This seems to be the week of the dandelion. Have you noticed their yellow flowers dotting landscapes everywhere?
The first spring flush of dandelions delights children and drives homeowners to the big box stores. Despite their temporary beauty, it’s a great idea to jump on the dandelions while you still have a chance to win the battle.
Should you hand weed them?
You can slow dandelions down by hand weeding them, but you won’t get rid of them. Why? Because dandelions have strong taproot that usually grows 6 to 18 inches deep in the soil. When you hand weed them, it’s extremely difficult to remove the entire taproot.
As little as one inch of remaining root can regrow a new plant. So, unless you’re willing to excavate each one thoroughly, they’ll come back again and again. To get rid of them once and for all, you have to kill the root. In order to kill the root, most people use a weed killer.
Getting rid of dandelions in your lawn
The good news is it’s easy to kill dandelions with weed killer without harming your grass. If you go to your local garden center or home improvement store, pick up a bottle of ready-to-use “lawn weed killer.”
When you get home, read the label on the bottle. Then, simply spot spray the dandelions in your lawn according to the label’s directions.
Don’t spray it on any desirable trees, shrubs, flowers, or groundcovers since it could damage them, too. If dandelions are growing close by, you can always use a cardboard shield to prevent the spray from hitting the leaves of nearby landscape plants.
Personally, I like Bayer Advance Weed Killer for Lawns. It works well, plus it has a mild red colorant in the spray. I find it’s really helpful to keep track of which dandelions I’ve already sprayed. Without the colorant, I sometimes end up going in circles spraying weeds multiple times.
Getting rid of dandelions in the rest of your yard
You can use the same ready-to-use lawn weed killer in rock mulch, wood mulch, or cracks of your driveway or patio. If you use the formulation with the colorant, you’ll have a spot of colorant there until it fades. I find it only lasts a couple of days, but it’s not that attractive. Instead, you might want to use a clear formulation to avoid this effect.
What if they’re growing in your landscape plants?
As mentioned above, lawn weed killer can negatively affect your trees, shrubs, flowers, and groundcovers. Don’t use the weed killer if the dandelion is growing in your landscape plant. Instead, hand weed it with a dandelion weeder or knife. You’ll have to do it repeatedly, but it’s better than damaging your desirable plants.
What about homemade weed killers?
I often hear from people who want to spray their weed with a homemade formulation because they assume it’s safer than a weed killer. Common formulations include vinegar, vinegar and salt, borax, and even Pine Sol.
According to Jell Gillman, Professor of Horticulture and author of “The Truth about Organic Gardening,” it’s best to avoid homemade sprays. Here’s why:
- Homemade vinegar sprays are not concentrated enough to kill the root. It has the same effect as hand weeding. The vinegar will also affect your grass, so don’t use it on dandelions growing in your lawn.
- Salt solutions harm the beneficial soil microbes. Besides killing weeds, you could make the soil salty enough that you won’t be able to grow anything in that spot.
- Borax contains boron, which in high concentrations is toxic to plants. It may kill weeds, but like salt, can create an environment where nothing grows.
If all else fails, consider them a vegetable
If you don’t want to spray them, eat them. Considered a potherb and medicinal plant by Europeans since Roman times, you can add unsprayed dandelion leaves to your salad, then brew a tea with the flowers. If you’re really ambitious, you could use the leaves and flowers to brew beer or wine. You end up wishing you had more dandelions!
As they say, when given lemons, make lemonade. If given dandelions, make salad and a nice beverage. What better way to celebrate spring?