Look – in my garden – it’s a green. No! It’s a flower. No it’s oxalis, the super shamrock!
Maybe you know oxalis as shamrock, or maybe wood sorrel, either way these charming perennials are in grocery stores and nurseries this month, and best of all – you can grow oxalis in the Southwest!
There are around 600 species of Oxalis,* and numerous horticultural varieties. Pick one that pleases you. All are good as edibles, many have lovely flowers, and a few species escape and become invasive – but not in our region.
Oxalis plants have tubers that can be large and edible, or tiny and scaly. Either way, they are genetically programmed to survive times of adversity, and that makes them nice for the beginning gardener.
Light. With 600 species, it’s hard to give one simple answer about light. In the Southwest most oxalis will grow best in part shade, especially afternoon shade in scorching summers. The five species I have are happy under deciduous trees where they get winter sun and summer shade. They also do well in containers on the porch or indoors in a north or east window.
Soil. Like most culinary herbs, oxalis does best in well-drained soil. Add ample sand and compost if you have clay soils. In a container, cactus potting mix works well.
Water. Don’t overwater oxalis. If you underwater, the plant may retreat to its tubers, but if you overwater, it rots.
Fertilize. Use half-strength fertilizer on Memorial Day and Labor Day. If you live in a Southwest area with warm winters, or are keeping oxalis as a house plant, you can also fertilize on Columbus Day and St. Patrick’s Day.
Harvest. Harvest leaves and flowers for salad greens or for cooking whenever you want. I use the greens in stir fry, frittata, and to make a wraps. Oxalis leaves can also be dried and used wherever you might use lemon zest in cooking. I recently wrote about using oxalis in Savor The Southwest.
Whether you want a pretty plant for the garden, more greens for the table, edible flowers, or all of the above, You Can Grow That – oxalis, the super shamrock!
* Nerd note: Why is Oxalis sometimes capitalized and in italics? Like iris (Iris), cosmos (Cosmos), and a number of other plants – the scientific and common name are the same. So when the name is used as a scientific name we have to follow science rules.
If you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my lectures. Look for me at your local Pima County Library branch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including “Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening,” written for Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, $23).
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