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How to Control Dandelions

Identification Through Pictures, Tips on Dandelion Removal

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Dandelions: the ultimate lawn weed.

Are these cheerful flowers your friend or enemy?

David Beaulieu

What makes dandelion removal from lawns so difficult? Well, dandelions (see picture at right for flower identification, and click "More Images" for help with identifying the seed-head) enjoy the best of both worlds. Above-ground, their seeds ride the wind currents, poised to drop into the slightest opening in your lawn to propagate the species. Meanwhile, below-ground, they strike down a taproot up to 10" long. Pulling the taproot as a means of removal is problematic. Thick but brittle, the taproot easily fractures -- and any fraction of the taproot that remains in the ground will regenerate.

How to Kill Dandelions: Pulling Them

If you're hard-headed enough to want to try to pull these weeds, despite the difficulty just mentioned, here's how to proceed:

  • To facilitate weeding, water the lawn first (weeds are more easily extricated from wet soil).
  • Make an incision into the soil, down along the side of the taproot, using a knife, screwdriver or similar tool (tools designed specifically for dandelion removal can be found in home improvement stores).
  • Wiggle the tool to loosen the taproot
  • Using the ground as a fulcrum, try to pry up the weed. Get a good grip on the leaves (as many of them as you can close your hand over) and use them as your "handle" on which to tug.
  • Give the weed a gentle tug to see if the taproot is yielding.
  • If the taproot is yielding, remove the dandelion weed from the soil. Otherwise, make further incisions around the taproot, wiggle and continue to tug gently at the leaves.

How to Kill Dandelions: Herbicides

I'm not a proponent of using herbicides when an alternative exists that works just as well. But killing dandelions is a case where one might consider using herbicides, despite one's usual disinclination to do so. As mentioned earlier, all it takes is leaving a fraction of the root behind, and your efforts at pulling dandelions will have gone for naught! Furthermore, as the following list (hardly exhaustive) of herbicides for killing dandelions illustrates, not all "herbicides" are chemical mixtures bought at the store.

Examples of Herbicides for Dandelions

  • Organic: Vinegar
  • Weed-B-Gon (brand name), with the active ingredient, 2,4-D
  • Roundup (brand name), with the active ingredient, glyphosate

It's the acetic acid in vinegar that gives it herbicidal potential. The higher the percentage of acetic acid in the vinegar, the better. Vinegar used for culinary purposes is relatively low (5%) in acetic acid, but you can boil it down to increase its strength prior to the application.

If you use either vinegar or Roundup, apply the herbicide directly onto the leaves of the weeds, since these herbicides are non-selective and would harm your grass. By contrast, Weed-B-Gon is selective (it targets broadleaf weeds) and won't harm grass, making it a popular choice for killing dandelions in the lawn.

When to Apply Herbicides on Dandelions

Early fall is the best time to kill dandelions with herbicides. Dandelions are broadleaf, herbaceous perennials. Since their leaves die back in winter, it is through their roots that the plants live on. In early fall, nutrients are transferred from the leaves down to the roots. This transfer, which continues until the first killing frost, presents you with an opportunity to hit them where it really hurts! Herbicides applied during this time are absorbed by the leaves and passed on to the roots, following the same path down as the nutrients.

For at least 2-3 days prior to applying herbicides, don't mow the lawn. The bigger the surface area of the dandelion leaves, the more effective your application can be. Likewise, following the application of herbicide, wait at least 2-3 days before mowing, to allow time for the herbicide to be transferred to the roots.

Preventive Dandelion Control

Promoting lawn health is the best method of dandelion control. Don't think of your lawn grass as a passive partner, which has to be rescued from weeds after the fact. If managed properly, your lawn can compete effectively against weeds, obviating the need for laborious dandelion removal. Follow these lawn-care tips:

  • Leave grass clippings on your lawn. They will act as a mulch to prevent weed seeds from germinating. The benefits of grass clippings to your lawn, under the right conditions, are numerous.
  • Mow "high", leaving the lawn grass at a height of 2 1/2"-3". This will allow the lawn grass to "protect its own turf" better, depriving weeds of the light they need.
  • Don't let bare spots remain uncovered for long, else you're just inviting the invasion of opportunistic weeds. In the fall, fill in those bare spots by overseeding.

All of the foregoing remarks assume that your approach to dandelions will be hostile. But that needn't be the case. Page 2 is written for those willing to consider a more tolerant approach to dandelions....

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