Dealing with Dandelions


While beneficial to your body and soil, dandelions will not leave our dog house soon. MPAC’s Ryan Anderson focuses on getting rid of them the safe way.

For the countless times I’ve discussed “natural” strategies to eliminate dandelions, I can’t recall a
single question on how they first became a staple “weed” in our American lawns! Yes, we all know these yellow sunflowers use “parachutes” to spread their seeds in every which crack, crevice, and opening of your lawn, but did you know that this plant originates from Europe?

Since the Puritans introduced them to the New World, dandelions have played a role in American history. During the civil war, Confederate soldiers replaced coffee with dried dandelion roots. Herbalists used the roots to treat liver and gallbladder disease and their leaves possess diuretic properties that increase the amount of urine in your body to improve appetite, digestion, and kidney function.

Every part of this so-called weed is edible and can add flavor and nutritional value to your next salad, sandwich, and/or tea with its bounty of vitamins (A, B, C, and D) and minerals (iron, potassium, and zinc). Somewhere down the line, however, we stopped valuing these plants for their human health contributions and began typecasting them as an eyesore for our ideal green and lush lawns.

Knowing its ability to improve human health, aerate your soil, and attract pest eating ladybugs, I would encourage you to embrace the dandelion. Nevertheless, I am not oblivious to the pressures forcing your hand to manage them.

When contemplating how to get rid of dandelions, ask whether you want to apply the same control each year for the recurring dandelion symptom or do you want to tackle the root cause of the symptom and avoid repetition year after year? I can offer natural vinegar products and pre-emergent herbicides (i.e. corn gluten) that will kill these broadleaf weeds, but, just like with synthetic herbicides, these products do not address the compacted, low pH, and nutrient imbalanced soil conditions that favor dandelion growth.

Lucky for you, many practices for growing strong and resilient turf limit these favorable soil conditions starting with mowing high. Maintaining tall grass takes away the sunlight and soil entryways that dandelion seeds need to germinate, reduces the likeliness of scalping/damage of grass cells, and increases root mass and strength. In addition to mowing high, great lawn managers will exercise every option for their turf to crowd out and prevent the germination of dandelions including overseeding gaps with grasses, leaving grass clippings to smother dandelion seeds and fertilizer, and watering deeply and infrequently to encourage deeper root growth.

Healthy, strong, and dense turf will battle and prevent many dandelion seeds from germinating in your lawn, but when seeds breach this first line of defense you’ll need the reinforcements of the billions of bacteria, protozoa, nematodes, and arthropods inhabiting your soil. Keeping these reinforcements happy requires a keen sense for their preferred soil nutrients, maintenance, and structure. Organizations from our list of soil test providers will measure the essential soil factors for life and provide recommendations for how to best treat your soil for grass growth using many of the aeration and soil amendment techniques that I discussed in last month’s post.

By following your soil test provider’s suggestions and maintaining the tall, dense turf I described earlier, you should see reductions in the dreaded yellow flower. Don’t be discouraged if you do not see reductions this year. It takes time and care to build healthy, resilient soil and turf, especially for lawns that highly depended on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides previously.  For some lawn managers, this process may take between three and five years to holistically address dandelions, but once they see reductions and don’t have to spend all the time and money on year after year chemical control, it makes all that previous effort worth it.

If you have a dandelion presence now in your lawn, first try to establish a tolerance for it. A couple dandelions here and there will not bother anyone and can easily be managed manually.  For significant dandelion problems, we encourage you to apply an Integrated Pest Management approach of limiting your chemical use for the problem and choosing a product with the least toxicity to human health and the environment.  Find tips on this approach here and here. Finally some after the fact natural treatments include vinegar, herbicidal soaps, and iron-based herbicides.


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