With the cost of living at the forefront of everyone’s minds, it may seem like an unnecessary luxury to spend money buying house plants. But there are ways in which we can indulge our passion for plants without blowing the budget. And as we cut back on other expenditures, such as day trips and eating out, we want our homes to be inviting and relaxing spaces.
Cultivating a large collection of house plants is surprisingly easy for very little money. Here are seven of my favourite ways to be thrifty when it comes to house plants.
Cuttings are one of the easiest ways to get plants for free. If you only have one plant, there will (with a few exceptions) be a way of propagating it. Sometimes the stem and the leaves of the same plant can be propagated, so it’s worth trying both to see which works – it can be an exciting experiment to see which grows roots first.
Propagating houseplants requires bright light and warmth, so keep them on a draft-free windowsill. Joining a plant swap group online is a great way to meet like-minded people and swap cuttings.
Search for secondhand
I have long been an advocate of shopping secondhand. Clothes, furniture, kitchen appliances, and house plants can be picked up for a fraction of what they cost new. Sites like eBay, Gumtree, Vinted, Facebook marketplace, and even Freecycle, are great places to search for plants and pots that people no longer want.
Some of the most amazing plants I own are secondhand; not only did they cost very little, but very often, they are large specimens, years old, with unique characteristics that you don’t get from plants fresh off the pallet. My best find was a 25-year-old, 1.2 metre-tall, silver torch cactus (Cleistocactus strausii), the likes of which are rarely seen outside of a specialist collection.
Buy from the bargain bin
The sale shelf is a great place to pick up plants cheaply. Often discounted plants need little more than light, water, and fertiliser to perk up. Damaged leaves can be cut off, and wonky stems staked. It’s common practice at supermarkets, petrol stations, DIY shops, and even garden centres to reduce orchids once they’ve finished flowering, and these are the ones I always buy.
More like this
To encourage an orchid to re-bloom, which can take many months, ideally position it on an east or west-facing windowsill; when the roots look silver-coloured, soak the whole pot in water for 30 minutes to an hour and then allow to drain thoroughly. Add plant feed once every few months and be patient.
You can also rescue plants from online retailers. Many retailers have adopted the Plant Rescue Box scheme and will post a box of imperfect plants, that are at least 50 per cent cheaper than the standard retail price. For more details, visit theplantrescuer.com
Join a local gardening club
Search online and scour local noticeboards, and you’ll likely find numerous gardening clubs and plant societies in your area. I’m not suggesting for a moment you go along purely on the off-chance that you might be gifted the odd plant or two. Joining a society is a great way to learn skills, forge friendships and get involved in events such as plant sales and seed swaps. Certain outdoor plants like coleus and oxalis make excellent house plants, kept outside until late summer and brought inside to be enjoyed throughout the winter months.
Grow from seed
For me, there are few things more rewarding than growing a plant from seed. I prefer to grow cacti and succulents, which you can buy in packets from most garden centres or online. Seeds require a propagator – but this can be homemade, fashioned from an empty plastic container, and covered with a clear bag to increase humidity.
Not all seeds will successfully germinate, and there will be some failures along the way, but there are few better ways to learn about plants than starting from scratch.
The British Cactus and Succulent Society is an excellent resource for information, advice, and seeds. There is a small joining fee, but it’s well worth it for the welcome pack alone.
Re-home unwanted plants
It’s not uncommon, particularly in urban areas, for people to put unwanted items outside their homes. Keep your eyes peeled for plants that have been left on the street. If you happen to come across a plant on the pavement (which I have done several times), it’s best to knock and ask the owner if you can take it.
Always look for tiny white, yellow, or brown specks that live on, under, or in between leaves or stems, which is likely evidence of pests. If you have the space, it’s best to quarantine the plant for a week in a room away from other plants until you can be sure it’s bug-free. You could also join a local online recycling group and offer to re-home unwanted plants.
Take care of the plants you already own
I don’t believe people are serial plant killers, nor do I think people are born with green fingers. Growing plants and keeping them alive is simply a case of taking the time to understand what they need to survive. Plants must have light, water, warmth, and nutrients to grow; without these basics, they will die along with your investment.
Start by finding out where your plant lives in the wild; this will offer vital clues to what intensity of light, substrate, and frequency of watering it needs. Use this information to find the plant a position in the room which best meets the light requirements. Always check the soil with your finger for moisture before watering, and remember to replenish the soil with nutrients using a fertiliser when the plant is actively growing. Watch for changes in leaf colour or texture; these can be an early warning sign something isn’t right with the balance of water and light.