Winter is a pretty good time to get into the collecting and growing cacti and succulent plants around Chicago. Pretty soon they'll start to fill stores with outdoor furniture, potting soil, planters, spring flowers and bulbs. Before that happens there is a small window of opportunity for plant lovers who like collecting the weirdly shaped and prickly plants that cacti and succulents comprise.
Big box stores: Hate to admit it but Home Depot and Wal-Mart are the best kept secret for cacti & succulent enthusiast. Towards the end of the first week of the new year and the middle of the second week they've pretty much unloaded all of the holiday stuff nobody wanted to buy at clearance. It is still too soon for much besides seeds, so they stock the greenhouses with indoor plants like cacti and succulents. Home Depot, Lowes, Menard's Wal-Mart should be added to your list of places to visit in search of newly arrived plants. Home Depot and Wal-Mart is where I purchased my Desert Roses (Adenium Obesum) and my String of Hearts Vine (Ceropegia Woodii). I was particularly excited about the Desert Roses because I wanted one for the longest time, but didn't want to pay the price online stores were asking for. I got all of mine for between $2.00 and $3.00 each.
Of the independent garden centers in Chicago my favorites for cacti are: 1)City Escape 2)Sprout Home 3) Grand Street Gardens. City Escape ranks #1 for the quantity. Besides individually potted plants they also have a lot of dish gardens and topiary planted with succulents plants. Sprout Home ranks #2 because the selection is smaller, but I've noticed they carry a lot of rarieties and oddities which better suit my tastes. Grand Street Gardens, where the picture above was taken this summer, ranks #3. Although, if I was only collecting Living Stones (Lithops) I definitely would visit Grand Street Gardens because the times I've been there their selection of Living Stones was amazing.
When buying cacti at big box store looks out for the fake flowers onto the plants. Cacti naturally produce some of the most beautiful flowers you will ever see, but growers apply these fake flowers on them (with hot glue) because they do a good job of tricking customers into believing the flowers are real. The flower on the left is real, the flowers on the right are fake. If you look under the flower bud and see a gob of dried hot glue, that's usually a pretty good sign the flower is fake. If you use the label cloud on the mrbrownthumb garden blog you can see the other cacti & succulents in my collection.
Do you have a favorite source in the city for cacti that I didn't mention? Feel free to leave a comment and tell me about it.