In the Garden:
New England
December, 2007
Regional Report

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Oxalis 'Charmed Wine' is an enthusiastic grower with especially large, velvety leaves.

Take Another Look at Oxalis

One of the most foolproof plants blooming on my windowsill right now is the burgundy-leaved oxalis 'Charmed Wine'. Dainty five-petaled white flowers rise above deep burgundy leaves, but even when it's not in flower the velvety foliage makes it worth keeping. This Charmed series caught my eye when we received some sample plants at my office.

The oxalis family has much more to offer than the traditional St. Patrick's Day green shamrock plant. With foliage colors of burgundy, orange, yellow, and black, they can add some drama to a mixed planting and be grown as an eye-catching bed of annual ground cover. Although some varieties have rampant tendencies outdoors in warm climates, there are some sterile, noninvasive types. They aren't hardy in our climate but varieties with the larger, colorful leaves are worth growing indoors during the winter months, which is peak flowering time for many of them.

Oxalis 'Charmed Jade' is a vigorous grower with green leaves with a silver sheen. 'Charmed Velvet' is tamer, with velvety black leaves. The leaves of 'Molten Lava' are chartreuse in the shade and a rich orange in the sun. Even better, it doesn't have the invasive tendencies because its flowers are sterile. 'Zinfandel' is also noninvasive, with black leaves that are smaller than 'Charmed Velvet'. And there are many more to consider.

Optimum Conditions
Oxalis can take full sun during the winter but this might be too much light during the summer. They need damp -- not wet -- soil, so let the soil dry out a bit before watering again. Cool temperatures will keep oxalis blooming longer. Temperatures of 50 to 60 at night and 10 degrees warmer during the day are ideal. Higher temperatures can trigger the plant to head into dormancy, a rest they deserve -- and need -- after heavy flowering. When the flowers and foliage start to wane, stop watering and store the plant in a cool, dark place for two months. When you begin watering again, oxalis will burst forth with new leaves. During flowering oxalis benefit from a liquid fertilizer once a month.

You can also store oxalis as bulbs for quite a long time. I kept some bulbs in a pot in the garage for months, and they looked like there was no life in them. But I potted them up in batches, a few to a pot, and a month or so later had small pots of plants to give away.


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