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The Dreaded Dandelion?

One does not simply control the spread of the dandelion

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The Dreaded Dandelion?
photo © Kelly Burke

The number one most hated weed in America is the lowly dandelion. Where previous generations would make salads and wine with the dandelion, we now try our very best to eradicate it by all means necessary. A prolific reproducer, the dandelion is hated no doubt for its ability to entirely infest a lawn in little time.

Lawns of the past where usually a blend of grass species, clover, dandelion, and other plants but now that sort of variety is looked down upon and could even get you in trouble with local ordinances or home owners associations.

Dandelion is not seen as a plant that belongs anywhere and is cast aside in favor of repeated pesticide use or miserable hours plucking them out by their root. However, with weed-n-feed products banned in much of Canada many areas are getting used to their presence if not by choice by necessity. Can the dandelion find a place in a lawn owner's heart?

What is a dandelion anyway?

Easily recognizable by its yellow flower, white puffy seed head and distinct, jagged leaves, dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is a typical broadleaf weed emerging in the early spring with continuous flowering beginning several weeks later.

Dandelions can reproduce both from their taproot and by seed. This perennial weed will germinate from seed all season long and can be very persistent and competitive in a lawn. Dandelions can grow in most conditions and soil-types.

How do I control dandelions?

Spot treat with a broadleaf chemical herbicide containing triclopyr or a mix of MCPP, 2,4-D, and dicamba. For most effective control, treat early in spring before the first generation goes to seed, continue to spot spray as needed throughout the season. Weed-n-feed products can also be effective dandelion killers but are outlawed in much of Canada and seen more and more as an irresponsible way to handle weed control.

Isn't there a more natural method for controlling dandelions?

Dandelions thrive in thin, weak turf so providing conditions favorable to turf growth is the best way to naturally control them. Practicing organic weed control in general is more about prevention than control. If the dandelions have gone to seed, collect lawn clippings to prevent spreading. They can be dug out by hand but in order to successfully dig them out, the majority of the root must be removed or they will re-grow. Practicing some common sense IPM can also go a long way towards dealing with dandelions.

Dandelions love soil with low calcium levels, low pH, and high potassium, so a common sense solution to avoid them would be to have your soil tested and ensure these levels are in balance by adding calcium and lime if necessary.

A major grievance about dandelions is their ability to travel. Their ubiquitous seeds float freely on the wind and your best efforts at keeping them off your lawn can easily be stymied by neighboring yards. Still, despite their tenacity, a healthy, lush lawn is the best way to prevent dandelion infestations.

Can you really eat dandelions?

Dandelions certainly have a longer history as an edible, nutritious plant than a lawn weed. For centuries people have known the health benefits of ingesting dandelion. They are packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and are known to have medicinal properties to treat everything from digestive disorders to eczema and arthritis.

Dandelion leaves are known to be slightly bitter and have a spicy quality similar to arugula. As such, they are great in salads, on sandwiches and steamed like any other leafy green. The root has been known to be used as a coffee substitute and the flowers are used in salads and as a garnish. There are many dandelion recipes including cream of dandelion soup, dandelion syrup, and dandelion wine.

Dandelions are best harvested in the spring when the shoots are young and tender. Avoid picking dandelions near roadsides or other areas where they may encounter pollution or pesticides.

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