How to Control Dandelions

Dandelion
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What makes dandelion removal from lawns so difficult? Well, dandelions enjoy the best of both worlds. Above-ground, their seeds ride the wind currents, poised to drop into the slightest opening in your lawn to propagate the species. Meanwhile, below-ground, they strike down a taproot up to 10 inches long. Pulling the taproot as a means of removal is problematic. Thick but brittle, the taproot easily fractures and any fraction of the taproot that remains in the ground will regenerate.

How to Kill Dandelions: Pulling Them

If you want to try to pull these weeds, despite the difficulty just mentioned, here's how to proceed:

  • To facilitate weeding, water the lawn first (weeds are more easily extricated from wet soil).
  • Make an incision into the soil, down along the side of the taproot, using a garden spade or similar tool. If you're really serious, you can even buy a tool designed specifically for dandelion removal.
  • Wiggle the tool to loosen the taproot
  • Using the ground as a fulcrum, try to pry up the weed. Get a good grip on the leaves (as many of them as you can close your hand over) and use them as your "handle" on which to tug.
  • Give the weed a gentle tug to see if the taproot is yielding.
  • If the taproot is yielding, remove the dandelion weed from the soil. Otherwise, make further incisions around the taproot and continue to tug gently at the leaves.

How to Kill Dandelions: Herbicides

I'm not a proponent of using herbicides when an alternative exists that works just as well.

But killing dandelions is a case where one might consider breaking out the big guns. As mentioned earlier, all it takes is leaving a fraction of the root behind, and your efforts at pulling dandelions will be for nothing. Furthermore, there are some herbicide options which are less toxic.

Examples of Herbicides for Dandelions

It's the acetic acid in vinegar that gives it herbicidal potential. The higher the percentage of acetic acid in the vinegar, the better. Vinegar used for culinary purposes is relatively low (5 percent) in acetic acid, but you can boil it down to increase its strength prior to the application.

If you use either vinegar or Roundup, apply the herbicide directly onto the leaves of the weeds since these herbicides are non-selective and would harm your grass. By contrast, Weed-B-Gon is selective (it targets broadleaf weeds) and won't harm grass, making it a popular choice for killing dandelions in the lawn.

When to Apply Herbicides on Dandelions

Early fall is the best time to kill dandelions with herbicides. Dandelions are broadleaf, herbaceous perennials. Since their leaves die back in winter, it is through their roots that the plants live on. In early fall, nutrients are transferred from the leaves down to the roots. This transfer, which continues until the first killing frost, presents you with an opportunity to hit them where it hurts! Herbicides applied during this time are absorbed by the leaves and passed on to the roots, following the same path down as the nutrients.

For at least two or three days prior to applying herbicides, don't mow the lawn. The bigger the surface area of the dandelion leaves, the more effective your application can be. Likewise, following the application of herbicide, wait at least two or three days before mowing, to allow time for the herbicide to be transferred to the roots.

Preventive Dandelion Control

Promoting lawn health is the best method of dandelion control. Don't think of your lawn grass as a passive partner, which has to be rescued from weeds after the fact. If managed properly, your lawn can compete effectively against weeds, obviating the need for laborious dandelion removal. Follow these lawn care tips:

  • Mow "high," leaving the lawn grass at a height of 2 to 3 inches. This will allow the lawn grass to "protect its own turf" better, depriving weeds of the light they need.
  • Don't let bare spots remain uncovered for long, or you're just inviting the invasion of opportunistic weeds. In the fall, fill in those bare spots by overseeding.

All of the foregoing remarks assume that your approach to dandelions will be hostile. But that needn't be the case.

Getting Rid of Dandelions the Smart Way: Harvesting Dandelion Greens

You've probably heard of dandelion wine but did you know the whole plant is edible? The greens are, in fact, quite nutritious. Dandelion root can be roasted as a coffee substitute, or boiled and stir-fried as a cooked vegetable. The flower can be made into wine or boiled and stir-fried. Dandelion greens (i.e., the leaves) can be boiled, as you would spinach, and used as a cooked vegetable, in sandwiches or as a salad green with some "bite." Consult recipes for dandelion greens for ideas.

They're high in vitamins A and C, and iron. Just avoid harvesting near roads, since road salt or other toxins may be present. Likewise, you obviously shouldn't harvest from a lawn where herbicides have been used. But what about the taste, you ask? Dandelion greens taste like other salad greens like chicory and escarole.

How you go about harvesting and cooking them also plays a role in the taste. You should harvest dandelion greens in early spring before the flowers appear. That's when they're the tenderest and least bitter. After the first frost in fall is another time when dandelion greens aren't so bitter. Boiling them will further reduce their bitterness.