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The good oxalis.

The good oxalis

"Plant that weed in my garden--never!' That's probably what you'd say if someone offered you oxalis bulbs. To most gardeners, mere mention of the plant conjures up visions of a losing battle against the weedy varieties of oxalis (O. corniculata, O. pes-caprae, and O. stricta). However, the better-behaved ornamental cousins can make charming, easy-care additions to a flower border, rock garden, or container.

Most oxalis produce mounds of attractive, shamrock-shaped foliage 4 to 12 inches tall, with a profusion of 1- to 2-inch blooms in white, pink, lilac, or rose.

Planted now, all the oxalis mentioned here will bloom from late fall to early spring. (These go dormant in summer.) Other varieties--those planted in the spring--will bloom in summer, with a winter dormancy.

The most commonly available bulbs include the Grand Duchess series (O. purpurea, also known as O. variabilis). These produce yellow-throated flowers in shades of pink, lilac, and white. Flowers grow just above the foliage, giving the impression of a tidy dome of blooms 4 to 5 inches tall and equally wide.

For more unusual flowers, try O. versicolor. Its white blooms have red candy-cane stripes on the petals' undersides, which make the unopened flowers especially decorative. The leaves are different, too: instead of the typical shamrock shape, they look more like grass blades. Plants grow to about 5 inches tall.

Other attractive oxalis include O. hirta, with rose-pink blooms and grass-like foliage, and O. regnellii, grown more for its four-leaf-clover foliage than for its small red or white blooms. O. bowiei features clusters of pink blossoms on short stalks.

When to plant; how to plant

If you live in a mild-winter area, consider putting out bulbs now. You can also use started plants, available in some nurseries later this fall. Where winters are cold, wait until spring to plant. If you live in the desert, you can only grow oxalis as a house plant.

Plant in fast-draining soil in light shade or full sun. Oxalis need regular moisture but get leggy and less floriferous if soil is too soggy. Flowers close on overcast days.

Most mail-order nurseries offer at least a few varieties of oxalis bulbs. Two with wide selections are Logee's Greenhouses, 55 North St., Danielson, Conn. 06239 (catalog $3); and Anthony J. Skittone, 1415 Eucalyptus Dr., San Francisco 94132 (send a stamped, self-addressed envelope for free oxalis list).

Photo: Larger than life: white Grand Duchess oxalis has showy 1-inch blooms that hug shamrock foliage. Plants grow in neat mounds 4 to 5 inches high

Photo: Chubby bulbs (bottom) yield white-flowered Grand Duchess oxalis; smallest bulbs (middle) are pink Grand Duchess; long, narrow bulbs at top are O. bowiei
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Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Oct 1, 1987
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