Dandelion Season is Here!

Via Swallowtail Garden Seeds on Flickr

Dandelions can evoke quite passion in people.

Some people love seeing the bright yellow flower heads, especially children, and who hasn’t picked a fragile dandelion seed head and blown on it and watch the seeds float away on the breeze.

Some people hate them and see them as a blot on the landscape – something that needs to be destroyed and controlled.

I am somewhere in the middle. I don’t need to eradicate them but I like to reduce their numbers so that other vegetation and plants I do want to have growing are not competing against the dandelions for nutrients.

Dandelions are in many ways the perfect plant. They are asexual and therefore produce clones of themselves. They arrive early in the spring providing food for bees. They have tap roots that break up the soil and bring nutrients up to the surface from lower soil levels. The roots can be dried and roasted into a coffee substitute. The leaves can be used in salads (use young leaves) or steamed (significant levels of Vitamin A and K, and sources of Vitamin C and calcium).

In the pioneer days early settlers would welcome the dandelions since they would be one of the first edible plants in the spring. They knew that they were healthy for them – possibly for the Vitamin C source since most diets from the winter would be low in this vitamin.

So here is my Dandelion process to reduce dandelions in my yard:

Acceptance – I won’t be able to eradicate the plants from my land so need to accept that there will always be dandelions. What I can control is how many there are and recognize this control is long term and on-going.

Removing the root stock – there are lots of devices (sometimes called ‘thingies’, ‘thingamabob’, ‘doohickey’, etc) on the market to help with this. They all work to some degree. Try not to do the whole yard in one go but do an hour here and and hour there and it will be a lot less daunting. There is great satisfaction when you yank out a whole root with your tool. The old asparagus fork works well but you will always leave a bit of the root in the ground and the plant can regrow. To put some serious damage to the root stock I will quite often through a squirt of vinegar (see below) down the hole. This method is very effective and quite often will mitigate the negative effects of acidification of the upper portion of the soil where the grass roots might be effected. You want to do this BEFORE the plant goes to seed since you are trying to reduce the number of plants in your yard.

Removing the foliage – During the summer the leaves create food to help it grow and a portion of this food is stored in the root for overwintering. The root has only a certain storage capacity. In the spring it expends most of that energy to push up some leaves to recharge it’s storage.  If the foliage is yank off the root is deprived of this source of replenishment. The root will then expend more reserves to push out some more foliage. You need to repeat this about three times before the root has exhausted its reserves. Cutting the tops off the plant with a lawnmower won’t be enough since the root will still be getting food from what portion of leaves are left after the cutting. You can do this with one of the tools (since most of them usually only yank off the foliage anyway), bending over, grabbing the plant where it comes out of the soil and yanking. I find that using a twisting motion ensures I get most of the foliage. You want to do this BEFORE the plant goes to seed since you are trying to reduce the number of plants in your yard.

  • When my son was a young toddler we would pick the flowers off the dandelions and he would get 1 cent for each flower hear. I believe it taught him how to count, the value of counting, the relationship between work and remuneration (people might think this wage was exploitive), it built ties between us because we were working together to solve a problem, it taught stewardship, and it was fun and rewarding.

Vinegar (acetic acid) – the original experiments conducted with vinegar as a plant killer were done at a university and using 25% acetic acid. ‘Normal’ kitchen white vinegar is only 5%. It is the 25% concentrated vinegar that Earth’s General Store sells and is also available it many garden centres. Most plants like to grow in soil that has a fairly narrow pH range – some like more acid and some more alkaline soils. If we can move the pH of the soil it kills the plant. Vinegar does this well. It is an acid that we have used as a food product for centuries and is quite benign in the environment – especially if you follow my remediation recommendations.

