There is nothing better than seeing a rich green lawn or the buds of flowers and trees as they begin to bloom in the early stages of spring. Unfortunately, scattered throughout the lush green carpet of grass, and in the flower beds and vegetable gardens you will also see the fluffy yellow flowers of the dreaded dandelion.
While the flowers may seem bright and even pretty in some respects, they represent what has become the number one enemy to those who desire pristine gardens and grass.
The questions most people ask are “what are dandelions, and how do you get rid of them?” This article will reveal the answers to both of those questions, as well as a host of other useful and interesting facts regarding the true nature of dandelions.
Depending on who you ask dandelions may be demonized as a weed or celebrated as a flower. However, neither of these descriptions is wholly accurate. The truth of the matter is that the common dandelion, known to science as Taraxacum officinale, is actually classified as a perennial herb.
The main reason for their classification as an herb is that dandelions are completely edible, from the flower to the leaves and even the tap root itself. As for the perennial classification, this is due to the fact that a single dandelion plant lives between 5 to 10 years on average, with some reportedly lasting as long as 13 years and more.
Whether you love them or hate them, dandelions are very easy to recognize. Their leaves are basal, meaning that they grow at the base of the plant right at ground level. This makes it easier to eradicate dandelions as high grass can block out the sunlight they need for their leaves to grow.
Additionally, the thick batch of basal leaves provides a good grip for pulling the whole plant out of the ground. The standard dandelion leaf is lobed shaped with jagged edges, usually measuring 2 inches across and as much as 10 inches in length.
The stems of the average dandelion can grow up to 18 inches in height. This gives the flower a high platform from which it can spread its seeds when the time is right. The flowers are round and usually bright yellow in color, with small petals that create a feathery appearance.
Despite the colorful nature of the dandelion flower it doesn’t actually attract as many butterflies or bees as many other flowers of similar size, such as clover or henbit. One of the main reasons for this is that dandelions don’t require pollination, therefore their flowers aren’t designed to attract insects.
Dandelions prefer warm climates, such as those found in Western Europe or many parts of the United States. They also do best in direct sunlight, making them especially hard to control in places where summers are typically long, hot and sunny. Bare patches, such as newly tilled soil or old garden beds provide the ideal environment for dandelions, as do short mowed lawns where sunlight can reach the ground in abundance.
Due to their prolific nature, dandelions have come to thrive in many different parts of the world. As a result, they are known by a wide range of names. These names include Irish daisy, priest’s crown, puffball, swine’s snout, cankerwort, yellow gowan, bitterwort, blow-ball and clockflower.
Therefore, depending on the time period and location, the common dandelion might be referred to by any of these names when mentioned in farmer’s almanacs, medicinal manuscripts, or any other materials related to the study of plants and herbs. The name ‘dandelion’ itself comes from the French dent-de-lion, which translates as lion’s tooth.
There are an estimated 60 species of dandelion, although some argue that as many as 2,000 microspecies may exist. Some varieties can be found in various regions across the world, whereas others tend to be specific to one area. The California dandelion, for example, is a species that is only found in the State of California.
The Japanese white dandelion is a species native to Japan, growing flowers with white petals around the common yellow stigma. Two other species, Taraxacum decastroi and Taraxacum lacianense, have been found to only exist in Spain’s Pyrenees and Cordillera Cantabrica mountain regions respectively.
What makes dandelions so hard to eradicate is the fact that they can flower all throughout their growing season which lasts between May and October. This gives them infinite opportunities to produce new plants. The first flowers will begin to show when the average daytime temperature rises above 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Since the flowers close at night they can survive the colder nighttime temperatures of early spring. Dandelions are at their most prolific stage between May and June, but will keep producing seeds as long as they are allowed to flower.
Another reason why dandelions seem to come from nowhere is that they reproduce asexually. The seed from a single flower can germinate, creating a fresh plant, without any assistance from nearby plants, bees or other insects. Essentially, a single dandelion can populate an entire yard if left alone for long enough.
Furthermore, it only takes as few as 9 days for the yellow flower of a dandelion to turn into the infamous white, puffy ball that is a veritable seed-bomb, just waiting for a gust of wind to unleash the seed-load that averages between 50 to 200 seeds per head. During its lifetime, a single dandelion plant can produce anywhere between 2,000 to 12,000 seeds. The real problem is that each seed has a 90 percent chance of germinating.
