Shamrock Plant, Shamrock plant care and history

The Shamrock plant (Oxalis sp.) is very easy to grow. They like cool air, moist soil, and bright light or indirect sun. What makes this plant a little different from other plants is that it grows from a bulb. Backlit Shamrock Plant Flower
Creative Commons License photo credit: audreyjm529

The plant is a tender plant best grown in pots. It has a delicate look with leaves that grow together in groups of three. The plant will produce a very small white flower. Although the Shamrock has a name that is linked to Ireland but it actually has its origin in South America.

Shamrock is derived from the Celtic word for clover, which also has three leaflets. Legend says that St. Patrick used the shamrock to illustrate the principle of the trinity to the people he converted

All bulbs that grow from bulbs need a rest period during the year. The Shamrock plant will need a couple rest periods every year to do their best. When the plant starts to look a little thin and tired, stop watering it. The leaves will turn brown and you then pull them off.  Set the pot somewhere that is cool and dry for about two or three months. Note: The purple leaf varieties will only need about a month of rest. They are my favorite of the two. And yes, I grow both varieties.

When its time to relive the plants, give them water and a dose of all-purpose house plant food (10-10-10). It won’t be long before you notice new growth. When watering allow the plant to slightly dry out and then re-water. It will benefit from the use of plant food several times during the summer.

The only problem I have noticed with the Shamrock plant is that you need to keep a careful look for spider mites. Keep the soil aerated and the sickly leaves picked off and the plants should do well. At the end of the dormant cycle you might want to remove the bulbs (also called rhizomes) from the pot and replant them.

How to re-pot you Shamrock Plant

  • Remove the Shamrock plant from its pot by tapping the outside of the pot. Once its out loosen the root ball of the plant and with both hands begin to massage the root ball. This aerates the roots and helps future growth.
  • Choose a new pot that is one size larger than the old pot. Make sure it’s clean and dry.  Put a rock or broken pieces of clay pot over the drainage hole and add two to three inches of good potting soil that has a bit of a sand base. (I add a little sand to regular potting soil.) .
  • Set the Shamrock root ball onto the soil, and fill in around the plant with more soil. Firm the soil around the base of the plant to hold it up right. Lightly water, and then add a little liquid plant food.

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51 responses to “Shamrock Plant, Shamrock plant care and history”

  1. I have Shamrock plants from Earl Shaffers personal collection.

    Can these plants be kept either in the ground or in pots outside in freezing weather?

    John Sahffer

  2. Denise

    Hi John,

    Shamrock plants can be delicate and the bulbs can freeze. I would keep them indoors. They do need to die down and have a quiet time but I will store them in a back room for a bit, them bring them back out and they will start to grow again.

    How nice to have plants from Earls Shaffers collection. I’m jeleous! Denise

  3. Steve Nowak

    I have a shamrock plant that seems to have died. Is it still active in the dirt in the pot? What do I have to do to get it to grow again? It was from a special lady. Thank you

  4. Denise

    Shamrocks need a resting period each year. Remove the dead leaves and move to a dry but a darker area of the house for a few months. after a few months give the plant a light misting with water and move to a area with more light. You should see the plant begin the grow again.

  5. I was told that shamrock leaves are good to eat in a salad.
    Is this true?

  6. Denise

    I have never heard that but I will look to see if I can find the answer. Most plants that are considered a true house plants are not usually edible. Denise

  7. Ruth

    What kind of soil does a shamrock like best? I have one that my mom divided in June but it has always looked a bit thin and spindly. At this point it probably needs the dormancy period that you speak of as the leaves are turning brown. I’m wondering if putting it in a better soil would help to perk it up. (I think the soil came from her back garden) If I do this should it be before or after the dormancy period? Any other suggestions?

  8. Neil Thornton

    I have purple and green Shamrock Plants and the purple developed a rust looking condition on it’s leaves and then the green ones have done the same thing. Do you know what it is and what can be done to avoid this?


    Neil Thornton

  9. Nat

    I’m glad I looked this up! I have both a purple and green shamrock that I received for my birthday almost a year ago. It has thinned considerably and I always thought it had been from a month or so of neglect in the summer when I was away! I now know I should let it go dormant, thanks!

  10. Denise

    Many plants need a break during the year. For some varieties its as little as a week and other need a few months.

    The shamrock is a fun plant. One of my favorites, Denise

  11. Sheri

    When planting the bulbs should they be horizontal or vertical in the soil? Thanks

  12. Denise

    They should be vertical with the small pointy part upward. Denise

  13. Charlotte

    Where do you buy shamrock plants? I live in a rural area and do not have a lot of businesses that carry plants.

