Most harbingers of spring are welcome: longer days, more sunshine, and visions of time spent outdoors enjoying the warmth of the sun. And then the dandelions arrive. How can such a pretty, yellow flower be such a dastardly weed?
Dandelions, or “Taraxacum officinale” for the botanists, are broad leaved weeds and members of the composite or daisy family. Because they are perennials, they return year after year, flowering early in the spring and continuing until cold weather arrives in the fall. Bees like dandelion flowers as a food source but don’t pollinate them. That’s because dandelion seeds develop apomictically—without being fertilized.
The Root of the Problem is the Taproot
The dandelion propagates by seed or its taproot, which is exceptionally long and hard to remove. The taproots are brittle and can snap off easily. That’s bad news, because one remaining piece can send up a handful of new shoots.
The Physical Approach: Hand Pulling
Despite these factors, the most effective method of combatting dandelions is to dig out the entire plant, taproot and all. The “dandelion knife” is the most popular weeding tool for dandelions and looks like a long screwdriver with a forked end. It is designed to dig into the soil deeply around the taproot, so the plant is easier to pull out. To ease the process, soften the soil around the weed by watering it the day before. Hand pulling is easiest when the plant is less than two weeks old because the taproot is not yet firmly established. As you can imagine, this task can keep you very busy for a very long time.
The Herbicide Approach: Careful Application
If these mechanical means are too much work, chemical treatments present another option. Agricultural extension services recommend several types of herbicides: Dicamba; 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, usually called 2,4-D; or methylchlorophenoxypropionic acid, usually called Mecoprop or MCPP. These systemic herbicides selectively kill most broadleaf weeds but leaves most grasses, lawn turf and grassland relatively free from damage. Of course, follow directions carefully. In many cases, plants should not be watered for 24 hours before or after treatment.
The Organic Approach: Labor Intensive and Repetitive
One of the most popular organic approaches combines three techniques: hand pulling, herbicidal vinegar and pre-emergent control. However, this process does require the most work and time.
Herbicidal vinegar, also known as acidic acid, has an acidic strength of 20 to 25 percent. Household vinegars are wimps in comparison, containing only 5 to 10 percent, so are not strong enough to do the job. If herbicidal vinegar is hard to find in your area, check with feed or farm supply stores.
Unlike the systemic nature of herbicides, vinegar is not absorbed throughout the plant, so it has to be reapplied often. But it is “non-selective” so it will kill anything else it comes into contact with, including grass. And it may surprise you that herbicidal vinegar also “kills” concrete, so be careful when applying it around sidewalks and other concrete structures.
Corn gluten is a natural and effective weed pre-emergent. But because it is effective against all seeds, it won’t work if you plan to apply grass seed to your lawn; the new seeds won’t germinate. So, for example, corn gluten won’t work if you plan to revive dead spots on your lawn with Hydro Mousse. If you apply corn gluten, consider marking off the territory around your dead spots and reserving them for your Hydro Mousse application.
The Three Steps to Organic Control
- Pull the weeds by hand.
- Use a turkey baster to carefully squirt vinegar into the small hole left in the soil by the taproot, to kill the surface of any remaining taproot. Repeat as needed.
- Once the weeds are gone, apply the corn gluten weed pre-emergent to make sure no new dandelion seeds germinate and get established.
Whether you chose a manual, herbicidal or organic approach to ridding your lawn of dandelions, we hope you win the battle against this wicked weed. May all of your lawn be lush, green and free of dandelions.
- A single flower can release more than 150 seeds, each one capable of floating several hundred yards.
- Dandelion taproots can easily be 10 inches long and big plants can have taproots that grow to an impressive six feet in length.
- All parts of the plant have been used for medicinal purposes, especially as a tonic for various digestive disorders.
- Dandelion leaves make for an excellent additional green leaf in salads.
- Dandelion roots, roasted and ground, can be used as a coffee substitute.
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