The one where I rail against Oxalis


Aren’t these little clovery plants growing around the fava beans sweet? Not if you know what will happen in a few weeks. By tomorrow or the next day they could be 1 to 2 feet tall.  It’s commonly called Sourgrass but is officially Oxalis pes-caprae according to Sunset Western Garden, and it can be beautiful with its juicy leaves and stems and bright yellow flowers, but it is a seriously competitive plant.  The yard next door is a field of light green and yellow every winter even though it is a thick tangle of dusty ivy all the rest of the year. Sunset opines that it can be a “troublesome pest in an open garden.” What an understatement. What it doesn’t kill by crowding in the winter, it smothers when it dies off in March and drapes its body over anything lower. Oxalis is an amazingly successful plant. It spreads by bulb division and seed and the bulbs can be found 3 feet under the ground. A few years ago I dug a 3 foot deep pond (Yes, it was a lot of work in my rocky and heavy clay) and I was still finding bulbs, fist sized ones, at 3 feet. Pulling up the oxalis doesn’t do much good because the stem usually breaks off underground. It comes right back, often with 3 heads instead of one, but if you pull it up over and over again it doesn’t grow so high that it kills the surrounding plants. Some gardeners think that if you can keep it from flowering, you will have fewer plants the next year. I have not seen that reduction.

10 years ago, as the woman next door was sadly getting ready to move into an assisted living apartment, and listing all the things she would miss, she suddenly brightened up and said “but, I’ll never have to pull out another oxalis plant!

I liked Sourgrass better when my kids were young. It grows wildly and rampantly in our area even through cracks in the sidewalk. Kids like picking the flower stems and chewing on the bottom to get a mouth-puckering but tasty juice. (Think sourballs) The rule about picking sourgrass was to only pick where dogs couldn’t have peed on it.


13 responses to “The one where I rail against Oxalis

  1. I remember eating that as a kid, we made salads. I never knew it had bulbs – kind of like nutgrass then? I have an old claw foot bathtub Koi (actually gold fish) pond and put it on top of the ground and piled dirt around the outside with rocks to hold it back – easier than digging one.

    If you think oxalis is bad, try bermuda grass – it is worse and I have a ton of it here and can no longer do weeding due to my back. As far as I am concerned, they can send it all back to bermuda.

  2. Hi- love the clocks with all the great color and design. They are wonderful!
    Glad to find you.

  3. I agree, Linda. Bermuda grass is much worse. I used to have that too, but luckily I had chickens, and I penned them in the areas where the grass was and they were more than happy to eat the green parts as soon as they came up and eventually it died off. Now it is starting to creep over from a neighbor’s yard but the only chickens I have left are made of clay.

    Great idea about the bathtub.

  4. I am so loving reading your blog and getting a precious hit of “Barbara”! Your gentle humor is wonderful. I loved the story of your neighbor being happy about no more oxalis! What a thing to be grateful for!

  5. Sour power!!!!! That’s what all the little girls in Han’s day care taught him to chant as they gathered sour grass bouquets!!!! Sour power!!! I love the way it announces spring.

    Guess who is not an active gardener.

  6. So how can you keep sour grass at bay. HELP

  7. Has anyone else gotten a rash from weeding this stuff out? Everytime, no matter how careful I am, I get a poison oak type rash on my arms, legs, even my face.

    • Yes! My poor wife (who does most of the gardening in our yard) gets a poison oak like rash EVERY TIME she weeds out the “sour grass” (oxalis, sorrel). Doesnt ever seem to affect me. Haven’t been able to find much on Google about allergic reaction to oxalis.

  8. I get it too. I developed it about eight years ago after weeding a ton of it. The juice reacts with sun and gives you the rash. I can’t seem to wash it off fast enough when I get it on my arms. Wearing gloves keeps my fingers from becoming knobby witch’s fingers for months with the rash. Wear gloves, long sleeves and shower after that.

  9. My husband and I both got a terrible poison oak-like rash last week after weeding tons of oxalis (sour grass) in our yard. My rash seems to follow exactly the areas where I touched the sourgrass, or then touched my skin, and then the skin was exposed to the sun. The rash is on our arms, necks, hands and is still going strong after 8 days and lots of prednisone and calamine. This is the only website where I can find others that have had the same experience with oxalis. How long did the rash last for others who have had it? Did anyone find an effective treatment for it?

    • Mine lasts for a month or two. It burns on my fingers and itches on my arms. It doesn’t seem to spread.

      • Itchy in Illinois

        My rash did spread. I thought I had gotten some mosquito bites but it’s these stupid weeds. Benadryl tablets and Hydrocortisone cream helps but I’ve had it for 2 weeks now and it doesn’t seem to be going away. I find new bumps every day and haven’t gone in the garden since this all started.

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