Getting Free House Plants with Plant Swaps

Plant swaps

House plants are becoming a growing trend (pun intended), especially among Millennials who may be living in apartments with no garden and plant swaps are a great way to start or increase a plant collection.

My house plant collection
My house plant collection

A video by The New Yorker explains this trend very well and it features one of the poster girls of modern plant parents, Summer Rayne Oakes. By the way, her YouTube channel is very informative so, whether you are a new or experienced plant parent you will certainly find useful content about plant care; she also organised “Plantchella”, a plant swap extravaganza in Los Angeles.

The New York Times also reported that Millennials made more than 30% of the total market for house plants in 2016 and Gardenista called plant swaps “the new sharing economy”.

Many house plants you find in garden centres, DIY shops and even supermarket are easy to care for, and there is an increasing demand for plants that are worth collecting. Collector plants are more sought after, less available and more expensive than plants you can find in shops and are likely found only online. Maybe you are looking for a very specific plant but it may not be available where you are or it’s not within your budget. That’s where plant swaps can be a life saver. On top of everything else, you can get new plants for free with plant swaps, so what’s not to like?


Most Popular House Plants and Your Plant Journey

Scroll through Instagram and you’ll likely come across several posts of people holding house plants with pride or enhancing their interior design décor with plants.

Pothos is very easy to find and comes in many varieties. It’s a great beginner’s plant as it doesn’t need much light or water. It’s also very easy to propagate: just take a cutting and put it in water or soil. Within a few days or a couple of weeks it will develop roots. The heart leaf philodendron (philodendron scandens) is also a very generous plant, growing quickly and propagating easily, perfect for swaps.

Plant swaps

While plants like sanseveria or snake plant are a great feature in interior design, growing and propagating them can take a while, so they are less likely to appear in requests for swaps. However they are very easy to find them in shops at affordable prices. Same applies to some succulents like aloe vera and jade plant (crassula). While succulents such as aloe and jade plant do well in plant swaps by post as they are more resilient, growing them in the UK and Ireland can be a challenge as they need plenty of bright light. You will need to place them by a south-facing window protected from draughts, which, let’s face it, it’s not easy to do in Irish and British homes.

A factor you need to consider before embarking in your plant swap adventure is how far you are into your plant journey compared to other people. In her podcast, On The Ledge, Jane Perrone talks about different plant journeys and their stages in the episode about plant swaps. If you are a newbie, other plant hobbyists and collectors will not be interested in your plants. However, many plant parents are very generous so they may still part with one of their plant babies just from the kindness of their hearts. There are also some etiquette rules to follow, particularly if you are inexperienced: it’s frowned upon to approach people for free cuttings, both in person or on Instagram, without offering anything in exchange.

What House Plants Are Popular?

For the sake of curiosity I asked in a plant swap Facebook group based in Dublin which plants are the most popular.

Pothos came first, mainly because it’s so easy to propagate. Ease of propagation is a major factor for a successful swap. While golden pothos (epipremnum aureum) can be found anywhere so supply exceeds demand, there are other varieties such as satin pothos (scindapsus pictus), which isn’t technically a pothos, and neon pothos (Epipremnum Neon) which many people are looking for.

Monstera came second in this unscientific survey – while monstera deliciosa can be found in most shops, not everybody can afford to pay for a large plant, so cuttings allow people to own a monstera without parting with a lot of cash. Monstera has been a superstar plant on Instagram for a few years now and its notoriety doesn’t seem to wane. Variegated monstera is very expensive and is usually sold online. Finding one in a plant swap can be a challenge and if you are looking for a cutting be prepared to part with an equally valuable plant in exchange.

Common house plants such as sanseveria, spider plant and ficus are more beginners’ plants but proved to be quite popular in my informal Facebook survey.

Less in demand were string of pearls and string of hearts, ZZ plant, begonia, hoya, philodendron and peperomia. However, in other parts of the world these plants are often on people’s wishlists.

Plant Wishlists

If you join a plant swap online group it’s a good idea to share your plant wishlist. Just write down a list of plants you would like to get and post it (without spamming of course) in one or more groups you are a member of. You can also source pictures of your wishlist plants and post them on Instagram, clearly marking that they are plants you are looking for.

How To Do Plant Swaps: UK and Ireland Edition

You can swap house plants in person, but the easiest way is to swap them by post. Cuttings don’t take up much space and are lightweight, so they can fit into a padded envelope. Cuttings can be rooted or unrooted but of course it’s better if you have a few rooted plants as they will be more resilient. Posting fragile plants comes with risks: for example, a Monstera cutting I received by post got damaged by the postman who bent the jiffy bag it came in to squeeze through the letterbox.

Plant Mail Is The Best Mail

Both rooted and unrooted cuttings need to be kept moist: if they dry up in transit they will likely die. First of all, wet some paper towels, squeeze them to rid of excess water, then wrap them around the cutting’s roots or, if unrooted, the cut end. Then, wrap the moistened paper towel in cling film, aluminium foil or a plastic bag. Secure with an elastic band. If you are using a padded envelope, add extra padding in the form of shredded paper and, possibly, a couple of pieces of cardboard to prevent the cutting from being squashed during sorting at the post office.
Plant swaps

Mark the envelope “fragile, live plants”. An even better method is to use a small cardboard box instead of a jiffy envelope. The box should be narrow enough to fit into a letterbox. In Ireland, for example, these boxes are not easy to find but they are easily available in the UK. If you have ordered some small items from Amazon or any other online retailer, keep the box and reuse it.

Both in the UK and Ireland you can receive post the next day from sending. While it’s not guaranteed that delivery will be the next day, on average the postal service is very reliable. Avoid sending plants just before the weekend, as they will sit in a sorting office for at least a couple of days. Plant retailers tend to ship plants at the beginning of the week to avoid this problem.

Benefits of Plant Swaps

As mentioned earlier, plant swaps are a fantastic way to add to your house plant collection at no or minimal cost (the cost element being postage and packing).

One of the main advantages of plant swaps, which may get overlooked, is the opportunity to make new friends. The house plants community is generally very supportive, positive and welcoming. There must be something about tending to plants that brings out personality traits such as kindness and attentiveness, as well as a general sense of empathy for living beings. Of course, I am not qualified to make an assessment or draw conclusions, but from personal experience talking to other plant people and exchanging cuttings with them, I noticed they are generally supportive and generous.

Here are a few useful links for plant swaps:

Finally, if you’d like to connect and swap plants, you can find me on Instagram: @paolaenergya.

Related article: how I renovated my home in Ireland and added house plants.

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