It is important to note that dandelion seedlings can take up to 2 years to develop into a full plant. Therefore, even though you might seem to kill all your mature dandelions one year, there may yet be countless seedlings silently biding their time. Furthermore, since dandelion seeds can travel up to 2 miles on a gentle summer breeze your lawn will be susceptible to dandelions no matter how often you spray.
Yet another reason why dandelions keep coming back again and again, even after they are sprayed with herbicides, is that most people spray them at the wrong time. While spraying in the early spring may seem like the right idea, the fact of the matter is that there are several problems with this approach. These include:
Even though dandelions are resilient and extra stubborn in early spring they do in fact have their weak point. The ideal time to spray dandelions is in the fall, preferably after the first couple of deep frosts have hit. This is not only good in terms of killing the dandelions, but it is also good for all other plants that could be affected by the spraying. Advantages to spraying in the fall include:
While herbicides and the like can be very effective at killing dandelions, many people are somewhat hesitant to use such aggressive methods. One such reason is the fact that poisons do not pick and choose which plants to kill. A bad gust of wind or a heavy rain can cause dangerous sprays to travel to parts of a yard or garden where they were never intended for. Fortunately, the following are some safer, more passive methods for eliminating the yellow flowering pests once and for all:
One of the reasons that dandelions thrive in yards is that the average person ‘scalps’ their lawn, creating the right amount of space and access to sunlight for weeds and dandelions to grow and thrive. By letting your grass stay at 2 to 3 inches in height you will choke out existing plants, as well as significantly reducing the opportunity for dandelion seeds to take root in the first place.
Despite having a notoriously deep tap root, the good thing about dandelions is that they don’t have an elaborate root system. This means that in order to remove the dandelion completely you simply have to dig up the single tap root. There are tools made specifically for this task, however a conventional garden trowel will also do the trick. Simply dig around the tap root until the dandelion feels loose enough to pull out.
This is another way to keep the ground covered, making it harder for dandelion seeds to find a spot to grow. When you leave your grass high and don’t rake the clippings you virtually eliminate any space where dandelions would otherwise thrive.
If you pull the dead vegetable plants from your garden each year, be sure to sow some ground cover seeds to cover the bare patch left behind. Dandelions seek out bare patches in lawns, forming thick stands in a very short space of time. By planting clover or some other fast growing, dense ground cover you can fill any bare patch before the dandelions get a chance to move in.
Despite the negative rap that dandelions get amongst the gardening and pristine lawn communities, the fact of the matter is that they are actually beneficial in a great many ways.
From helping to keep the soil loose, thereby allowing other plants to spread their roots more easily, to actually possessing properties that can increase physical health and wellbeing when consumed, dandelions can prove very useful if you choose to allow them to live in your yard.
Dandelion leaves can be made into tea, or can be eaten in salad. When harvested in late summer they are less bitter, having a flavor comparable to other big leaf vegetables. Some of the benefits of dandelions include:
As already mentioned, the tap root of a dandelion can help to keep soil from becoming tightly compacted, thus creating a more aerated environment for other plants to take root in. Additionally, the tap root actually transfers nutrients from deep in the soil to the often nutrient-depleted top soil layer. This means that shallow root plants are better fed without the need for fertilizers and other nutrient additives.
Whether you drink dandelion tea or eat the leaves as a salad, the properties of the dandelion will help to improve digestion. Additionally, it will help to increase appetite, making it an ideal aid for anyone recovering from illness.
Consuming dandelions is an excellent way to increase your antioxidant intake. This will reduce the aging process of cells, thereby reducing visible signs of aging. The antioxidants will also help to fight free radicals in the brain, thereby improving memory and cognitive performance.
Studies have shown that consuming dandelions regularly can significantly reduce the risk of certain cancers, as well as regulating blood sugar levels, thus helping to fight diabetes. Furthermore, dandelions have been shown to reduce cholesterol, fight high blood pressure, and even increase a person’s immune system, helping them to fight off common illnesses and infections.
Whether you like it or not, it cannot be denied that the common dandelion can in fact be a very beneficial plant. From helping to enrich and aerate the soil to providing health benefits and home-made remedies, dandelions are regularly used and revered in many parts of the world.
However, the aggressive nature and the high durability of the plant also make it hard to control, causing farmers, gardeners and lawn enthusiasts to despise the sight of those yellow flowers. Fortunately, now that you have read this article you will know how to both use and eradicate dandelions, depending on your preference!