How to Treat Dandelions in Your Yard

area of grass full of dandelions

There are two ways to treat dandelions: use herbicides or remove the dandelions manually. However, you must do it properly to get successful results. Learn how to get rid of dandelions permanently.

If you don’t want yellow and white puffballs to overrun your green lawn, you will need to apply preventative measures so they never come back. You may be surprised because you may not need to use a chemical pre-emergent.

How to identify dandelions

close-up of a dandelion in the grass
Tyler Cipriani | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Native to Europe and Asia, dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) are very recognizable. These common lawn weeds are identifiable mainly through their bright yellow flowers and white puffball seedheads, but they have other characteristics that can help you properly identify them:

  • Flowers: Made of up to 200 golden yellow florets (tiny flowers). Each flower head is 1 to 2 inches wide. Only one flower grows per stem.
  • Seedheads: The white puffballs that you all know dandelion for are actually seedheads. Each seed head contains about 250 seeds, all of which are light enough to be carried by the wind.
  • Leaves: Deeply toothed leaves. The hairless lobed leaves form a rosette at the base of the plant. 
  • Stems: Hollow, ranging from 2 to 24 inches tall. They’re not actually stems; instead, they are stalks. The stalks don’t branch, but a dandelion plant can have multiple flowering stalks.

The common dandelion has many lookalikes, such as common cat’s ear (also called false dandelion), sow thistle, and common groundsel. You can usually tell them apart by paying close attention to the leaves and stems, as well as counting how many flowers there are per stem.

Why is it important to distinguish dandelions from similar weeds? Some of these weeds, like sow thistle, are noxious weeds. The Nevada Department of Agriculture defines them as “any species of plant which is, or likely to be, detrimental or destructive and difficult to control or eradicate”. 

You may get a call from your local authorities if they catch wind of noxious weeds on your lawn.

How to get rid of dandelions permanently

Yard full of dandelions
Mike Mozart | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Ready to strike those dandelions with a vengeance? Your options are to either remove the weeds with an herbicide or remove them manually.

Remove dandelions with herbicide

Using a post-emergent herbicide is a surefire way to get rid of dandelions on your lawn. 

There are many kinds of post-emergents you can use, but we recommend a broadleaf systemic herbicide like 2,4-D, dicamba, or MCPP. The herbicide will destroy the taproot, which means the dandelion won’t return. These herbicides also won’t kill your grass.

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.

Pro tip: You can protect desirable landscape plants from herbicides by placing a barricade around the dandelion before spraying. You can use cans or plastic bottles with both ends removed to prevent the weed killer from getting sprayed onto other plants. Place the can or bottle over the dandelion and spray from above.

What about organic herbicides? 

Dr. Cheryl Wilen, Integrated Pest Management Advisor Emeritus from the University of California Cooperative Extension, says most organic weed killers are ineffective because they only kill the parts of the plant they touch.

“[T]hey don’t provide long-term control of weeds with extensive root systems or underground storage structures such as rhizomes, tubers, or bulbs,” she says. 

One type of organic herbicide that might work for you is one that has chelated iron (FeHEDTA) an active ingredient. It kills broadleaf weeds through iron poisoning, but doesn’t hurt grass because it can handle more iron. In fact, sprayed turf often grows greener.

FeHEDTA kills dandelion foliage well, but studies give mixed results about its long-term efficacy. Some say they kill to the root, others report the dandelion comes back (sometimes fully recovering) after a few weeks.

When to spray dandelions with herbicide

close-up of dandelions being sprayed with a weed killer herbicide

The best time to spray dandelions with herbicide is fall, around 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. 

Keep in mind that dandelions don’t bloom during this time, so you’ll need to look for their lobed leaves. You can spray when they’re blooming in the spring (April to June), but it won’t be as effective because the weed killer won’t reach the roots as easily. You may need to treat your lawn multiple times.

Pro tip: You can stomp on the dandelion leaves to injure them and create more entry points for the herbicide to get into the plant.

Spray herbicide under the right conditions: 

  • Avoid herbicide applications when winds exceed 5 miles per hour; otherwise, you may harm neighboring plants. 
  • Apply herbicide when the daytime temperature reaches 65 degrees but no hotter than 85 degrees.
  • Consider applying herbicide in the evening if the daytime temperatures are too hot.
  • 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.
  • Don’t apply herbicide if you’ve just mowed as this stresses out the grass and can injure your turf.

Remember: Always read the product’s instructions before applying the herbicide. Otherwise, you risk harming your lawn or nearby plants.

Remove dandelions manually

person holding yellow dandelion in a hand

If you don’t want to use chemical weed killer in your yard, another option is to hand weed the dandelions. Manual weeding is one of many non-toxic weed control methods.

