Plant exchanges are helpful for both beginning and experienced gardeners

black-eyed Susanby Connie Oswald Stofko

Plant exchanges can be a good way for beginners to get started in gardening.

For experienced gardeners, plant exchanges provide a way to find good homes for their excess plants, and perhaps even find something new and unusual for their own gardens.

“You tend to see a lot of the same plants, such as daylillies and black-eyed Susans,”  said Peter Arnold, branch manager at the Eggertsville-Snyder Branch Library, who has organized the spring and fall plant swaps at the Audubon Library for several years. (Those are black-eyed Susans in the photo above.)

“But you do see some unusual plants,” he said. “I’ve gotten perennial orchids and perennial geraniums.”

purple cone flower
Purple Cone Flower

Because gardeners are bringing their extra plants, whatever plants they bring tend to be ones that grow well and are hardy and vigorous, he noted.

The fall plant swap organized by Arnold will be held at noon Saturday, Sept. 25, at the Amherst Main Library at Audubon, 350 John James Audubon Parkway, Amherst. Doors open at 11:30 a.m. so you can chat and get organized. It’s important to be there on time so you can listen to the rules.

The structure of the swap is fairly simple. A gardener takes a turn explaining what he or she brought, then the other gardeners may choose from the items that gardener brought. Each gardener takes a turn explaining what they brought.

When Arnold was organizing the first plant swap, he thought he might have to establish some sort of credit system for the swap, which would hinge on the number of plants each person brought. Instead, he simply asks participants to take only about the same number of items as they brought.

Missouri primrose
Missouri Primrose

“Gardeners are a generous sort,” he said. “There’s a lot of courteousness.”

If you don’t have plants to bring, you can take what’s left after the other participants have chosen. (If there are still plants left when the swap is complete, library staff and other patrons usually find them good homes.)

When you take things to a plant exchange, make sure they’re in tidy, easily exchangeable units, Arnold said. You don’t want to have to break things apart at the plant exchange. It’s much too messy (the Audubon Library event is held inside in a carpeted meeting room), and it’s time consuming as well.

Many people bring their plants in small pots they have left over from when they bought plants at a nursery. Those plastic bags that newspapers are delivered in can accommodate plants of many sizes, and you can double them up if you’re afraid of leakage. Plastic grocery bags work well for large plants such as hostas.

Seeds can be packaged in old mailing envelopes.

trumpet vine
Trumpet Vine

Make sure you label your plants. It may be obvious to you which is a hosta and which is lily of the valley, but other people may get home and not even remember the names of the plants they took, much less which is which. If you can, include other information, too, such as color, size and whether it needs sun or shade. Some people bring a picture of the plant in bloom, which is much appreciated.

Of course, bring only healthy specimens. If you suspect a plant may be bothered by fungus or grubs or other maladies, wait until you have the problem solved before you share that plant.

A plant exchange is also a great place to get gardening advice. At the Audubon Library swap, the doors open a half hour before the swap so gardeners can chat.

“Gardeners love to talk about their plants,” Arnold said.

(The photos in this article are plants I’ve received at plant exchanges or taken to plant exchanges. — Connie)

If your group is planning a plant exchange, contact Connie and I’ll include it on our upcoming events page.


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