One of my favorite things to do this time of year is to drive around town looking for a neglected lawn, or abandoned lot, that has become a veritable sea of dandelions. On a typical dark, gloomy northwest spring day, the sight of a thousand bright golden flowers makes my spirit soar. It is every bit as enthralling as a trip to the daffodil fields of Skagit County, without the distraction of a gaggle of tourist. For two short weeks, this vacant lot is my source of inspiration. It is my reminder that despite endless showers, the sun is coming and it will soon be spring again. For me, all of these positive vibes come from a plant that most of us see only as an annoying weed.
Dandelions have not always been viewed in a negative light. They were most likely brought to North America, intentionally, by the Pilgrims because of their medicinal properties. A search through literature reveals that they have more vitamin A than spinach, more vitamin C than tomatoes, and are a powerhouse of iron, calcium and potassium. They have been used to treat problems of the liver and kidneys, as well as warts, dandruff and who knows what else. There is also dandelion wine, which is made from the blossoms, and dandelion “coffee”, which is made from the roots. No one can possibly deny that dandelions are a very useful herb. If you are interested in using dandelions, pick the new leaves rather than the old growth and be sure not to use plants you've already sprayed with a chemical.
Knowing all the above information probably doesn’t change the fact that most gardeners are not interested in the herbal qualities of dandelions. Most people really just want to know how to get rid of them, so I offer the following advice:
- If at all possible, learn to coexist with them. Embrace their ephemeral beauty and start thinking of your lawn as more of a meadow of mixed species, rather than a mono-culture of solely grasses. Pollinators will also benefit from this strategy.
- Mow the flower heads off before they set seed and you will reduce their population. If you fail to do this, at least hose out the bottom of your lawn mower between mowings to reduce the spread of seeds.
- Shade is the enemy of dandelions. By mowing your lawn at 3 to 4 inches tall, this will keep the soil cool and reduce germination.
- Use herbicides sparingly. Spot spray only where you have weeds and avoid weed and feed products that employ a shotgun approach that can be hit or miss. The chemistry of broad leaf week killers is amazing. It boggles my mind that I can spray a product on my lawn that will kill a dandelion dead and not phase the grasses growing next to. This is what we in the industry call a “selective” herbicide. Don’t go nuts we these products, they are toxic but effective when used properly. Bonide Weed Beater Ultra is a newer formulation that works much better in our cooler northwest climate. I have yet to see a “natural and/or organic” selective weed killer that works worth a hoot.
- Weed them out by hand. There are two excellent choices for removing dandelions. Grandpa’s Weeder allows you to dig them out without having to bend over. Seymour Dandelion Weeder is a short-handled tool for the gardener who likes to get up close and personal with their weeds. It is sometimes sold as an Asparagus Gouge or Fishtail weeder.