However, “hand-pulling or hoeing dandelions is usually futile unless done repeatedly over a long period,” says the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

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. Root fragments as small as 1 inch can produce new dandelion plants. If you’re unlucky, that means removing a dandelion plant improperly can net you more dandelions.

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.
  • Pull while the soil is moist.
  • Remove the dandelions when they’re young.

Here’s a short guide on how to use a dandelion digger:

  1. Moisten the soil before digging. Either water the area or wait for rain.
  2. Insert the tool straight down along the sides of the dandelion. Dandelion taproots grow straight down vertically rather than horizontally.
  3. Wiggle the tool around to loosen the soil around the root. Repeat steps 2 and 3, going around the base of the dandelion.
  4. Grab the base of the plant and pull gently. If there is resistance, loosen the soil more. You don’t want to break the root and leave part of it in the soil.

Note: If you see root fragments in the soil that you can’t get out, you can spray them with herbicide.

How to prevent dandelions

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.

Getting rid of dandelions for good is a two-fold process. You can remove weeds from your yard all you want, but they will keep coming back if you don’t take preventative measures. 

This is especially true for dandelions, whose light seeds can get carried by the wind. A single dandelion plant can produce around 15,000 seeds that can sprout in as little as 7 days. 

And since children love blowing dandelion puffballs to make wishes, this pesky weed’s seeds will eventually find your way into your lawn.

Here are some ways to prevent dandelions from regrowing on your yard:

  • Use a pre-emergent herbicide during spring. Pre-emergent weed killers interfere with seed germination, so they’ll prevent the dandelions from sprouting in the first place. You can use corn gluten meal as a natural weed control option. Apply pre-emergents when you see forsythia blooms.
  • Mulch your landscape beds. Mulch has many benefits, including weed prevention. As a bonus, your garden beds will look better. Make sure to use a lighter mulch around your flower beds.
  • 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.
  • Mow high. Mowing your grass so that it’s 3 inches or taller will make it grow thick, preventing dandelion seedlings from sprouting through.
  • Grow a healthy lawn. A healthy and lush lawn is strong enough to outcompete dandelions and other broadleaf weeds. This means fertilizing your lawn properly and irrigating effectively. Remember to apply fertilizer high in nitrogen so your turf has all the nutrients it needs to grow big and strong.

Why should you remove dandelions?

person using a hori-hori weeding tool in a patch of grass
miheco | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Although dandelions can benefit your yard, they have a lot of disadvantages. Here are six reasons why dandelions are a nuisance in the yard:

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. Dandelions can ruin your lawn’s aesthetic

Some people like seeing dandelions on their lawn, as the cheery yellow flowers brighten up your landscape. However, most homeowners prefer to control how their lawn looks and likely have flower beds with prettier plants.

After waiting patiently for a seeded lawn to mature or for sod to take root, the last thing most people want is to see white and yellow dots invading their yard. Shade or sun, dandelions will ruin your lawn’s beauty if you don’t act fast.

4. Dandelions attract bees

bee on top of a yellow dandelion weed
Bernt Rostad | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Dandelions are a food source for bees in early spring.

Providing a food source for our busy pollinators is a good thing. This may even be a point in favor of keeping dandelions on your lawn, even though the University of New Hampshire Extension suggests that they may not be the most nutritious food for beneficial insects.

But having that food source growing in the front yard might concern homeowners with bee allergies or small children playing outside.

5. Dandelions prevent other seeds from germinating

The University of New Hampshire Extension also says that the roots and leaves of dandelions contain negative allelopathic compounds, which can interfere with the germination of other plant seeds.

A study also found that dandelion pollen may also have similar allelopathic properties that interfere with healthy seed production of other plants.

6. Dandelions are difficult to remove

If you want to control dandelions, you have to remove them while they’re contained to a small part of your lawn. Otherwise, you’ll be spraying or pulling them year after year, possibly seeing more of the white puffballs no matter what you do.

That’s because 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.

FAQ about how to get rid of dandelions

Will vinegar kill dandelions?

If you’re using vinegar from your kitchen, probably not. Household vinegar is generally too weak to kill weeds. You may have some luck with vinegar-based commercial weed killers, but the dandelions will keep coming back if you don’t address its taproot.

What are some other non-toxic ways to get rid of weeds?

Here are some other non-toxic ways to get rid of weeds

Are dandelions edible?

Yes, dandelions are edible. In fact, the whole plant is safe to consume. You can eat them in salads or as drinks (wine, coffee, or tea). You can read more about dandelion-based food here: “Benefits of Dandelions in Your Yard”.

Get rid of dandelions by hiring 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 1 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 Image Credit: Unsplash

Janine Caayao

Janine Caayao has always been fascinated with growing plants, from fruits and veggies to bonsai trees and orchids. Now, she’s interested in urban gardening with her family. She loves finding new tips and tricks to keep their plants thriving.