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Plant Swap: An Easy and Fun Way to Find New Plants...and New Friends

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What better way to share your extra plants and seeds, and pick up a few new things to try, than at a plant swap? It's fun, it's free, and it's a great opportunity to chat with fellow gardeners about what works and what doesn't in your area.

What is a plant swap? Well, it's an event where people bring one or more items from their own gardens or seed boxes, put them out on display, and then take away some items that others have contributed. It's a free exchange of plant material.

A plant swap, or plant exchange, can be very simple to organize. I have done it, and if I can do it, you can, too. Below are the steps to host your own event.

How to Organize a Plant Swap

Event structure. First, you need to decide on your event structure. Will it be open to the public, or just for your garden club? Will you organize it formally, with tickets issued good for one plant each? Will you have orchestrated rounds of choosing? Or will it be a free-for-all on the honor system? Will you limit what kind of plants are allowed (houseplants only; vegetable seedlings; ornamentals; an herb exchange, etc.)? Will there be food or sales tents or other aspects along with the plant exchange?Location and timing. Next, you must find a location and set a date and time. This could be your front yard, or you could ask a community center, nature center, school, library, or municipal park to be the host venue. Make sure there is space for easy parking, if it's a driving destination. Weekends and evenings are more likely to draw a good crowd. The best times of year to hold a swap are spring and fall, when people are busy in their gardens digging and dividing plants. Publicity. You will need to get the word out well in advance of the event. If it is limited to a certain group, this is easy to do. If you are planning to hold a public event, start a few months ahead of time. Draft a flyer and a press release or blurb. Post the flyer everywhere around town you can think of on community event boards, shop windows, at garden centers, and the like. Submit your press release to local newspapers, radio stations, nature centers, municipal departments, free publications, and news websites. Post a blurb on your social media sites, and ask friends and contacts to help spread the word. Email your friends with the materials and ask them to help, too.Set guidelines. Part of your marketing materials should include brief guidelines or FAQs about the event, so people know what to expect. Lay out the rules you have decided upon so that people are clear on how the event works. It will be the very first plant swap most people have attended, so they may be unsure about participating. Make it sound easy and fun, rather than strict and onerous.Invite supporting groups. It can be very helpful to have Master Gardeners, Master Naturalists, garden clubs, herb societies, or similar groups represented at your swap. These folks have a lot of great knowledge to share, and might participate in the swap as well. It is also an opportunity for them to gain exposure for their groups and recruit new participants, so it is a win-win. If you intend there to be food, invite food vendors or recruit friends to supply bake sale/snack items. Prepare your own contributions. As you go through the organizing steps, be thinking about what you can contribute to the swap. A couple of months prior to the event, you could take cuttings or plant seeds in a flat that you know you will dedicate to the swap. A week or two prior is a good time to dig up divisions, tubers, suckers, or seedlings from your garden beds and pot them up so you aren't rushing to do it the day before, and so they have a little time to "fluff up" in their pots. Make sure to label everything clearly so you don't forget what you have.Prepare and set up the event. On the day of the event, arrive early enough to get everything set up and organized in a sensible manner. Imagine that you are a first-time swap participant. Is it clear where you should put your contributions? Are there clearly labeled areas for different kinds of plants (e.g., sun vs. shade, or herbs vs. shrubs vs. perennials vs. vegetables)? Where will the resource providers and/or food vendors be located? Will it be easy for people to transport their offerings to and from the display tables? Make sure to bring materials such as extra labels, markers, bags or baggies, and a wagon or wheelbarrow to help people ferry their plants.

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Have fun at the event! It is always fascinating to look around at all of the various items people contribute at a plant swap. Make sure to mingle and answer people's questions. Ensure that everyone takes home at least one new plant to try. If you have supporting groups, it is always nice to offer them a few moments to peruse the swap tables or ask if you can set something aside for them as a thank-you for coming. Listen for feedback. As you mingle, ask participants how the event seems - are they confused about anything? Do they have suggestions for improvements? Is the flow working? Keep this feedback in mind and jot a few notes down after the event, so that next time you can make the event even better. Cleanup and final distribution. At the end of the swap, decide how to handle leftover items. Would any helpers like to take extras home? Is there a garden club you could donate to? Our community is fortunate to have a seed library housed in our book library. We donate extra seed packets to the seed library.

There are many different ways to organize a plant and seed exchange. Be creative and tailor it to your community. The plant swap I coordinate is held at Pickering Creek Audubon Center, and we focus on exchanging native plants. This year, the Audubon center is hosting a workshop on planting for birds (see their Plants for Birds webpage for more info) just prior to the swap to encourage people to keep birds in mind when planning their gardens.

Although I listed a lot of steps above, I hope you can see how straightforward it is to organize a plant swap. After the first time, it gets easier because you will have some materials and processes to go by. If you are consistent, you will also build a bigger and bigger community of participants each time. The small amount of time and effort required will earn you a big payoff in sheer enjoyability...plus a few new plants to try in your garden. Good luck!

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