Bridge Gardens’ Weed of the Month | Dandelion (Taraxacum)

March 11, 2024

By Rick Bogusch

Bridge Gardens

Not everyone considers dandelion a weed. It is cultivated as an early spring green, rich in vitamins and minerals; its flowers are eaten or fermented into wine; its roots are boiled and mashed and eaten like turnips and a tincture of dandelion root is a favorite of herbalists for treating digestive issues and kidney and liver problems. 

For most of us, this herbaceous member of the daisy family IS a weed, nemesis of those who want a weed-free, golf course-like lawn. Native to Eurasia, dandelion has many strategies for self-proliferation that have allowed it to spread aggressively throughout the temperate world. These include its ability to grow in almost any environment, to tolerate crowding and temperature extremes, to resist drought by sending taproots up to 3 feet into the earth and to produce an extraordinary number of wind-born seeds in one growing season. A single dandelion plant can disperse over 20,000 seeds. 

Dandelion leaves form a ground-hugging or upright rosette and can grow up to 12 inches long under the right conditions. They are jaggedly toothed along the edges and are the source of this vigorous perennial’s name. Dandelion is a corruption of the French words for lion’s tooth, “dent de lion.”

A sure sign of spring, dandelion’s bright yellow, daisy-like flowers — actually a collection of many small flowers — are an important source of nectar for bees at a time of year when not much else is in bloom. These, of course, become the globe-shaped seed heads beloved by children and scorned by gardeners and fans of weed-free lawns. At Bridge Gardens, we don’t try to control dandelions in our lawns. We see them as a temporary problem lasting 2-3 weeks and occasionally, we even enjoy the architectural beauty of their flowers and seed heads. We do try to mow flowers before they seed and to keep our lawns as dense as possible by mowing with a mulching mower and cutting the grass high at 3 ½ to 4 inches. This leaves no room for new dandelions and other weeds to get established.

In vegetable gardens and ornamental beds, we weed dandelions by hand and try to pull them out when they are small, before taproots bury deep into the soil. When weeding dandelions, it’s important to remove the whole plant, including the taproot or as much of it as possible, as new plants can form from pieces of taproot left behind, especially the top 2-3 inches.

As with most weeds it’s probably best to opt for control of dandelions, rather than eradication and as always, persistence and consistency are the keys to success.

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