Making the most of a plant exchange

Spring is the time of renewal. It is a good time to rejuvenate and divide perennials, plants that come up year after year on the same roots.

Spring is the time of renewal.

It is a good time to rejuvenate and divide perennials, plants that come up year after year on the same roots.

Perennials that have died out in the centre should be dug and all the dead material removed. A healthy plant can placed back in the original spot with excess plants being used elsewhere, given away, sold or composted.

Plants that have become too big for their location can be dug, divided and a smaller piece replanted.

Plants need not get huge to be divided; each piece needs to have an upward stock and a root system. Plants with one taproot do not divide or transplant well.

Organizations such as garden clubs put on plant exchanges in the spring as a way of raising funds, get rid of excess plants and encouraging others to garden.

The rules of plant exchanges vary but there are a few basic rules:

l Make sure that the plants are free of pests and weeds.

l All plants brought to the exchange should be healthy and have enough roots to insure a healthy plant will develop.

l Do not bring plants that are on the Alberta Invasive Weed list (

They are on the list for a reason; if left unchecked, they take over native habitat.

Over 75 per cent of the plants on the noxious weed list are escaped ornamentals. That being said, each area will have their own list of problem weeds.

It is up to the person who is running the exchange to decide which ones are acceptable and which ones are not.

l Avoid bringing plants that have spread quickly in the garden and have caused problems.

Aggressive plants, or thugs, do have a place in the garden but not in a plant exchange when many of the participants are novice gardeners.

The average homeowner does not have a need for these plants and they can be refused at the exchange or thrown away afterwards.

Some exchanges ask that plants be potted and others stipulate clean containers. A potted plant with all its roots covered will survive the transplant shock better than one that is bare rooted, especially in warm conditions. If the plants are not potted, place them in a clean container: buckets, margarine or yogurt containers and plastic bags are acceptable.

When using a plastic bag, make sure it is strong and will not break under the weight of the rootball.

Large plants can be brought as one plant or divided into a number of pieces to allow more people to benefit.

If possible, label all plants. Give as much information as possible; name, variety, height and colour of flowers.

Missing information can often be supplied by other gardeners attending the exchange.

New gardeners, the people who need the plants the most, usually do not have plants to bring to the exchange.

These people are still welcome. Instead of bringing a plant, they can purchase plants at a minimal cost or put in a donation.

A word of caution: plants that are traded could contain dew worms and or slugs. Dew worms aerate the soil while leaving large lumps that make the lawn rough to mow and walk over.

Slugs are just annoying as they like to eat leaves and flowers when it is cool and hide in the shade during the day.

The Red Deer and District Garden Club will hold its plant exchange on May 24 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Kerry Wood Nature Centre.

They ask that all plants be brought in beforehand. For every two plants brought, one can be taken home. Cost is generally $2 a plant.

Lacombe and District Garden Club is hosting their sale on Monday, June 2 (noon to 7 p.m.) and Tuesday, June 3 (10 a.m. to 7 p.m.) at 33 Cameron Close in Lacombe. All profits go towards a horticultural scholarship.

In Rocky Mountain House, the plant exchange will take place in conjunction with the Clearwater Garden Market, Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m. for the month of May.

For other plant exchanges in Central Alberta, check with the local garden clubs.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist who lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at