Never Give Up (On Oxalis)

If Solstice means that the sun stands still, there should be another word “Florstice” which means the plants stand still. Early January is such a moment, with low nighttime temperatures and short days of pale sunshine. It sometimes seems as if the only things growing are weeds. But don’t give up.

Just wait… in a few short weeks the city streets will be full of tumbling pink plum blossoms, and flowers will be breaking out everywhere. Our long slow spring begins soon, and lasts with breaks for rain (we hope!) until May. With the holidays behind us and a new gardening year begun, many of us will walk outside to take a breath of fresh winter air and see... OXALIS!

Oxalis  flowers and leaves.

Oxalis flowers and leaves.

This pesty weed would probably win the gold medal if there were a weed Olympics. It is starting to bloom bright yellow now, with clover shaped leaves. Kids call it “sourgrass” and like to suck the sour stems of the flowers. But gardeners don’t like anything about it.

Oxalis pes-caprae emerges from a brown bulb deep underground. If you dig the plant carefully when it is mature, you can see the new tiny bulblets forming along the roots. This horrid weed is reproducing right now in your garden and mine.

At GFE we are out of control of the oxalis in our steep orchards. That’s the bad news and the good news. The oxalis in the borders and pathways and street tree basins is much reduced, and it is gone in the veggie beds. We’ve achieved this partial control by repeated weeding with a special technique.

Oxalis  in a tree basin in the orchard.

Oxalis in a tree basin in the orchard.

We used to try to dig out the bulbs, but found that this made us slow. The oxalis moved faster than we did. Now, following advice from Pam Peirce’s writings, we have started instead to top the oxalis, aiming for the thickened leaf node which is usually close to the soil line. If we break the top off the plant above this point, the leaves simply grow back the next day. But if we break it below this point, the plant has to grow a new shoot from the bulb, thus using up some of its stored energy. If we do this repeatedly, we find the oxalis beginning to be less instead of more. After several years of repeated weeding, it’s almost gone.

All we need in order to extend our weeding to the orchards is more pairs of hands. Come on by and help if you have extra time this spring. Or if you’re discouraged by your own oxalis, come goof around with us and get encouraged again. Never give up! Spring is on the way.