Dandelions –– they’re a nutritious snack for the salad enthusiast and a detested weed for the pristine lawn owner. If you don’t want yellow and white puffballs to overrun your green lawn, there are two options for how to treat dandelions in your yard. Either declare war with an herbicide or remove the plant manually.
- What are dandelions?
- Where do dandelions grow?
- What problems do dandelions cause?
- How to get rid of dandelions
- Win the war with the help of a pro
What are dandelions?
Dandelions pop up in lawns throughout the U.S. and Canada, but they’re native to Europe and Asia. European settlers brought the plant to America for its medicinal properties.
The dandelion’s name comes from the French term “dent de lion,” which means “tooth of the lion.” The name is in reference to the flower’s deeply toothed leaves.
The dandelion’s bright yellow flower heads are 1 to 2 inches in diameter and contain as many as 200 hundred ray-shaped florets. The flower head grows on a hollow stalk that can range from 2 to 24 inches tall.
Dandelion leaves are hairless. The flower’s rosette base produces several flowering stems and leaves.
The dandelion flower eventually develops into a seed head. The seeds are attached to fluffy hairs known as pappus, which allow the wind to carry and spread the seed. You might recognize this stage of the dandelion as the white puffballs you once blew in the wind to make a wish as a child.
Where do dandelions grow?
The dandelion plant is a common broadleaf weed. It can survive many environments, including forests, gardens, wastelands, rocky hillsides, and your treasured green lawn. It prefers sunny conditions with fertile soil but can still overrun an area with poor soils and shade.
What problems do dandelions cause?
Not only do dandelions have a clever way to spread their fluffy seeds, but they’re challenging to exterminate. As soon as you finish shedding blood and tears removing an army of dandelions, they’re bound to crop up again.
Here are six reasons why dandelions are a nuisance in the yard:
1. Dandelions are difficult to remove
Dandelions have a secret weapon hidden in their arsenal: Their 6- to 18-inch long taproot.
If you attempt to remove the dandelion taproot by hand but leave some of the root behind, the weed will grow right back. For complete extermination, you need to remove the entire taproot.
And did we mention the dandelion is also a perennial weed? That means it will return year after year if you don’t remove it. Talk about a stubborn weed that won’t back down.
2. Dandelions aren’t easy to contain
Even if you manage to remove dandelions from your yard, there’s still one problem –– their seeds.
Dandelions have a clever mechanism for spreading their seeds across the yard. Not only are dandelion seeds attached to a fluffy substance that the wind can carry, but the white puffballs are so irresistible to pick and blow in the wind.
3. Dandelions can ruin your lawn’s aesthetic
After waiting patiently for your seeded lawn to mature or for your sod to take root, the last thing you want is to see white and yellow dots invading your yard. Shade or sun, dandelions will ruin your lawn’s beauty if you don’t act fast.
4. Dandelions compete with your lawn for water
Every plant needs water to survive (even that succulent you’ve been ignoring). When you water your lawn, dandelions are going to absorb some of the moisture you intended for your turfgrass to absorb. If a competing dandelion infestation is severe, your turf might not get enough water.
5. Dandelions can crowd out your grass
Dandelions often form dense mats of leaves that can crowd out neighboring plants and reduce their strength. As the dandelion continues to spread across the lawn year after year, it will push out your grass and seize your lawn.
6. Dandelions attract bees
Dandelions are a food source for bees in early spring.
Providing a food source for our busy pollinators is a good thing. But having that food source growing in the front yard might concern homeowners with bee allergies or small children playing outside.
How to get rid of dandelions
Ready to strike those dandelions with a vengeance? Your options are to either remove the weeds with an herbicide or remove them manually. If you’re going to remove the dandelions by hand, you’ll need a complete inventory of elbow grease.
Remove dandelions with herbicide
Applying a broadleaf herbicide, such as 2,4-D, dicamba, or MCPP, is an effective way to target the whole dandelion. The herbicide will destroy the taproot, which means the dandelion won’t return.
If the infestation is mild and dandelions grow in small patches, it’s better to perform a spot treatment instead of spraying the whole lawn. Focusing your application directly on the plant and in the weedier areas of the yard minimizes your exposure to toxic chemicals, protects nearby plants and helps save you money.
The best time to spray dandelions with herbicide is late October through early November. Here’s why: Weeds channel their nutrients down into their roots in autumn to prepare for the long winter ahead. When you spray the herbicide in the fall, the dandelions will send the herbicide down to the taproot along with the nutrients.
Spray herbicide under the right conditions:
- Avoid herbicide applications when winds exceed 5 miles per hour; otherwise, you may harm neighboring plants.
- Apply herbicide before the daytime temperature reaches 85 degrees or higher.
- Don’t apply the herbicide when rain is in the forecast; otherwise, you’ll reduce the herbicide’s performance. Herbicide products contain labeled recommendations on how much time must pass between the application and subsequent rainfall. The recommended time is called the rainfast period.
