How to Care for a Shamrock Plant or Oxalis

Oxalis, or Shamrocks, are adorable houseplants with delicate, bushy foliage.

They are easy to care for and are commonly available in many different colors, so you can use them as a pop of color around your home or as a touch of soothing greenery.

Most varieties are inexpensive and easy to find, particularly around Saint Patrick’s Day in the United States.

I find Oxalis to be one of the most rewarding plants to grow and one of my all-time favorites because of their resilience and how quickly they grow!

In today’s post, we will discuss how to care for Oxalis successfully.

Table of Contents

Oxalis prefer a good amount of light

Oxalis, or Shamrock plants, grow best in lots of bright, filtered light.

Ample light allows the plants to produce foliage without becoming too leggy, as they have no issue stretching to get the light they need.

They can grow right on the windowsill of most windows and be pretty happy there. I grow mine directly in the windows around my home.

Oxalis do really well in an unobstructed North-facing window where they get lots of bright light but not an excessive amount of heat or direct afternoon sun. However, they also grow beautifully for me in East and West-facing windows.

I wouldn’t grow one in an unobstructed South-facing window because the heat and direct sun might be a little too much for the plant.

Can you pull them back from a window?

You can pull them back and monitor the plant’s growth. If the new growth stretches beyond what you’d prefer, move the plant closer to a light source.

FUN FACT: Oxalis open and close their leaves with the sunrise and sunset each day!

Check out this timelapse showing their remarkable movements each day:

To retain lots of foliage, Oxalis need very regular watering

The common Oxalis varieties need regular watering to retain bushy foliage.

If allowed to dry out for long, they will drop some leaves.

This isn’t the end of the world, as they will also grow new foliage once watered and often do so pretty quickly!

But if you don’t want them to have leafdrop, water them when the first third or half of the pot is dry.

This is particularly true for the varieties with thin stems and leaves.

If the foliage begins to look a bit weathered, it is often because they are drying out too frequently or receiving too much light and heat.

If the leaves are yellowing and crisping, it is becoming too dry between watering.

On the other hand, if the plant is dropping leaves that are turning into a mushy mess, the plant might be sitting too wet between watering.

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Oxalis do not require any special potting mix, as long as they don’t sit sopping wet for a week.

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The Gold-Veined Oxalis

The common varieties of Oxalis aren’t picky about what variety of potting mix to choose. Any indoor potting mix with some added perlite would work really well.

Oxalis are sometimes sensitive about repotting and may drop some foliage afterward.

This isn’t something to be super concerned about, however. Unless there are other underlying issues, they will absolutely regrow and bounce back. They are very resilient plants.

I’ve also repotted plenty of plants with no leaf drop.

People likely throw out many plants, thinking they are goners because the plant has died back, but there’s still lots of life and potential. Keep reading to learn about why!

If an Oxalis drops foliage, it doesn’t mean it is dying. Here’s what you can do to easily help your plant!

All Oxalis grow from bulbs.

These bulbs are equipped with the capacity to die back, go dormant, and regrow again. Like many of our plants do outdoors, such as tulips, daffodils, lilies, etcetera.

This allows Shamrock plants to easily withstand unfavorable conditions by going dormant and waiting for better days.

So unlike many of our houseplants that may truly die if we don’t water them for a few weeks, Oxalis can survive the drought and wait for you to remember to water.

Dropping foliage is one way the plant tells you that it might be drying out too much. However, if it is just a couple of leaves here and there, it’s probably the plant naturally letting go of old growth.

While the plant can withstand drought, the plant cannot survive long-term, super-wet conditions.

Its bulbs will begin to rot, and it cannot recover from this.

Ensure you allow at least the first third of the pot to dry out by simply sticking a finger in to check or using a moisture meter to see if the plant is ready for water.

You could also plant it in a clear glass vessel to visually monitor the moisture level. I’m doing this with some of my more sensitive plants, which is working for me quite well.

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Check out the beautiful, delicate root system

Don’t be afraid to prune! Pruning an Oxalis gives it a chance to reset

A Shamrock plant, or Oxalis, can be completely cut back to the soil anytime.

This will give it a chance to regrow from the bulbs.

If the plant is too leggy, producing distorted growth, or struggling with a pest, you can cut it all the way back and let it regrow.

Allow the pot to get a little extra dry while it is regrowing since the plant isn’t currently supporting foliage, but you may be surprised at how quickly it will regrow. It’s pretty magical to watch!

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Oxalis triangularis is resprouting; April3, 2024
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Oxalis triangularis regrowing, one month later; May 6, 2024

Give your Oxalis some fertilizer, but overfertilizing is worse than under-fertilizing

Oxalis grow best when fertilized but will do okay and grow for a surprisingly long time without fertilizer.

I’m not recommending that you go without fertilizer, but I am saying that they can survive it.

To see optimum growth and health, use a balanced fertilizer according to the directions on the package. For extra precaution, I recommend cutting the dosage in half, particularly if you use a chemical fertilizer to avoid overfertilization.

How do you know if your fertilizer is chemical or organic? Typically, organic fertilizers will advertise that they are organic.

Also, the NPK ratios will be radically different. Organic fertilizers will have very low NPK ratios, like 2-2-2. Chemical fertilizers will have much higher ratios, like 10-10-10 or 15-15-15.

To understand more about fertilizer and what the heck I am talking about, check out this post, which covers some fertilizer basics. (linked to a post on my blog about fertilizer)

If you see distorted growth, lack of healthy color and vigor, or other signs of decreasing health, it could be a lack of nutrients/fertilizer.

