The other day I stopped at Lowe’s* and happened to walk by the clearance rack in the garden center. Usually you see a few sad-looking annuals that are past their prime, but this time the clearance rack was a veritable cornucopia.
There were quite a few ornamental grasses that looked dead but are really just dormant, so I snapped up some Heavy Metal switch grass (Panicum virgatum 'Heavy Metal'), purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum’) and deer grass (Muhlenbergia rigens). The price sure was right: $1 per 1-gallon plant. I passed on the Japanese blood grass (Imperata cylindrica 'Rubra'), which, while beautiful, is quite invasive in our climate. Plus, I already have one in a container.
Even though Christmas is over, the holiday spirit must still be in the air, because I felt compelled to buy a 1-gallon size holly for $1.50. It looked so festive with its glossy dark-green foliage and red berries. Usually you need a female plant and a male plant nearby to get berries, but the container I bought actually contains a female (Ilex x meserveae 'Blue Princess') and a male (Ilex x meserveae 'Blue Prince'). The label aptly calls this arrangement ‘Royal Court’. I have no idea what I will do with it, but for now I’m enjoying how nice it looks. Maybe eventually my in-laws want to plant it at their place. It is supposed to grow to 15 ft., and we certainly don’t have the room for that.
However, the find of the day was this beauty. It’s an absolutely perfect golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii). It’s in a 7 gallon container and is a full 13 inches across. The price was $25, marked down from $67. This is the largest golden barrel I’ve ever seen in a box store, and certainly the best bargain. I imagine that a specimen this large would cost in the neighborhood of $100 in a succulent nursery.
This native of Mexico can grow to 3 ft. tall and 3 ft. wide. According to succulent expert Debra Lee Baldwin, the typical growth rate is about 1 inch per year, so mine is in its early teens.
A mature golden barrel typically blooms in March and April. Judging from the old seed pods on the top, this one bloomed last year so hopefully it will bloom again this spring.
Golden barrels are hardy to 14°F for short periods. That’s much colder than it gets here so winter temperatures are not an issue. The biggest problem is keeping the cactus relatively dry in the winter. Even though golden barrels tolerate more water than many other cacti, rot is a real danger in a wet winter like the one we’re experiencing this year. I will probably plant my golden barrel in a decorative pot so I can move it to a dry spot in the winter.
The point of today’s post is this: Remember to check the clearance corner the next time you’re at your local nursery or garden center. You never know what you might find!
* For non-U.S. readers: Lowe’s is the 2nd largest home improvement warehouse chain in the U.S.