How can I save money on plants?

Geoff Hodge shares some hints and tips to make more of your garden plants and save some money by growing something for nothing – or just about!

allium seed heads

Who doesn’t love something for nothing? Us gardeners certainly relish in getting our hands on new plants from someone we know and swopping plants between friends, family, neighbours and the local gardening club. But where can you get a supply of new plants to grow yourself, to give away, swop – or even sell – in the first place? And how can you do it as economically as possible? The great news is that most plants will give you something for nothing that you can propagate from to make those new plants. Depending on the plants you want to propagate from, and the way you want to do it, you may need some equipment – but you don’t have to go over the top and spend a fortune. Your starter propagation kit might just contain a few plastic bags!

Saving seeds

Annuals, perennials and to a lesser extent some trees and shrubs can all be grown from seed saved from your own plants. But be aware that seed saved from F1 annual varieties won’t come true – the plants will probably grow differently with different flower colours, sizes etc.

Be methodical saving seed. Then you can confidently share and plant your harvest
Image: AdobeStock/c.mashiki

You will need to leave the seeds to mature on the plant – so don’t remove seed heads and seed pods until they’re ripe – and then go out and collect them. Sometimes this seed-saving window is very short and some plants have explosive seed dispersal mechanisms, so covering suitable seed heads in a paper bag or similar will help prevent the seeds being shed before you can collect them.

Some seed heads add drama to the flower border, like these allium heads
Image: Geoff Hodge

Once collected, you need to store them somewhere cool/cold, dark and dry. If you want more info, watch Richard’s video on collecting seeds.

Missed the boat?

If you forgot to save the seeds, or they were shed before you collected them, all may not be lost. Many annuals and perennials are easy self-seeders – their seed germinating readily in the soil where they were shed – sometimes far too readily, so that they almost become a “weed”!

Don’t be too hasty cutting off seed heads. Not only do the birds eat many seeds, but some can be saved for sowing and others will self-seed
Image: Jean Vernon

These self-sown seedlings can be carefully dug up, and either transplanted to where you want them to grow or, especially if they’re on the small size, potted up individually in small pots and grown on. Make sure to do it early in the year, or once they have produced plants large enough to move easily. Once they get too big and become established they may not transplant easily or readily. And some self-seeders, such as hellebores, dislike root disturbance and don’t move well.

Chop, chop

The majority of herbaceous perennials get bigger and bigger each year, producing large clumps – often too big for the space allocated to them and often not flowering as well as they did when they were younger. Luckily for us, all these plants can be dug up – usually when dormant from autumn to early spring and chopped up into smaller pieces – often lots and lots of smaller pieces – and replanted or potted up. You can watch my video on how to divide and propagate herbaceous perennials here.

Cut it out

Most shrubs, but also summer bedding perennials like pelargoniums (bedding geraniums), fuchsias, marguerites and trailing petunias, and even some herbaceous perennials can all be propagated from stem cuttings. And the summer is a great time to propagate many new plants this way. That one bushy pelargonium in your garden could provide you with dozens of cuttings – so dozens of new plants for very little outlay on tools and equipment. While getting stem cuttings to root is a bit trickier than growing new plants from seed, the exhilaration when they do root and start growing away is unrivalled.

Take cuttings to make more of your plants
Image: Geoff Hodge

You can find out exactly how to do it with my video on taking softwood cuttings of summer bedding perennials and taking semi-ripe cuttings of shrubs.

Grow your own – only!

But please bear in mind, whenever I’ve referred to your plants – I mean YOUR plants. Or, at least, plants that you’ve had permission from the actual owner to raid of seeds or cuttings.

Grow from seed and then share the seedlings
Image: Martin Mulchinock

Numerous National Garden Scheme owners and others who used to open their gardens to the public are now no longer doing so. After hosting a fabulous Open Day, which can take ages to prepare for, they close their gates to the public only to finds plants missing their seed heads or cut down to ground level, stripped of cuttings. Even the larger gardens of organisations such as the Royal Horticultural Society, National Trust and the like aren’t exempt from plant raiders, as some of their gardeners have told me. They may not be going out at night wearing balaclavas and armed to the teeth with secateurs, but these plant thieves are just as savage to plants as burglars are to property.

And please don’t risk it

And also be very wary of bringing in seeds and other plant material from abroad, after being bowled over when seeing them growing when you’re on holiday. Plants, seeds, flowers, fruit or vegetables can carry pests and diseases that could destroy our plants and crops, and the UK Government is urging us not to bring back plants from abroad. For instance, one of the biggest current threats to the UK is the disease caused by the bacterium Xylella fastidiosa, this is one of the most dangerous plant diseases worldwide, killing tens of thousands of trees in mainland Europe, causing major economic and environmental impact. Although Xylella is not currently in the UK, it is present in regions of Italy, France, Portugal and Spain, and bringing back plants that may be harbouring it could lead to an outbreak in the UK that would lead to widespread destruction of plants. We must do all we can to reduce these threats and the Don’t Risk It campaign aims to protect our country by asking you not to bring back plants, seeds, flowers, fruit or vegetables. Nearly all the plants you see abroad are available from UK nurseries anyway. Or you may know of someone who is growing it here and could give you a cutting, a division or a few seeds!


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