  14. Danielle

    I have a shamrock plant that’s a few years old. It only ever grew one or two “stems” at a time. (Always healthy) One day my rabbit bit the heads off both of the stems! I thought the plant was done for, (no more leaves) but within days four shoots sprouted up! Was that coincidence, or is pruning the tops off somehow good??

  15. Pamy

    My father left me his garden in 2002, he had Shamrock plants (green & purple) in pots everywhere. After his funeral, my BFF & I planted every pot into a kidney shaped flower bed (he had created). We live in North Texas and the yard is shady, these plants have been a true enjoyment. They grow back every year and flower all the way into late fall. For winter protection we cover them heavily with leaves, by spring the leaves have mulched and the leaves start to appear by late March. Oh, my cats enjoy the leaves too.

  16. Carl

    I have a screened-in back porch. I’d like to keep my Shamrock out there – lots of indirect light. What temperatures are good for this plant? When it is too cold? Can it be too hot? Thanks

  17. Gabriela

    I just bought a small plant from the local market and will re-pot according to your directions. Would this plant do well in a large bathroom (moisture, but not terribly warm?). Thanks!

  18. Denise

    It all depends on the plant. Check the tag for plant care tips or if you knwo the name look up information for the plant.

  19. Denise

    What growing zone do you live in and how hot and cold does it get? Shamrocks adjust quite well to be outdoors in most areas. You just have to have fairly warm nights so the leaves and bulbettes don’t suffer and if it really hot the plant might like some shade.

    So the answer will depend on your zone. 5 through 7 or 8 will be fine. Other areas you might have to watch at times. And winters the plants need to be indoors.

  20. Denise

    Sounds wonderful. The plans must be a joy and I can only imagine how pretty they are.

  21. levonne morgan

    Shamrock Plant

    Additional Common Names: Good Luck Plant, Sorrel
    Scientific Name: Oxalis spp.
    Where Found: Found throughout North and South America; also cultivated in gardens and as a houseplant.
    Toxicity: Toxic to Cats, Toxic to Dogs, Toxic to Horses
    Toxic Principles: Soluble calcium oxylates
    Clinical Signs: All parts of the plant have toxic potential, although the possibility of serious effects is usually limited to ingestions of large quantities. Consuming Oxalis species can produce colic in horses, and kidney failure is possible if significant amounts are eaten.

  22. marion

    My boss brought a shamrock (purple) plant to the office after a dinner last February. It started getting weak looking so I repotted it. It grew like crazy. It just had a large bloom of flowers. Now it’s starting to look weak again. (leaves underneath are turning brown, looks wilty) Do I need to repot or is this a sign that it wants to rest? If it needs to rest, do I stop watering it for the full month that it’s resting?

  23. Denise

    Often times a shamrock plant is forced to grow quickly during the winter for St. patricks day so it will need a rest.

    If the plant continues to look weak it probably need a rest. Cut back on water. When the plant is ready to grow again you will see signs of grown near the plants base. Start watering then.

  24. Ellen G

    My mom just recieved a shamrock plant, and one thing we’ve notcied is that the leaves fold in, like an umbrella. It mostly happens at night, but it has occasionally happened during the day. When morning arrives, or sometimes after a watering, the plant revives and looks like a shamrock. Is this normal?

  25. Denise

    Yes, this is normal.

  26. Patty S.

    I got my shamrock 35 years ago from my ex-mother-in-law. I just love it so much. The only things I do to it is remove dead leaves and flowers, keep turning it, and water it when the leaves start to droop a little. I have never let it rest. Is it common for these plants to last for so long? I’m just gonna keep on doin what I’m doin!

  27. Missy

    I am caring for several Shamprocks for my son’s wedding in November. Will I be able to maintain them till November before they go dormant? The wedding is November 6th of this year. I purchased them in early March. They are in indirect sun light, temps will very from 50 to 85 degrees throughout the year. I do need to add a bit of sand to the pots, seems that I did not know they required sandy soil. The plan is to seperate them and transfer to smaller plants, I’ll repot them after the wedding. Is this do-able?

  28. Jennifer

    I once had a shamrock plant with larger rounded solid green leaves and hot pink flowers. do you know the name of this variety and where I might order the bulbs or plant?

  29. Joanne Lyman

    I found a shamrock plant on a hot sunny window sill in the enclosed front porch of the assisted living facility where I live. The soil was dried out, the clover was all browned around the edges and I thought the thing was dying – not aware of the dormant period. It had been sitting there for a long time next to an equally neglected tiny palm tree which was dried out too. That was the end of Jan. I took the palm up to my apt. and kept it alive. I have just noticed (April 15th) that the shamrock seeded itself in the soil of the palm. One tiny shamrock stem with a clover the size of a pinhead! Looking back at a neglected snake plant (also turning yellow from too much sun on the porch) I found 2 more shamrock seedlings in the soil there. I couldn’t resist, so I dug them out with a teaspoon and potted them in cups of potting soil in my apt. Will they do poorly without sand added to the the soil? I was curious about the root not knowing it was actually a bulb. How long will it take for these little guys to gain size? I’ve never had such an unusual plant. Thanks a lot for all your information!

