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Master Gardeners of Douglas County

Master Gardeners of Douglas County

Dandelion Time

In the Garden with Extension Educator Larry Zilliox, May 15, 2008

We know spring has arrived by looking at our lawns and seeing bright yellow flowers. The dandelions are putting on their annual show. Kids love the plant, picking it and rubbing it on their friend's cheeks leaving a buttery yellow color. Adults hate them because they are a sign of a neglected yard. Our dander really gets up when the seeds start blowing into our yard.

A little background check on this plant we find that dandelion roots were imported into this country as late as 1957. In fact, they are grown as a crop in New Jersey where they are harvested and used in salads. The Italian restaurants on the east coast may include dandelion greens in your salad. If you want to try some of your own dandelions, pick the very youngest leaves. Older leaves can be quite bitter. Also, as you are picking your dandelion leaves or pulling out the roots notice the different shapes to the leaves. In fact the literature talks about the "57" varieties out there from the very narrow leafed plant to ones that have large broad leaves. Some plant leaves stand up while others hug the ground.

The flower of the dandelion is also very interesting. The flower head opens in the morning and closes in the evening. The yellow flower may contain as many as fifty complete flowers each with its own seed. Each of these seeds comes equipped with its own parachute to help disperse it in the environment.

September is the best time of year to kill dandelions. The problem is there is very little advertising taking place at that time of year to remind us of the potential problem coming next spring. Another factor, very few plants bloom at that time of year to catch our attention, so mark Labor Day on your calendar now to remind yourself to look for these weeds. Remember to have some chemicals on hand, as your favorite retailer will have put away the chemicals and will have the shelves full of fall holiday material.

The second best time to control them is in the spring. If you have only a few, digging is probably the easiest especially after a soaking rain. Try to get four to six inches of the root so the plant does not have enough energy to re-grow. If you have more than you can handle by digging, then chemical control is the next option. Fortunately, dandelions are quite sensitive to 2, 4-D products and will twist and curl after a couple of days after being sprayed. Normally you want to apply these products when the temperature is in the 70's and plants are actively growing. Apply the chemicals when the wind is calm and there is no forecast of rain for at least 24 hours and preferably 48 hours. In the spring, chemical drift can be a problem so use extra precaution when spraying to keep it off your desirable plants. Finally, take steps to improve the health of your lawn and many weed problems will disappear on their own.