Dandelions are broadleaf perennials that can grow in any soil and are most numerous in full sunlight. In the early spring, new sprouts will emerge from the taproot, which can be 2 to 3 feet deep in the soil. They grow yellow flowers that mature and turn into white fluffy seedheads.
I usually write lengthy descriptions about plants, like flower parts and leaf types, cross-pollination or plant evolution. But not this time. This time, I’m writing about people who either hate or love this simple weed, the dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
So I would guess that there are two types of people, those that hate dandelions and those that love them… Maybe some of us change, as we get older. From children who play with dandelion flowers and make wishes with their irresistibly entertaining seedy puffballs to serious lawncare adults hellbent on eradication.
So if you are part of the latter, what is the best method to control this botanical nightmare? I remember my father and how he controlled dandelions. The best way to get rid of dandelions was to remove them by hand. The key is to get as much as possible, of the long taproot, since the plant can regenerate from its roots. He would use a narrow tool, such as a flat screwdriver. Stab, cut, drop in the bucket. Repeat until tired. Be prepared, this is going to take time, it’s like a management position that requires constant due diligence.
If you decide on this type of dandelion control the next step is promoting lawn health. Don’t let bare spots remain uncovered for long, or you’re just inviting the invasion of opportunistic weeds. In the fall, fill in those bare spots by overseeding with perennial grass. You can also top dress your lawn in the fall with compost to help improve the overall nutrient level. Lastly, mow your lawn on a high setting. Remember, a thick lawn is the best method for preventing dandelions and other broadleaf weeds in the lawn.
So if you can’t beat them, eat them. Part of that bucket my father filled ended up on the kitchen table. He would take the leaves and wash them clean with water from a garden hose. Thirty minutes later, they were on the dinner table as a salad prepared by my mother. Dandelion greens taste like other salad greens like chicory or escarole. As a child, I never liked the taste.
Dandelions are high in vitamins A and C, and iron. The best time to harvest is early spring before the flowers appear because the leaves are tenderest and least bitter. Just avoid harvesting near roads, since road salt, metals or other toxins may be present. Do not harvest where there is high traffic of animals such as deer. Additionally, you obviously shouldn’t harvest from a lawn where herbicides have been applied.