I personally like to use two different fertilizers:

When I’m at my best, I prefer to use a liquid, organic fertilizer: Espoma Organics Indoor Plant Food (linked to Amazon, if you’d like to purchase*). It has a low NPK of 2-2-2, making it very difficult to overfertilize, so I feel quite comfortable using it on my oxalis and almost all houseplants.

I’ve had nothing but good results with Espoma Organics, but with two small children making life much more fun and busy, I haven’t been the most consistent lately, so I’ve switched to a slow-release fertilizer that fits my busier lifestyle:

I am currently using Osmocote Slow Release Fertilizer (also linked to Amazon, if you’d like to purchase*)

Osmocote’s NPK is 15-9-12, clearly much higher than Espoma, and only needs to be applied once every 6 months. I apply about half to two-thirds of the recommended amount and have had great results thus far.

The biggest problem is just remembering to reapply, so setting a calendar alert is the next step for me to keep track. I’m sharing this with you in case you might have similar concerns. 🙂

* The Amazon links shared above are through the Amazon Affiliate program. This means I could make a small amount at no additional cost if you choose to purchase using these links. Any proceeds I make go back to support this blog. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for any support!

Shamrock Plants and Pests – Are they Susceptible?

Oxalis aren’t super pest-prone, and mine went years without pests until I accumulated many more plants.

If the plants around them happen to be suffering from a pest, then Oxalis can absolutely pick up some of these pests as well.

The easiest ways to combat the pest on a Shamrock plant is to:

  1. Spray off the foliage in the sink regularly
  2. Introduce beneficial bugs
  3. Or simply cut the plant back to the soil and allow it to regrow

I pretty much always opt for number 3 now that I understand how easy it is to regrow the plant after cutting it back.

Here’s some of my favorite varieties!

Oxalis triangularis

This particular Oxalis has been my favorite for as long as I can remember. The exact plant you see pictured below was given to me in 2009 by a student of mine when I was teaching 3rd grade.

She and her mom thanked me for the time we spent together and gifted this beautiful Oxalis.

I adore the purple leaves and the darker edges that show in the bright light. The darker edges will disappear if you pull it back farther from a window.

Oxalis corymbosa aureo-reticulata

The gold-veined Oxalis, or Oxalis corymbosa aureo-reticulata, is one of my favorites. It has very delicate leaves and stems, highlighted by beautiful pastel yellow veins.

Because of its thin stems and leaves, it is very sensitive to dryness.

If you allow this one to dry out, it will drop leaves. If it experiences any extended dryness, it will die back. It’s going to survive, but it certainly needs a more careful eye and diligent watering schedule to maintain all of its gorgeous, butterfly-wing-like foliage.

Oxalis spiralis ssp. vulcanicola ‘Sunset Velvet’

This one is a miniature that is often sold in the fairy garden section at houseplant stores. It’s miniature because the leaves themselves are smaller than many other common Oxalis, but the plant can grow large and busy if you let it.

It can tolerate drying out, but would prefer to be watered before becoming completely dry.

If you look at the plant in the righthand picture (or the bottom photo on smaller screens), you can see that the leaves look a bit more tattered than the first photo.

That is because the plant is now severely rootbound in the mug and really needs a larger pot. It’s spending too much time dry and showing a bit of wear and tear from drying out too quickly.

Oxalis regnellii

This, like Oxalis triangularis, is another very common Oxalis. It’s a wonderful green variety that is sold particularly around St. Patrick’s day.

It seems to be a bit more sensitive to drying out than its purple sibling, but is still very resilient and lovely. In bright light it develops purple on the back of its green leaves, which adds to its beauty.

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Oxalis reginellii

Oxalis spiralis ssp. vulcanicola ‘Plum Crazy’

Plum Crazy is another miniature, like Sunset Velvet above. It is such a unique and wonderful plant.

Absolutely worth growing and using as a pop of color among greenery.

It doesn’t like to be dry for long and would prefer to be watered before drying completely. It can get larger, but the individual leaves stay pretty petite.

Succulent Oxalis herrarae

Oxalis herrarae is a more unusual, uncommon variety that has succulent stems and leaf petioles.

It needs more light than most of the other varieties and can tolerate a little more dryness.

It is also a very tiny plant compared to most of the Oxalis, making it quite a unique specimen.

If you can find this plant, it is certainly worth trying to grow.

Where can you buy some healthy Oxalis online?

Before I share a few places, I want to mention that Oxalis (at least here in Michigan) can be commonly found in stores during Spring and Summer.

So, please check your local greenhouses, which need and appreciate your support!

However, if you don’t find them locally and want to look for specific varieties online, here are a few places I recommend:

The Etsy links shared below are through their affiliate program, which allows me to make a small amount while costing you nothing. Anything I make goes directly to supporting this blog. Thank you for your support!

Oxalis Plum Crazy on Etsy (opens Etsy – I have purchased from this shop and had wonderful results multiple times)

Oxalis Triangularis, Regnelli, and more on Etsy (opens Etsy – I have purchased from this shop and had wonderful results multiple times)

Oxalis spiralis ssp. vulcanicola ‘Sunset Velvet’ on Etsy (opens Etsy – I have purchased from this shop and had wonderful results multiple times)

Disclaimer

This advice may not work for every houseplant grower, but it works for me and my plants!

If you do something different that works better for you, share it in the comments below! That’s how we learn and grow as a community. 🙂

Digging into the Weedy, Wonderful World of Oxalis, or False Shamrock Plants

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