without shopping.'
Find out how to get free seeds in 7 easy steps
'Growing from seed then harvesting ripe seeds from the plants you've successfully germinated and grown is one of the best things about gardening,' says Ruth Hayes, one of the team of experts on Amateur Gardening magazine. 'It's so rewarding and can also save you money.'
This is why there's been such a surge in interest in how to get free seeds especially from those looking to grow more of their own food.
Here are 7 easy ways to get free seeds that are all very do-able so make them part of your gardening routine now. Follow our tips below and finding out how to get free plants will soon become second nature.
1. Set up a local seed circle
A seed circle is such a simple idea. A group of friends, colleagues or neighbors organize into a group, and each one of you signs up to save seed of one particular type of vegetable or flower.
It's best if each person saves seed from a vegetable or flower that they really like and have grown successfully, as they will have more choice about the plants they save from for stronger seeds. So if you have someone in your group who is super keen on growing, say, tomatoes then they're the person to grow tomato seeds for your circle.
You’ll each get lots of seeds when you save your own (far more than one person can make use of), so at the end of the growing season you can all swap with each other and get lots of seeds for free.
Alternatively assign two vegetables or flowers to each person as seed-saving doesn't really involve any work and it's a good insurance policy in case one crop goes wrong.
Make sure you follow our advice on how to make fertilizer and fertilize plants for free too if you want to get the most out of your crops on a budget.
2. Join a seed library
Visit seed libraries set up in public libraries and community centers, as well as checking out those online, where you can seek out seeds for free. It's an opportunity to share a glut of your own seeds too, while if you're new to gardening you can take advantage of what's on offer. Take what you need, then pay back with your own collected seeds in the fall after your crops are harvested.
Seed libraries are big news in the US, where well-organized groups pool resources and share expertise. San Diego's Ocean Beach library is much like any other public library except you can check out packets of seeds with your books. Stored in a salvaged card catalogue, library visitors are encouraged to take packets of seeds home with them to plant. The seed library is about sharing and building community.
Seed libraries in the UK are more rare but there is the excellent Heritage Seed Library run by Garden Organic (opens in new tab). They attend several seed swaps each year where you can obtain some of their varieties to try and to save for the following year. Alternatively search for info on seed libraries near you and see what you can find.
3. Find out about seed swaps
Local seed swaps are big news and there are thousands of them around the globe with more popping up all the time. Check your local library, community center or search online for a seed swap near you.
'At the beginning of each year community seed swaps sprout up all over the country,' says Anton Rosenfeld. 'These are a fantastic way to replenish your seed stores, and share surplus seed in return. If you’ve missed one in your area this year, have a chat with your neighbors or gardening friends instead. Gardeners love sharing!'
There's nothing complicated about how they work - seed swaps are exactly that, a forum where gardeners can meet and swap seeds. There're getting more and more popular too as the trend for kitchen garden ideas has surged. You might even get lucky and find that free plants are being swapped alongside the seeds too.
'Only sow the number of seeds you want to grow, with a few to spare,' says Sarah Mead, head gardener of Yeo Valley Organic Garden (opens in new tab). 'Resist the urge to save the rest of the packet for next year. Seed is far better sown fresh and that way you can swap your leftovers with a friend, neighbor or at one of the many seed swap events held across the country. It’s a great way to discover something new for free and connect with like-minded gardening folk.'
If you're in the UK check out the Seed Sovereignty (opens in new tab) website for events near you. If you live in the US try Adaptive Seeds (opens in new tab) in Oregon, who steward rare, diverse and resilient seed varieties for ecologically-minded gardeners and seed savers.
4. Follow online seed exchanges
If you're keen to grow flowers from seeds, online seed exchanges mean you don't even need to leave the house to increase your stock of seeds. They are also a great forum for hunting out rare and heritage seeds, as well as unusual varieties you might be interested in.
Search online for seed exchanges. Watch for 'free seeds' listings on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace by doing a daily search for 'free seeds'.
In the US, sites such as the non-profit Seed Savers (opens in new tab) are pushing out the seed exchange message. It's a community of gardeners and seed stewards, sharing and swapping rare seeds you might not find anywhere else. Sign up and browse seeds offered by other participants, then create a wishlist of the seeds you're interested in for your flower bed ideas or small vegetable garden.
5. Take advantage of free offers
Local businesses, public gardens, charities and other organisations such as community gardens and allotments can be generous when it comes to how to get free seeds. Attend shows and events in spring, and you’re sure to find people handing out seed packets for free.
Many businesses and non-profit organisations offer free seed packets to protect pollinators, for publicity purposes and also to thank customers so keep your eyes peeled for giveaways.
6. Collect your own seeds
Once you’ve got an established plot for your flowers and vegetables, you can cut costs further by saving some of your own seeds for the following season. This is a fantastic way to keep gardening costs down and, in time, the seeds you save will become more and more suited to the specific conditions in your garden.
'If you have flowers in the garden that you would like more of watch them like a hawk and harvest their seed as soon as it's ready,' recommends Sarah Mead. 'Choose a sunny day, and make sure you label and date the paper bag so you know what you’ve collected.
'If you want to find out how to get free seeds I would recommend starting with easy ones like poppies and nasturtiums, then branch out when you feel more confident. As long as you keep them dry and sow them fresh you should enjoy the satisfaction that comes from getting something for nothing with free garden ideas like this.'
7. Get free seeds every week
If you're interested in how to get free seeds why not subscribe to Amateur Gardening magazine? As well as great expert advice you'll get a packet of free seeds* with every issue and it's delivered straight to your door each week.
Amateur Gardening is a friendly practical guide to help you get the best out of your garden, whatever its size. Experts will help and inspire you to create your perfect garden, with great ideas for plant combinations, new plants to try, top tips for growing vegetables and a unique reader advice service.
Subscribe to Amateur Gardening (opens in new tab)
Take out a subscription to Amateur Gardening today and receive a packet of free seeds* with every issue. Packed with practical, in-depth advice, it's perfect for anyone who is passionate about gardening and wants ideas and tips on how to make the most of their garden. A subscription is the best way to ensure you don't miss out on any of this expert gardening content.
(*free seeds only available to UK subscribers)
How do you collect seeds?
We asked Gardening Editor Ruth Hayes of Amateur Gardening magazine for her top tips on how to collect and store seeds from your own garden:
'The seeds of hardy annual flowers are easy to save, especially poppies and aquilegia and the larger seeds of Cerinthe major. Wait for the seadheads to ripen then carefully shake the seeds into an envelope.
'I also leave a few bean and pea pods on the plants to ripen and dry when I harvest the rest. I collect the seeds when the pods are completely shrivelled and the beans and peas dry, and sow them at the appropriate time for the following year's crops.
'For the best results, seeds need to be stored somewhere cool and dry in a labelled envelope. There are a couple of ways to check they are still viable the following year. Larger seeds can be popped into a bowl of water. If they sink they're good, but if they float, they won't germinate.
'With smaller seeds, scatter a few onto damp kitchen paper, then seal them in a plastic bag and leave somewhere light and warm for a few days. If they sprout, the majority of the remaining seeds should be worth sowing.'
Lifestyle journalist Sarah Wilson has been writing about gardens since 2015. She's written for Gardeningetc.com, Livingetc, Homes & Gardens, Easy Gardens and Modern Gardens magazines. Having studied introductory garden and landscape design, she is currently putting the skills learned to good use in her own space where the dream is establishing a cutting garden.
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