  • Choose to do this on a day when it has been hot and dry for several days over even weeks and the soil is quite dry because that will mean the dandelion is very thirsty and will suck up the liquid we are providing. Ideally choose a day where it looks like it will rain sometime in the next 24 – 48 hours so the rain will dilute the acid after it has done it’s work.
  • I use a repurposed dish liquid container – the kind with a squirt kind of top. Put in about 1 teaspoon of dish liquid and top off the bottle with your 25% vinegar (friends of mine have told me that they have cut this with some water to reduce the costs – your decision and hopefully that works for you). Unlike herbicides the chemical companies make that are foliage applied we are trying to get the acid to be absorbed by the root because if we just kill the foliage the root will likely be able to push up more leaves.
  • I now walk around the yard squirting about a table spoon onto each plant. I squirt the vinegar to where the leaves come out of the ground so that it will be most accessed by the root. If it is a bright sunny dry day the pants will start to shrivel up within an hour or so. You will notice that the grass around the plant will start to also turn brown (kind of like what your grass looks like in the spring if you have a dog that uses the lawn to pee on during the winter). You need to let the root be exposed to the acid long enough that the whole root is killed. If you have removed the foliage prior to this step then squirt a short down the hole to ensure what is left of the root is exposed to the vinegar.
  • There is nothing scientific about this part so use your own judgment on when to stop the acidification – usually 24 – 48 hours is good.

Our soil in Edmonton is generally slightly alkaline so the pH will readjust itself but your brown spots might take some time to recoup so we can help speed up neutralizing the effected acidified areas by diluting the acid or combating it with an alkaline. If you timed it well then it will be raining in this time period and the rain will dilute the acid if not you can water the areas with a hose. To speed up this neutralization process you can spread some alkaline chemicals on the area before watering (or before it rains). Calcium/dolomite are good and fairly inexpensive options and overall your yard will likely benefit from these minerals since they need them for healthy growth. Baking soda will also work (Earth’s General Store sells this in bulk). Put these alkalizing agents on the soil after it has rained or watered and then water the powders in. This will reduce the reactivity a bit.

Spend some time on making your yard less inviting to dandelions – aerate the soil, get a soil test done and adjust accordingly, apply compost to the top, grasscylce your lawn clippings, reduce the amount of fertilizers you use on the lawns, and continuously remove dandelions. Over the years the ‘problem’ will get to a level that will be acceptable to the majority of people.

There are people that will let their dandelions grow and go to seed because they don’t want to use harmful herbicides/pesticides. I believe this is shortsighted since a neighbour may use more chemicals in their land to combat the onslaught of dandelion seeds floating onto their land. Also when that landowner moves on then next person may use high levels of herbicides to ‘nuke’ the land. What I am suggesting here is that if we all manage the dandelions on our own land we will reduce the total amount of herbicides being used in our neighbourhoods and thus exposing ourselves, our children and our pets to these toxins.

Whether you love them, eat them, drink them, roast them, or hate them dandelions are here to stay. Learn how to reduce their numbers and even make use of them. The internet is full of information about how to make dandelion wine, ointments, beverages, salads and herbal remedies. There is even a possibility that dandelions have some anti cancer properties. That would be quite a cycle – people spray chemicals on their land, causing cancer (my belief), and that same plant is that person salvation. If this came to reality I am sure that person would look at dandelions in a new way.

The question to ask yourself is – is the application of poisons on your lawns a long term solution? Do you need to reapply the herbicides each year? If you do then it is not really working – it may be easy but not working in the long term. If we accept that there will be some invasion of lawns by dandelions and nip off the bright yellow flowers and more importantly the seed heads then we can reduce the occurrences of dandelions in our lawns and it will look good.

I think it is a good idea if we reduce the total amount of toxic chemicals in our society. We can start with reducing the number of dandelions in our yards and accept that there will be some. What do you think?

If you would like to try fresh and Certified Organic dandelions in a salad or smoothie, as a coffee substitute (Dandy Blend), as a tea/infusion (leaves, blossoms, roasted or unroasted root), or as a tea then you should know Earth’s General Store stocks all of these products.