Dandelions, with their little yellow flowers and fluffy seed puffs, can be a nuisance to gardeners when they pop up where they're not wanted. Above ground their seeds ride the wind currents to propagate the species. And below ground the weed sends down a taproot up to 10 inches long that can be difficult to remove in its entirety. Gardeners typically approach dandelion removal in two ways: pulling the plant or spraying it with herbicide.
When to Remove Dandelions
Dandelions are broadleaf, herbaceous perennials that die back in the winter, though the plant's roots live on underground. In the early fall, nutrients are transferred from the leaves to the roots, making this the best time to use herbicide. Chemicals applied during this time will be absorbed by the leaves and passed on to the roots along with the nutrients.
You can harvest and eat dandelion greens in the spring. The leaves can be boiled or used raw in a salad. This superfood is rich in vitamin A, vitamin K, and iron. Moreover, the flower can be used in wine or boiled and stir-fried. And the roots can be dried and steeped for a tea. For the best taste, harvest dandelion greens and dig up their roots before the plant goes to seed.
When pulling dandelions to eat, avoid harvesting near roads where road salt or other toxins might be present. Likewise, don't harvest from a lawn where herbicides and other chemicals have been used. Always thoroughly wash the dandelions before consuming.
Equipment / Tools
- Garden spade or pitchfork
- Gardening gloves
- Protective clothing
- Garden hose or sprinkler
- Pump sprayer
- Dandelion puller (optional)
- Broadleaf herbicide
- Grass seed
As with any weed-pulling method, persistence is key. It might take several seasons to fully eradicate dandelions in your yard. Plus, dandelion roots can easily split as you pull them, and any fraction left behind will regenerate the plant.
Water the area with the dandelions to loosen the soil, and then wait for about half an hour. Weeds are more easily extricated from wet soil.
Make an Incision in the Soil
Using a garden spade or pitchfork, make an incision in the soil alongside the taproot (the long, thick root growing deep into the ground). Wiggle the tool to loosen the taproot.
Pry up the Dandelion
Grip the leaves, and tug them gently until the taproot comes out of the earth.
Make Further Incisions, if Necessary
If there is still too much tension on the taproot for the plant to slide out of the soil, make further incisions around the root. Then, continue to tug gently at the leaves until it comes free.
Reseed the area with grass seed, and water any bare spots.
Killing Dandelions With Herbicide
It's best to avoid using chemicals when alternative weed protocols exist. However, if your pulling efforts don't eliminate the problem, you might want to use a broadleaf herbicide as a last resort. However, make sure you check safety warnings on the product for kids, pets, and the environment. And verify that it won't kill wanted plants, including your grass.
Select an Herbicide
Select an appropriate broadleaf herbicide.
Choose a Sunny Week
Check the weather, and wait for a sunny, dry week.
Prepare the Herbicide in Your Pump
Put on gardening gloves and protective clothing. Add the herbicide to your pump sprayer, mixing it with water per package directions.
Using the sprayer, apply the herbicide to the dandelions in your yard. Allow it to dry.
Wait several days until the dandelions' foliage turns brown before you water your lawn again.
Once dead, pull out or rake up the dandelion remains. Reseed the area with grass seed after waiting at least three days from the chemical application.
Tips for Removing Dandelions
If you're serious about nontoxic removal methods, purchase a dandelion puller. This garden tool is specifically built to get the job done.
Horticultural vinegar (made of 20 percent acetic acid) can be used in place of a chemical herbicide. The high level of acetic acid gives it an herbicidal punch. But note that vinegar kills grass, so be very careful during application.
For at least two or three days before applying herbicide, don't mow the lawn. The bigger the dandelion leaves are, the more effective your application will be. Likewise, wait at least two or three days before mowing after your application to allow time for the chemical to be transferred to the roots.
Preventative Dandelion Control
Promoting lawn health is the best method of dandelion control. Don't think of your grass as a passive partner needing rescue from weeds. If managed properly, your lawn can compete against weeds, eliminating the need for laborious dandelion removal.
Leave grass clippings on your lawn. They will act as mulch to prevent weed seeds from germinating. When you mow, leave the grass at a height of 2 to 3 inches. This will allow the grass to "protect its own turf" by depriving weeds of the light they need. And don't let bare spots remain, as they invite the invasion of opportunistic weeds. In the fall, fill in bare spots by overseeding.