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STYLE : GARDENS : Swap 'Til You Drop : Pots of Green

June 30, 1991

Of all the things sold at swap meets, the biggest bargains may be plants. Prices on potted greenery are unbelievably low: bushy ficus trees--yes, trees --for $15, tall dracaenas (most dealers call them corn plants) for $20 and large hanging baskets of grape ivy, philodendron or wandering Jew for $4. Smaller houseplant in four-inch pots usually cost $1 each, but at the end of the day, you can often walk away with two for your buck.

Cactus of all varieties, some rare, also are good bets. A barrel cactus in a four-inch pot runs about $1.75; top price for a 5-foot-tall cereus might run $50. At some swap meets--Saugus, for instance--succulents and cacti come planted in attractive clay pots.

Swap-meet plants generally are in excellent condition and, unlike the discounted plants sold elsewhere, do not need immediate repotting. The best purchase strategy is to buy early while selection is good and leave the plant with the dealer while you continue to shop. Because leafy plants can wilt quickly in the hot sun, water your new plant as soon as you get home.

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