By Kathy Conner Cornell
VCE Southside Master Gardener
When I think of St. Patrick’s Day, I get nostalgic for Baltimore. My husband and I grew up in the suburb Dundalk, named after a town in Ireland. At any watering hole on March 17th, you could find green beer and corned beef and cabbage. If you were lucky, there would also be a choral group singing Irish songs. There were parades and even a fountain in the city was turned green.
The Shamrock is available for sale around St. Patrick’s Day. Legend has it that Shamrocks bring good luck to your household. Something we could all use right now.
The shamrock is a symbol of Ireland since St. Patrick used the three-leafed plant to educate non-Christians on the Holy Trilogy. It is highly likely that the plant St. Patrick used was actually wood sorrel, in the Oxalis genus or clover Trefolium. The true origin of the shamrock is rather murky.
This time of year, it is easy to find Shamrocks for sale at the grocery story, big box stores and often florists. What is sold as Shamrocks nowadays are a type of Oxalis. There are many species of Oxalis and many are hardy perennials. But the ones being sold now are not hardy so must be treated like a houseplant. The Oxalis sold as Shamrocks have green leaves with three leaflets and bloom white. A cool thing about the plant is that the leaves fold up at night. Care is no different than that of most houseplants. Water once a week and fertilize with a dilute fertilizer solution with each watering during the months of March through November. In December through February, watering every week and a half and fertilizer is not recommended.
As with most houseplants, Shamrocks are happy to be outside in a shady spot during the summer. However, it should be noted that the plant contains oxalic acid so can cause harm to curious kids, cats and dogs. Shamrocks like to be crowded so don’t repot unless the plant is literally growing out of the pot and then use a pot slightly larger than the existing one. It is said that having a Shamrock brings good luck to the household.
If you see me on St. Patrick’s Day, I will be wearing my green to celebrate. While we all are practicing ‘social distancing’ and Halifax County buildings are still closed to the public due to COVID-19, if you have gardening questions, you can reach an Extension Master Gardener or Extension staff member by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are unable to email, you can call and leave a message at the Halifax Extension Master Gardener Help Desk at (434) 830-3383. Be sure to give us your first and last name, telephone number and the nature of the call. The Help Desk phone is routinely checked. Someone will get back to you, although it may be from a different telephone number. Keep washing your hands, wear your mask, practice ‘social distancing’ and try a Shamrock.