Growing Oxalis – How to Grow Shamrock Plants – Tips for Growing Sorrel

Oxalis is a shamrock-like plant that is also commonly referred to as love plant and wood sorrel. This plant is easy to grow, can sometimes be considered a weed and is a popular perennial plant that shows up around St. Patrick’s Day. Growing Oxalis is actually pretty easy. Keeping it under control can often be a bit trickier for some varieties. 

Oxalis is a large family of flowering plants in the sorrel family with close to 800 species.  It is found in most areas of the world and is very common in Mexico, South Africa and Brazil. It is sometimes referred to as a false shamrock because of the shape of its leaves but is not a member of the shamrock family. 

The plant is as happy outdoors in your garden as it is inside, growing in a pot.Growing oxalis outdoors or inside as a house plant is easy. #oxalis #woodsorrel

Characteristics of Oxalis

Type of Plant

Oxalis is grown from small bulbs. It is relatively a slow growing perennial which spreads easily in a garden bed.

FlowersPink oxalis flowers

Depending on the color of leaves, the flowers can be white, yellow, rose colored or pink. The flowers grow on top of bare stems and are quite dainty, and thin, like the leaves. 

The plant tends to bloom in late spring or early summer.


This plant really pops at the garden centers in early spring.  The deep maroon (almost black) leaves of purple Oxalis stands out near other dark green foliage plants. 

The leaves of the plant can be green or purple but have a three leaf clover look which gives it the common name false shamrock. In Ireland, four species of Oxalis are associated with good luck. Some leaves have a speckled appearance to them.Oxalis leaves can be green or purple and are sometimes variegeate

The leaves of the purple shamrock – oxalis triangularis –  have a habit of closing up at night, a trait known as nyctinasty. Although they can take sunlight, it is not uncommon for the leaves to wither and drop off in the middle of summer.

It grows better in the spring months when it is cooler.Closed leaves of purple oxalis

The leaves are poisonous to pets but have a bitter taste to them so poisoning is not too much of a problem since cats and dogs tend to avoid the plant. 

Size and Growth Habit

Oxalis is a mounding plant and grows to about 12 inches tall and wide.  Green oxalis in flower

Tips for Growing Oxalis

Soil Requirements

Well draining soil that is slightly acidic soil is ideal.  (Coffee grounds sprinkled nearby can help with the acidity of the soil.) Using lots of organic matter or compost before you plant the bulbs will be beneficial.

Sunlight Needs

The plant will grow best if it gets a few hours of sunlight every day.  Afternoon shade is ideal.  I have some growing in a sunny spot and others in my shade garden, and those in the shady spot seems to flourish the best.

The leaves of oxalis may wilt slightly in the afternoon sun but recover quickly as the cooler temps come later in the day.Oxalis traingularis

Plants with the darker purple leaves do better in sunlight than those with the green leaves.

Watering and Fertilizer Needs

Oxalis likes a moist soil that drains well but does not like to be in a soggy spot. Bulbs will rot easily if the soil is too wet, so be careful of over watering. Don’t underwater though, especially in the middle of summer. 

Fertilize regularly during the growing season with a normal plant food at half strength. 


Get more plants for free by dividing the clumps of bulbs below the soil. Most oxalis plants remain fairly compact and are unlikely to need division very often in the garden. 

The plants also self seed so once you have a few growing, they will spread. (This can be a problem if the garden beds do not have edging for some types.)

Cold Hardiness

Some varieties of he plant are cold hardy in zones 6 and warmer. It depends on the variety though. Many varieties are frost tender and will not over winter, so they are treated as annuals.

To overwinter them, dig the bulbs up and grow them as indoor plants for the winter months and then replant again in spring.

Growing Oxalis indoorsOxalis house plant

This perennial loves a shady outdoor spot but also takes to pots. Growing oxalis indoors means placing it in bright light in a room with cool temperatures if you can.  (60-70 degrees.) 

The more light the plant has, the darker the foliage will be, but too much sunlight can cause the leaves to “bleach out.” Feed with a regular houseplant fertilizer during the growing months.

Controlling Oxalis

There are close to 800 types of oxalis, but most are not considered invasive weeds.  The two most common types are Creeping wood sorrel and Bermuda buttercup.Creeping wood sorrel in a lawn is hard to get rid of

Since the plant spreads under ground, be sure that the garden beds where you grow them have some sort of deep edging or trench edging to keep them contained.

Management of weeds in a lawn is difficult.  Laborious hand digging does the job, but this can take several seasons to get it all.  Don’t try to pull it out. 

Even a small piece of the root will re-grow and form new plants.

A broad leaf plant herbicide is best to try and control it, or for a more organic method, try liquid chelated iron, which also works on other clover type weeds in a lawn.

Growing Oxalis outdoors in a shade garden or indoors as a house plant is very easy. If you plan to have guests over for St. Patrick’s day and looking for a way to decorate, be sure to include a pot or two of oxalis.

