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Dandelion Whine: One Man's Quest to Be a Good Neighbor

photo by Sudoking
Creative Commons/Flickr

Is there anything more frustrating than seeing your perfect green lawn suddenly sprouting with yellow dandelions? They're pretty but pesky, and controlling them isn’t an easy thing.

As KUNC Gardener Tom Throgmorton points out, using chemicals isn't necessarily better than digging them up by hand...

This lowly herb has more iron than spinach and more vitamin C than lettuce.  We spend millions of dollars in energy and chemicals to eradicate it.  The pennies and nickels parents give kids to dig the plants adds up.  The real dollars are spent on the tons of herbicides we dump on our lawns. 

Dandelions were grown as an herb that cured a number of illnesses.  Its world wide distribution is evidence a lot of people carried it as they migrated and immigrated.  Even through it isn’t a cure-all; it’s still used as a digestive aid and mild laxative. 

Crops of dandelions are grown in rows eighteen inches apart and the plants a foot apart in the row.  The soil is prepared deeply for the best roots.  The clusters of white fluffy seeds germinate easily.  The area is cultivated regularly to keep out competing weeds.  The roots are harvested in the fall of the second season.  The dried roots are roasted for a coffee-like drink.  Of course the bitter tops can be cooked like spinach or eaten fresh in salads.   The flowers are the flavor in dandelion wine.

But as the saying goes `any plant out of place is a weed’.  The yellow spring flowers in the lawn are unwelcome.  Neighbors who leave their dandelions unchecked reseed the whole neighborhood.  There are basically two methods to kill dandelions.  One is hand digging.  The other is using herbicides.

Chemical companies have invested deeply to kill dandelions.  The preferred herbicide is 2,4-D applied either in the spring or fall.  It’s usually applied over the whole grass area killing all broadleaved plants including dandelions.  But because trees, shrubs, perennials and annual flowers fall in the broadleaf category, they can also be damaged or killed by 2,4-D. 

Another chemical control for dandelions is spot spraying.  With a wand in hand, wander the yard hitting each dandelion plant.  If this stuff gets on any other plant, including grass, it will kill that plant too.  So instead of yellow flowers you may end up with brown splotches in the lawn.

Hand digging also involves wandering the yard to find each dandelion plant.  In my wandering I usually end up crawling around the yard.  In garden beds I use a digging fork to loosen the soil before pulling the dandelion with as much root as possible.  In the grass I’ve used about every dandelion digger invented.  I’ve bent or broken them all in my pursuit of dandelions. 

I don’t mind the yellow flowers in the grass.  But I know if I let them go to seed I’m to blame for my neighbors spreading herbicide on their lawns.                                              

Tom has been offering garden advice on KUNC for almost two decades. During that time he has been the wholesale sales manager at Ft. Collins Nursery, Inc. Since January of 2005 he has been the owner and operator of Throgmorton Plant Management, LLC., a landscape installation and maintenance company as well as a horticultural consulting firm. He lives in northern Ft. Collins with his wife and two kids.
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