Yellow Yellow Everywhere: Dandelions
By: Rob Sproule
Do you love butter? As adults, we indoctrinate ourselves to think of dandelions as the faceless enemy that will lay waste to our lawns like a Mongol horde and can quickly forget how much we loved them as children.
As you read this column and learn all the ways you can kill dandelions, take a moment to say those 4 little words to yourself. In schoolyards everywhere, kids are rubbing each other’s chins with dandelions and framing those most hated of yellow flowers into a memory they’ll cherish forever, just as you and I once did. As pretty as they are, dandelions are also a famously invasive and persistent weed. For those who covet the perfect lawn, getting rid of them can become the summer’s white whale. Fortunately, there are a surprising number of ways to not only control them, but to appreciate them, as well.
The bad news is that even if your yard is dandelion free, it’s not going to be for long. Not only can the wind carry seeds long distances, but they remain viable for years while awaiting the right conditions. Dandelions are perennial weeds, and like the rest of your perennials they get larger and more vigorous as the years roll by. They grow best in sparse, sunny lawns and their leaves often lay frustratingly flat enough to evade lawnmower blades. While the spring bloom is largest, they will often bloom again in the fall once the days are less than 12 hours long.
With thousands of reinforcements floating into your yard every summer, the only way to really win the war on dandelions is to prevent them from germinating. Yes Virginia, a lush and healthy lawn will choke out young dandelions before they can grow large enough to effectively compete for resources.
The goal is to deny dandelion seeds a space to sprout. Leaving the grass clippings in your lawn will help keep them from reaching soil level. Mow your lawn a little higher (about 3″) will ensure that germinating seeds don’t get the light they need. Top-seed any bare spots in the lawn promptly to keep it strong and full. An annual aeration, especially with mature lawns, will keep grass vigorous enough to defend its own turf.
Learn more about dealing with Dandelions, with Alberta’s Best Gardening Blog
Getting Rid of Them:
Dandelions are not invincible. While their sheer spring numbers tend to shock-and-awe lawn lovers into a state of panic, they are actually at their weakest right after blooming. All their reserves have gone into their flowers, and that’s the best time to control them.
Pulling dandelions is still the best way to kill them. Their famous tap-roots can grow to the size of carrots; the majority of it has to come out with the plant to ensure it doesn’t re-grow. If you pull them out of dry earth you’ll only get greens, so wait for a good soaking rain to loosen the soil; the deeper it’s wet the better. If the forecast is sunny, consider watering the area first. There are chemical solutions a-plenty, from bars you drag across the lawn to broadleaf herbicide contact sprays to giant trucks that douse the entire yard. These tend to be very effective, but they are a last resort and aren’t necessary for minor breakouts.
Dandelions and Kids:
It’s fascinating to see the different ways that adults and kids see dandelions. While the former perceives them as an unwelcome invader to an otherwise immaculate lawn, kids see yellow starbursts spontaneously popping up, heralding untold imaginings and play. Besides the famous butter test, blowing seeds, popping off heads, and making bouquets are all quintessential parts of an Albertan childhood. If children use your yard to play, please think twice before reaching for the chemicals.
Controlling dandelions doesn’t have to be a decision between yanking them out of spraying herbicides. Necessity is the mother of invention, so here are few creative ways to get rid of them that I’ve encountered. Do you have a leaf blower? If so, it probably has a switch that turns it from “blow” to “suck.” Watch for when the seeds are just about mature enough to catch the breeze and strap on the seed-sucker! Simply wave the sucking end across the seed heads and it will strip them bare. Be careful not to spill the giant mass of seeds when you empty the bag!
If you can’t beat them, eat them! Not only are dandelions edible, they are incredibly good for you. They are packed with more Vitamin A, boast more beta-carotene than carrots, and pack more iron than spinach. The leaves are excellent for the liver and kidneys, although people with irritable bowel syndrome shouldn’t partake. The leaves are most flavourful before flowering in spring or after the first fall frost. Picked at those times, they can be added raw to salads and have a crisp taste similar to Endive. Mature, post-flowering leaves acquire an unpalatable bitter taste and fuzzy texture. A long boil or steam will tenderize them. Never eat dandelions unless you’re sure they haven’t been sprayed with herbicides.