The shamrock shaped leaves are the perfect St. Pat’s Decoration.  

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a small commission from the sale, but the price is the same for you. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Share on Social Media

  44 comments for “Growing Oxalis – How to Grow Shamrock Plants – Tips for Growing Sorrel

  1. Aries
    03/09/2019 at 7:52 pm

    Wow! This article really helps! Now, I am confident to grow it indoor. Thanks

    • Carol
      03/09/2019 at 10:47 pm

      Hi Aries. I”m glad you found the article useful.

  2. Kathryn Ulmen
    04/14/2019 at 3:57 am

    Please tell me how deep the bulbs should be planted in an indoor potted plant: also, number of days to see plants emerge.

    • Carol
      04/16/2019 at 9:43 am

      The bulb package has this information on the back of it. IT can vary depending on the type. Normally bulbs are planted about 6-8 inches deep. Plant growth depends on the time of year and temperature.

  3. Michael Moran
    05/31/2019 at 3:11 am

    I have several kinds of this in my garden and it is growing like crazy and spreading almost everywhere. Wasn’t sure what to do with it so I appreciate the information and enjoyed your article. Thank you

    • Carol
      05/31/2019 at 10:21 am

      I’m glad you found it useful Michael. Oxalis can be somewhat invasive, but it’s easy to control since the roots are shallow.

  4. Michael
    06/22/2019 at 12:33 pm

    I received free bulbs with a seed order. These got thrown out with vegetable scraps which I buried into a sawdust pile. I have a healthy Oxalis plant on top of the sawdust pile this spring. Wow!

    • Carol
      06/22/2019 at 6:45 pm

      I had that happen with some pumpkin seeds in a compost pile. It was the biggest butternut pumpkin I ever grew!

  5. Hope
    08/11/2019 at 10:43 am

    Is that shrimp like thing oxalis grows from really called a bulb ? I was frightened by it the first time I saw it, thinking it was a large insect !

    • Carol
      08/13/2019 at 12:24 pm need to worry. That is how they grow.

    • Patricia Nelson
      10/22/2020 at 10:32 pm

      How do you store the bulb over winter if you aren’t using it as a indoor plant?

      • Carol Speake
        10/26/2020 at 12:09 pm

        Remove all the dead foliage. Bring them indoors and place in a single layer. The root clumps can be stored in a net bag like oranges come in or a paper bag to keep all the pieces together.

  6. Katie
    08/17/2019 at 10:32 am

    I have purple shamrock oxalis and it has developed yellow spots on the underside of the leaves is this a disease or is it in the wrong place.

    • Carol
      08/17/2019 at 9:39 pm

      Oxalis leaves can turn yellow for many reasons (overwatering, old age, and fungal diseases.) They also have a dormant season and some leaves may yellow prior to this.

      Discard the yellowing leaves and watch the plant to see if it recurs.

  7. D Schreiber
    08/30/2019 at 11:13 am

    Could you tell me what affects the size of the leaves? I gave some corms to a friend and hers appear much bigger than mine.

    • Carol
      08/31/2019 at 3:38 pm

      The type of soil, or fertilizer can play a part. Light situations also affect size. How much the plant is watered also matters.

  8. Samantha E Hoangvan
    10/11/2019 at 12:56 pm

    Mine have been growing great inside but all of a sudden they started leaning, but before that they were straight up. Do you know what causes this? Do they just get too heavy? Thank you

    • Carol Speake
      10/11/2019 at 2:40 pm

      Too little water can cause a shamrock plant to wilt. Too low light can also do the same thing.

      However, sometimes Oxalis often just decides to go dormant. (they do this outside in the fall.) The plant sort of gives up until you give it a dry rest & start over. When the plant starts getting droopy – let it go completely dry, then cut it back to the soil line. (you can divide or repot at this time. Give it a rest then start watering again.It should come back.

      • Samantha
        10/11/2019 at 4:22 pm

        Ok perfect. How long should I let it rest? Thank you!

        • Carol Speake
          10/11/2019 at 5:52 pm

          Hi Samantha, The best way to treat a dormant plant is to let it dry out and keep it over the winter in a cool dry place. It’s hard to know by email if this is what your situation is. Outdoors, the plants go dormant over the winter.

          It grows from tubers and I have done this with caladiums with good success. I just neglect them for a few months in winter and then repot in spring.

          • Carol B Kniceley
            09/07/2020 at 11:20 am

            Can I cut my indoor Oxalis plant back to the soil not injuring the little bulb. I had an Oxalis for years that I would just cut back all the green every four or five months or so and it would come right back….alll year…no dormant period.

          • Carol Speake
            09/07/2020 at 11:42 am

            Yes this is fine. Dormancy depends on hardiness zone.

    01/29/2020 at 4:29 pm

    Does it grow like one clover per bulb? Can I get bushy growth from one bulb or should I cluster them for fullness?

    • Carol Speake
      01/29/2020 at 4:39 pm

      Each bulb will grow into one plant. Eventually they will naturalize and develop more bulbs but initially, you can cluster them for more fullness.