- If you’re applying herbicides after it rains, wait until the grass is dry. Remember to check the weather station to ensure no subsequent rainfall will occur within the rainfast period.
Remember: Always read the product’s instructions before applying the herbicide. Otherwise, you risk harming your lawn or nearby plants.
Remove dandelions manually
If you don’t want to use chemical weed killer in your yard, another option is to remove dandelions manually.
But according to the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, hand-pulling or hoeing dandelions is usually futile unless done repeatedly over a long period. Why? Because of the dandelion root system. A dandelion’s taproot can reach up to 18 inches long, and you must remove the whole root if you don’t want the weed to return.
You’ll have the most success with manual dandelion control if you:
- Use a specialized dandelion puller tool that digs deep in the ground to remove the whole root system. Style, cost, grip, and effectiveness vary among these tools.
- Remove the dandelions before they have the opportunity to develop seeds.
- Remove the dandelion’s taproot when the soil is moist.
- Remove the dandelions when they’re young.
Homemade dandelion removal recipes pepper the internet, and many of them call for pouring household vinegar over the lawn weed.
But according to the Oregon State University Extension Service, household vinegar is not strong enough to kill dandelions. Household vinegar is only 5% acetic acid.
On the other hand, horticultural vinegar is 20% acetic acid, and you can use it as weed control. But remember, horticultural vinegar’s high acetic acid content can injure you if you’re not careful.
The extension warns that vinegar only treats the leaves and doesn’t target the taproot, which means the dandelion will sprout back up.
Once you manage to rid your yard of the mighty dandelion, help keep the cunning weed off your lawn with these five prevention tips:
1) Promote a thick and healthy lawn that can outcompete the weeds. Remember to apply fertilizer high in nitrogen so that your turf has all the nutrients it needs to grow big and strong.
2) Don’t collect grass clippings. Clippings will help smother out emerging weed seeds. They’ll also act as mulch and return nutrients to the soil as they decompose.
3) Don’t cut your grass too short. Mow on the higher end of your grass type’s mowing height instead. Tall grass shades out weeds and blocks them from sunshine. Cutting the grass too short gives weeds a better opportunity to germinate and grow.
4) Encourage a robust root system with the proper watering techniques. Your lawn will have a better chance at combating weeds if it has a healthy root system. Watering frequently for short periods promotes a shallow and weak root system. Watering infrequently for long periods promotes a deep and strong root system.
5) Apply a pre-emergent herbicide before the weeds have a chance to germinate.
Dandelions may be challenging to control, but some gardeners love to see these valuable flowers pop in their yards and gardens.
When European settlers brought dandelions to America, they prized the flower for its medicinal properties. The entire plant is edible, and people have alleviated ailments with the medicinal plant since Roman times.
What else makes the dandelion such a treasured plant? Let’s take a closer look:
—The dandelion is packed with nutrients, including iron, calcium, and potassium. It has more vitamin A than spinach and more vitamin C than tomatoes.
—The plant can help fertilize your grass. Its long taproot pulls nutrients from deep in the soil and makes them available to other nearby plants.
—You can roast the taproot to make dandelion tea.
—Dandelion greens are a delicious salad ingredient when they’re tender in spring.
—Dandelions are an ingredient in dandelion wine.
—People throughout history have used the plant to relieve ailments, such as heartburn, fevers, boils, diarrhea, eye problems, liver disease, appendicitis, digestive issues, and skin ailments.
—Dandelions can make a popular coffee substitute.
WARNING: Avoid harvesting and eating dandelions that grow near the road or in areas where you’ve applied herbicides or other chemicals.
If you’re worried about harming your grass with chemicals, use broadleaf herbicides instead of non-selective herbicides. Broadleaf herbicides target the broadleaf weed without killing your grass.
A non-selective herbicide kills any plant it comes in contact with, regardless of whether or not it’s a weed. If you spray it across your lawn, you will kill your grass. Non-selective herbicide is effective when used for spot-treatments, such as killing a few dandelions growing along your walkway.
The safest dandelion control method for your pets is manual removal because you aren’t exposing Fido or Ginger to any harmful chemicals. Many herbicides on the market are full of synthetic chemicals you don’t want your furry friends to roll around in.
Many natural and organic pet-safe herbicides are available for home lawns. But keep in mind that the terms’ organic’ and ‘natural’ don’t always guarantee pet safety. Talk to your veterinarian about the best herbicides on the market that are safest for your pet.
Win the war with the help of a pro
Dandelions show no mercy when it comes to seizing your lawn. You might rip out the taproot in revenge, but leaving behind as little as one inch is enough for the root to generate a new plant and strike back. And as soon as it looks like you’ll reclaim your land, the dandelion sprinkles its seeds before its demise.
Dandelions might make a nutritious snack, but they sure know how to put up a fight on the lawn. If you’re struggling to control a yard of dandelions, hire a local lawn care professional near you. Let a pro lead the charge so you can finally shout, ‘Good riddance”!
Main Photo Credit: Viridi Green | Unsplash