Confession: I buy plants from Big Box stores

Acer palmatum 'Ao Shidare'

Acer palmatum ‘Ao Shidare’, purchased from—gasp!—Home Depot.

I realize that it’s deeply unfashionable to shop at such stores, and that my confession may come as a shock to some of you. After all, I’m a Hardcore Gardener, right? And Hardcore Gardeners are very clear in their disdain for Home Depot and their ilk (please see Exhibit A: Garden Rant).

Some of this scorn is well deserved, of course. Big box retailers are known for selling spectacularly crappy plants. Too often, they’ve been sitting around too long and are root bound, spindly, and stressed—a week away from the great compost heap in the sky. And finding a knowledgeable salesperson to help you? (Or any salesperson?) Forget it. I won’t even get into the ethics of labour policy or impact on small, independent businesses.

They do have their merits, however. They offer great value for “disposable” plants (cheap and cheerful annuals, which must be the mainstay of big box garden centre sales). I’ve also had good luck finding basic, mainstream perennials—again, for a great price (notice a trend?). I recently bought a great little Japanese maple at my local big box, after phone calls to several independent garden centres failed to turn up a dwarf green variety (apparently they’re too nondescript).

The secret to successful big box shopping, of course, is to get there when the plants are still thriving. They’ll receive regular shipments; you’ll want to be watching as they unload the truck. If you can’t do that, know what to look for in a healthy plant. Examine it for signs of disease, pests, and stress. Is it green and bushy, or gangly and yellowing? Check the bottom of leaves for pests like aphids, and the bottom of pots for slugs. Make sure it’s not root bound (do the roots circle the sides and bottom of the pot because the plant has outgrown it?).

I do love to support my local independent garden centres, and do most of my shopping there. Nothing rivals the thrill of going to a great little nursery with an hour or two to spend dreaming, planning, and, of course, buying.  Sometimes, though, it’s hard to resist a deal.

What’s your take on it? Are big box stores invariably evil? Or do you do most of your garden shopping at one? Did I just lose all credibility as a garden writer?

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