  30. Tony Branje

    I’ve got several shamrock plants that develop white spots on the leaves. Is this a result of the plant not experiencing a dormant period? Thanks

  31. Carissa

    I just bought a little potted purple leaf shamrock and it has little tiny black bugs flying around it. I would guess they may be gnats but I am not sure. I have kept it outside away from my other plants but I am wondering the best way to get rid of them without hurting the plant. Any ideas?

  32. Denise

    You have an insect infestation form the sounds of it. Wash the plant leaves in Soapy water.

  33. Peg

    I had a small shamrock for many years. I kept it in a well lighted bathroom. It did Ok; nothing spectacular. It attracted our cat who loved to nibble at it. A friend who had a large shamrock suggested I put it in another room. I put it in a room with western exposure. It really grew. It is now about 2 feet in diameter and still growing. It is beautiful. I am sure what to do with it now. I don’t know how to separate it.

  34. vicki

    I have 3 small shamrocks indoors and I’ve noticed they’ve seemed to fade, are long and straggly, lighter color and only 1 tiny plant stalk is coming up new. I’ve still been watering them, seems they may be dormant? If this is the case, do I completely stop watering them? Or give some water? Not sure what to do! Thanks in advance for any help!

  35. Carolyn

    I have a Shamrock that I’ve had for many years. It has developed white spots on almost all of the leave. It keeps putting out blossoms, and seems healthy, but I wonder if the white spots are some sort of disease…..

  36. Joan Murray

    When I went to water my shamrock plant today I was surprised by what seem to be little flying white specks. The plant has been very healthy and I have not experienced this at any time before. Obviously some form of infestation. At time of watering they seemed to fly away~almost like specks of dust…Help please

  37. Debe

    I have a large pot of bulbs, maybe 25-30 in one large pot. Should I thin these out and put several blubs in smaller pots?

  38. Denise

    I would wait until the plant is going into a resting stage then thin the bulbs down. You dhsould be able to tell where they would separate naturally

  39. Debe

    How many bulbs should I use in one pot and what size pot works best. Water from the bottom is best, rght?

  40. nancy

    How do I care for my shamrock plants (8) that have “rust” on the leaves. We reside on the west coast of Florida. Thanks….

  41. Denise

    For insects that look like little white specks try a mix of a couple of drops of dish soap and a pint of water. the dish soap film should suffocate the bugs but not hurt the plant.

    You do have an insect problem. Clean the plant well and repot the plant. I would also check the soil.

  42. Denise

    How many bulbs you place in the pot would depend on the size of the pot. What size are you suing now?

    I would say 5 or 6 bulbs in a 4 inch pot.

  43. Carole little

    My outside purple shamrock is about 8 years old. This year most of the shamrocks are green! I’ve never had a green one so I am wondering if it’s missing something in the soil. I haven’t fertilized or divided the bulbs in about three years when I shared with friends. Have you ever seen this?

  44. Linda M. Doyle

    I live in KS and have been keeping my shamrock plant outside until I noticed bugs eating the
    leaves. Is there any special time of the year to let the plant go dormant or do you just watch
    to see the signs of dormancy taking place then act?

  45. tiffani

    I have had a shamrock for about 2 years. i got it from my grandma after she passed away. it was full and lively and sprouted flowers often. now there are bout 10-15 leaves left. i water it once a week. i dont know what else to do. i need it to come back to life. it also had plant food spikes in it, and i feed it a little bit of coffee from time to time, my mom said gram did… please help.

  46. Karen Gates

    I have a shamrock that someone gave me and it CONSTANTLY has beautiful little clusters of PINK FLOWERS. Is it really a shamrock? I live in Arizona and have let it stay outside under my patio roof. It has just thrived out there. Now that the nights are cooling off and Yes, we do get winter cold here briefly, should I bring it in? The last time I did, my cat ate the whole thing.

  47. Denise

    Look the shamrock plant up online and compare the flowers and the leaves to your plant. That should help you determine if its a shamrock or not.

    Place the plant up high away from the cat and place citrus rind around the plants base. Cats do not like citrus smell.

  48. Carole little

    Karen mine have pink flowers too and are outside year-round in Arkansas.

  49. Denise

    The shamrock plant sounds like it just needs a resting period. They usually need a short break once a year.

  50. Jenna

    Denise, thank you for all of your information on the shamrock plant. I have had one for a year now that means a great deal to me but it began to be spindly and although new leaves were coming up, they would soon turn brown and die. I now know I need to let it have a dormancy period. Should I water the bulb during the dormancy period or not?

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