Martha Walsworth gardens in Choudrant, La., where she retired after 30 years in public education. She is a Lincoln Parish Master Gardener.

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Organize a Plant Swap
by Martha Walsworth    

Plant swaps are a fun, organized way to share an abundance of plants. It is also a good way to make sure you have new varieties of plants that you want without having to buy them.

Here are some suggested guidelines for organizing a plant swap.

Choose a location.

A good site is one that is easily accessible, has ample parking space, does not require a long hike to and from the car, has plenty of space to display plants and room to mill, and yes, has bathroom facilities. For summer swaps, consider a shaded area for the benefit of both the plants and the people. Be sure to have a “just-in-case” location in the event of inclement weather.

Some options include private homes, public parks, community centers, schools or churches. Most places will donate space for free. (Be sure to ask permission!)

Pick a date and time.

Have two or three dates in mind and poll the participants to determine the best time for the majority. Good times are spring and fall; you are either opening or closing a growing season. Usually allow two to four hours for the swap.

Resources needed

You will need tables, chairs, pens, boxes, bags, blank labels, table coverings and cleanup supplies.

Decide on how many and who to invite.

A garden club, your neighborhood, a church group, etc. Ten to 25 is a good number to invite. A group larger than this is not as conducive to an intimate and friendly atmosphere. Large, really large plant swaps have been successful, but if you are just starting out, perhaps a limited number is advisable.

Form committees

•  To receive plants and number them.

•  To set up tables.

•  To be responsible for name tags for participants.

•  To clean up.

•  To be in charge of food if you choose to have a simple meal. A sign-up sheet works well for a potluck. Be sure someone is assigned to plates, cups, napkins, etc. Make sure there is sufficient seating for everyone. It might be wise to have each participant bring his or her own chair.

Establish rules in advance. Make them known to everyone.

•  Set up a one-for-one ticket system. For every plant you bring, you can take one.

•  Have lists of available plants to give out.

•  Decide if vegetable plants will be acceptable. Herbs? Annuals and/or perennials? Bulbs?

•  Bring only healthy plants.

•  Label plants with both the common and botanical name. Include your name too.

•  Pass along any specific care information.

•  Do not trade plants contaminated with noxious weeds or nuisance plants.

•  Do not bring nuisance plants to trade.

•  Decide if you will accept seeds as a trade for a plant or if you will have a “seed swap” table only. If you do have a seed swap table, determine what the seed packets will be like. They should be marked clearly and with the name of the plant (common and botanical), the color, growing tips, number of seeds in the packet, whether or not it is open-pollinated or hybridized. (Heirloom seeds – usually open pollinated – will give consistent returns each year and keep a diverse gene pool.) Discourage commercial packets of seeds from participants.

Decide on the actual method of the swap.

One way is to number each plant as it arrives. Then slips of paper go into a hat, each slip with a number. There should be the same number of slips as there are plants to be swapped. After all of this is completed, the drawing is done. At the conclusion of the drawing people often beg pieces of a plant they want to try, or give away plants they don’t want. This, of course, is not the only way to conduct a plant swap, but it might be the simplest way to start out.


After your plant swap is done, evaluate it. What worked? What didn’t? Write it all down while it is still fresh in your mind. Put your notes, receipts, photos, invitations and mailing lists, list of participants, etc., in a file in the event you want to host another one. If not, maybe it would be helpful to someone else.


•  Some gardeners will bring extra plants. What will you do with them?

•  Ask for donations from area nurseries. They may have a surplus to give away as advertising for their store.

•  Have a door prize plant.

•  Have a plant ID book on hand.

•  Use a donation jar to help with expenses.

•  Take pictures. Write an article, and submit it to your local newspaper.

Remember: Good planning is essential, however, as the poet Robert Burns said, “The best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry.”

Expect a certain amount of chaos, and don’t get discouraged. Have fun!


From State-by-State Gardening September 2007


Posted: 09/17/18   RSS | Print


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