Confessions of a Mobile Plant Thief

Your guide to acquiring new plants…for free.

One time on a walk through Midtown, I slyly checked my surroundings, snapped off the end of a purple heart plant and shoved it into my pocket. Today, in a classic case of Stockholm Syndrome, that plant cutting is loving it’s new life on my back deck (now twice as big). If stealing plants from your yard is wrong, then by golly, I don’t wanna be right.

It’s really not as bad as it sounds. A plant cutting only needs to be long enough (a few inches at most) to stick in a jar of water to watch it sprout tiny white roots. In other words, if I ever hit your yard, you’ll never know.

If you’ve got the money to spend, go ahead, shop at Lowe’s. But not this guy. No way. Why buy a steak at Ruth’s Chris when I can find a tiny steak for free in your yard and watch it grow into a delicious, full-sized steak in my backyard? OK, that was a bad analogy. And now I want a Ruth’s Chris mint and a handful of matchbooks.

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The following is a short list of my favorite plants for free propagation. Sure, you could probably just ask your neighbors if you can make a cutting of their plants, but what’s the fun in that?! Remember to stretch and wear comfortable tennis shoes. Like I always say, “Pull your neighbors’ plants, not a muscle.” Happy stealing!

(Note: Some gardeners like to propagate using rooting hormone powder, which can be bought at Lowe’s or Home Depot.)

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus)

This is a fun one. Agapanthus is a common landscaping plant at public places: banks, malls, traffic medians etc. In late summer / early fall, you’ll notice these plants have grown seedpods which have begun to brown and split. This is your time to pounce. Borrow a few seedpods and extract its black seeds, which are thin and kind of look like tadpoles.

Sow in some starter pots immediately, only covering the seeds with a very thin layer of soil. Keep the soil moist (misting is best) and give it plenty of sun. You should see sprouts in 3 to 5 weeks!

(Try this method for any plant with seedpods. What have you got to lose?! Don’t cost nothing!)


This one might take a little extra stealth (or simply your neighbor’s permission). You can grow hydrangeas from cuttings, but there’s an easier way, using only a pot of soil and a brick.

First, find a hydrangea branch close to the ground. Place your pot of soil beneath it, bend the branch so that it’s touching the soil, then pin the branch between the brick and soil. Sneak over in the dead of night to make sure soil is kept moist in the weeks to come. Soon, your branch will sprout opportunistic roots into the pot you propped it on and can then be cut from the mother plant. Voila, you have a hydrangea! Thanks neighbor!


Spider plant

This is one of the easiest propagating jobs. You’ll spy these white and green plants in hanging baskets or lining the path of your neighbors’ sidewalks. You’ll also see that its grown baby spider plants at the end of its long shoots, with a few leaves and roots already in place. Simply cut one of these off and stick it in a new pot. Mischief managed!

Purple Heart

Another easy steal, purple hearts are simple to grow and add some nice color to your garden. Simply break off a few samples to stick in a jar of water back home. After a couple of weeks, you should see a nice network of roots forming. Dig a hole big enough so that you don’t break the roots as you plant it, and maybe someday, your purple hearts will be big enough that someone will steal some from you.

This list is just a start. Let us know which plants are your favorites to steal and propagate!

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