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Dandelions: Friend OR Enemy?

May 14, 2018

If you hate dandelions here are tips to get rid of them. If you love dandelions here are reasons to maybe love them a little bit more.

Why get rid of dandelions in the lawn?
Yellow dandelion blooms in spring are pretty. If it stopped there we would love them in our lawns. The trouble begins when their puffballs start blowing seeds into areas that we do not want them growing like in our landscape. But here is the real reason to put these lawn wreckers on your hit list: A foot-long taproot that steals water from your good grass all summer long and plants that thrive flat on the ground under your mower blade to restrict grass growth.

dandelion puffballs

Dandelions spread into ground cover beds via seeds from puffballs.

How do you kill dandelions without hurting your good grass?
If you have lots of them, put down Scotts Turf Builder Weed & Feed. The unique, small particles in this lawn food stick like glue to your dandelions. This is absolutely crucial for penetrating and killing them root and all. Plus your lawn gets a deep Turf Builder feeding to help it fill in where the dandelions once grew. For best results apply to a moist lawn when rain or watering is not expected for 24 hours. Do not use on St. Augustine grass, Floratam, Dichondra, Lippia, carpetgrass or bentgrass.

If you have only a few dandelions and other weeds, you can spot spray them with Ortho Weed B Gon MAX plus Crabgrass Killer OR Roundup For Lawns. (Be sure to check the label for any weed control to make sure your grass type is listed.)

If you planted new grass seed this spring, hold off treating those areas until your new grass has been mowed 4 times. And one more thing: Do not attempt to kill your dandelions with Roundup as you will likely kill some of your good grass by accident.
Why do I have dandelions even though I put down a weed & feed?

Some folks put the weed & feed down too early before the dandelions appear. Unlike the crabgrass preventer that goes down before you see the crabgrass, dandelions are perennials and can’t be prevented because they grow back from their root as well as from seed. So for dandelions and many of the weeds in your lawn you kill them after you see them.

The dandelions looked like they were starting to die after I treated them, but why did they grow back?
If the dandelions got an adequate dose of weed control, they will be dead root and all. What I have typically seen is a 90% plus kill after an application of a good weed & feed (like Turf Builder Weed & Feed) that went down at the correct rate. If the lawn is loaded with lots of mature dandelions, sometimes it takes the second application in fall to do a complete kill plus kill baby dandelions that grow from seed in the soil during late summer.

Also keep this in mind: getting rid of the weeds is only half the battle. Your lawn will be a stronger competitor against new weeds if you feed your lawn regularly (about 4 times a year) and mow your grass a little bit taller. Most lawns are healthier if the grass height is 2-1/2 to 3 inches tall after you mow.

Why is it hard to get rid of dandelions by digging them?
It’s tempting to pull the top off of dandelion weeds that pop up in your yard. If you miss getting the whole root it will easily come back. Dandelions grow like carrots and produce what is called a tap-root. If you plan on pulling weeds then try using a slim trowel or dandelion puller to get the whole root.

dandelion regrowth

This is the top of a dandelion root with a young dandelion beginning to grow. Notice that dandelion tops have been pulled off about 4 times leaving scars where it has grown back each time from the little bit of root left behind.

Why not learn to love dandelions?
I think it is OK to love dandelions. We all have fond memories of blowing dandelion puffballs in spring and have enjoyed watching our kids enjoy this too. Some folks look forward to making dandelion wine from the flowers (click here for several recipes). Other folks grow dandelion greens in their vegetable garden because they are good for you (click here to learn the health benefits and to get a few recipes). A dandelion is not a weed in these cases because folks want them to thrive. (One note, dandelion greens from your vegetable garden are better than ones growing in your lawn because they have the room to reach maximum leaf growth since there is no mowing and no competition from the grass. This is the same reason you would not want to grow your spinach or lettuce in your lawn. You also would not allow the dandelions in your vegetable garden to create puffballs unless you wanted nothing but dandelions in your garden. You also would not harvest dandelion flowers from an area where weed controls were used.)

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