  10. Deborah Hart
    04/05/2020 at 8:54 am

    Can the tubers be cut in half to propagate more plants? I just repotted mine and the tubers are about 4 inches long.

    • Carol Speake
      04/06/2020 at 3:13 pm

      I have never tried doing this for large oxalis tubers. Most directions for propagation suggest division of the tubers, not cutting them to produce two plants. I have had elephant ears grow from just a part of a tuber, so if you have an extra one, it would be good to try it and see. (let us know if it works!)

  11. Linda PROUTY
    04/17/2020 at 4:40 pm

    The outer edges of my oxalis plant are turning brown. Could you tell me what I am doing wrong. I have always had them in doors and still do. I love them and I don’t want to lose them. Thank you.

  12. Gail
    04/28/2020 at 9:08 am

    My shamrock plant has wilted curled leaves. what is wrong and how do I fix the problem

    • Carol Speake
      04/28/2020 at 3:42 pm

      A wilted plant can be the result of either ower-watering or under-watering the plant. IF the leaves are mushy and curled, it has too much water. If they are dry and curled, you can water a bit more.

  13. Darryl Prince
    05/12/2020 at 7:30 pm

    I tried to transplant one fro. A pot inside to outside recently and they all died. What did I do wrong? Separated bulbs planted just below the surface semi-shady spot in early spring.

    • Carol Speake
      05/12/2020 at 9:26 pm

      Sometimes moving from indoors to outdoors gives the plant a shock since the conditions are quite different. Plants placed outdoors that have been grown inside can’t take the extremes in temperatures without being hardened off before leaving outside. Oxalis is a perennial though, so it COULD come back next year with some luck.

  14. christine
    05/14/2020 at 4:38 pm

    My Shamrock came from a start of a friend It has done so well decided to plant it in a larger pot at first it filled the spot and was beautiful then the leaves turned color then swiveled came back once mow I have the same situation as before. What am i doing wrong.

    • Carol Speake
      05/16/2020 at 6:29 pm

      Oxalis will often die back in the fall and then come back in spring. Repotting can be tricky if you use a pot that is too much larger. 1/3 extra in size is the suggestion if the plant is very pot bound.

  15. Debbie
    05/18/2020 at 10:07 pm

    Very informative article. My daughter gave me a kit to grow the purple shamrock plant but the directions are unclear so I’m hoping you might help. The bulbs are small, oblong, dried, and several have a little bit of what looks like white string on one end. Will that end become the root or will that become the stem? I guess what I need to know is the direction in which to plant them – white string down or up or does it matter? Thanks!!

    • Carol Speake
      05/19/2020 at 1:25 pm

      yes, it sounds like those are the roots. Bulbs and rhizomes will usually find their way in the soil, but if you make sure to plant the roots (strings) downward it will help greatly.

  16. Milad
    05/22/2020 at 6:53 pm

    Hi theres some yellow notes under the leafs, is that a problem? So how can i fix it?

    • Carol Speake
      05/22/2020 at 9:16 pm

      I’m not sure what you mean by yellow notes.

  17. Donna
    06/15/2020 at 3:17 pm

    My OXALIS REGNELLII has started developing whit edges on the green leaves. Looks more like a burn than a fungus. It’s a houseplant so doesn’t get a lot of sun. Maybe still too much or our water?

    • Carol Speake
      06/16/2020 at 3:28 pm

      I’m afraid I can’t diagnose problems with individual plants.

  18. Doreen
    07/16/2020 at 8:03 pm

    I have limited space ,just wanted to know if I could replant the purple oxalis with the green oxalis and still keep their color? Thank you Doreen

    • Carol Speake
      07/18/2020 at 12:23 pm

      They can be planted near each other. It won’t affect the color that I know of.

  19. Yori
    10/12/2020 at 6:25 pm

    I received some of the purple oxalis from my mom. (August 2020) Two rhizomes. They were already growing. I brought them home in a cup of water! I planted them in a pot and they seemed happy in their new home. Then cat happened. Dumped the plants, shredded the leaves/flowers. I panicked, but mom said go ahead and replant. I did and about a week-two later I had new plants! They’re seeming to thrive and are even flowering!

  20. Carol Klinger
    10/15/2020 at 10:44 pm

    I picked up a few of the purple oxalis at a local farmer’s market this spring because they were so different. I have a shady spot & never had much luck with impatients & wanted some color in this spot directly in front of my house. They did extremely well!! (I don’t necessarily have a green thumb!) My question is this: I live in central PA and I’m concerned if they will survive the winter. I don’t have much area in my house to keep plants indoors plus I have 2 cats. Suggestions? Thank you!

    • Carol Speake
      10/17/2020 at 12:27 pm

      Oxalis is hardy to zone 6 and warmer. Pennsylvania has hardiness zones of 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a and a very small section of 7b. So depending on which zone you are in they may overwinter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *