Today is St Patricks day (known also in various places as International Guinness Day) and the day when Shamrocks suddenly appear absolutely everywhere. Paper Shamrock place mats, plastic Shamrock glasses, there is no getting away from them. But if you’ve ever been taken enough by the vibrant three leafed plant to have a go at adding them to your garden, here’s a quick primer on how you can bring a bit of the luck of the Irish to your lawn, flowerbed or home.
What IS a Shamrock?
The first problem for any would be grower is that the term Shamrock has come to be used interchangeably by people for several similar looking plants. Though generally accepted to be a part of the clover family there are a number of plants that even in Ireland itself vie for the claim of the true “Shamrock”. These include the White Clover (Trifolium repens), the Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) and even the Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella) suggested first in the late 1800’s on the basis that the true Shamrock was supposed to be a very bitter plant and the Wood Sorrel was more bitter to the taste than clover plants.
Unfortunately, the origin of the Shamrock is as much shrouded in myth as anything else and to this day there is no firm agreement as to which plant it really is. For the purposes of export abroad, the Irish Government decided to make the Yellow Clover, Trifolium dubium, the official Shamrock plant on the basis that in prior research Irish people had generally chosen this plant as representative of what they believed a proper Shamrock should be more than any of the others. That is why it is the most likely Shamrock plant to be grown outside of Ireland or found in a packet of “Shamrock” seeds.
How to Grow Shamrocks
An old myth persists that the Shamrock as a plant is so Irish it won’t grow in foreign soil. Fortunately this isn’t true but as a plant native to Ireland, the Shamrock will naturally grow best in countries with similar conditions. If being grown in a garden the plant grows best in areas with plenty of sunlight to be had and should be planted in well-drained soil. However as a native of a cooler north European country, Shamrocks don’t do well in hotter environments and will need protection from the hot afternoon sun in summer.
Shamrocks also make popular indoor plants as they can be grown relatively easily in containers. As when growing outdoors they requires plenty of light but should be kept out of the direct sun, especially if planted near windows where glass may intensify the heat.
For the most part Shamrocks are incredibly easy to grow and require little care and maintenance on the part of the grower. However any gardener should understand the growth cycle of Shamrocks which will usually undergo several in a year.
Following the stage where the plant grows it’s iconic three leaves it will bloom as a flower only to die back some weeks later. At this point it is essential to limit the water and fertilizer given to the plant as the Shamrock will be resting in the soil and excess nutrients are more likely to be used by competing plants and insects instead of the Shamrock.
Other than this, the Shamrock remain an ideal, easy to grow plant that will guarantee a bit of the Emerald Isle in your home and garden.