Do you remember being a kid and feeling the youthful excitement of blowing a dandelion and seeing tons of little flowers float away on the air?
Well, age gives way to wisdom and now we know that what we were actually doing was spreading the weed’s seeds and giving our parents a headache and more work to do.
Today you’ll learn everything you need to know about getting rid of them and different herbicides that you can use for particular circumstances. There are natural methods and commercial products that we will cover in depth. We’ll wind it all up with tips for you to keep in mind as you attack this invasive, albeit fun-filled, weed that can become a pervasive nuisance across your lawn.
Dandelions are perennial weeds that have a thick, vertically growing taproot. It receives its English moniker through a perversion of its French name, “dent de lion,” which means lion’s tooth. It gained its designation from the deeply toothed leaves growing on the plant.
While most people know it as an invasive and unwelcome weed, it is actually a plant that has medicinal properties that include use as both a diuretic and a laxative. Dandelion greens are also used in salads and other garden dishes.
The deeply toothed leaves of dandelions grow outwardly from the crown of the plant at the soil level. The weed blooms into a bright yellow flower that is a tightly packed mass of individual florets and stands on a hollow stalk that can grow as tall as 2′. Each floret in the blooming mass is an individual flower.
Dandelions grow from seeds reproduced asexually through a process called apomixis, which means that the seeds are essentially clones of the parent plant. Once germinated and sprouted, they flower most abundantly in the spring months.
The flowers open in the morning and close themselves up through the night. Once it has spent a couple of days flowering, it will close itself up and allow the seeds to develop inside the closed head.
The seeds, called cypselae, are produced on the flower stalk with each one representing a single floret in the flower mass. Attached to the seeds are feathery bristles that help them float with the wind to their next destination.
As the seeds mature, the stalk elongates and raises the feathery blowball higher to better distribute the seeds over a greater distance.
Weed Control Methods
What makes these weeds so pervasive and difficult to control on so many of our lawns is that we rarely find them until they are already well established on our lawns.
Let’s take a look at some different weed control methods to curtail the invasion of these weeds onto our lawns.
Biological Control Methods
Some studies have shown that introducing the fungus Sclerotinia minor has shown some positive results in controlling the growth of dandelions. However, even though there has been some success with this fungus, ask yourself if you want to introduce foreign fungi onto your lawn. Without a blanket guarantee about its ability to cure all your troubles, you should probably steer clear.
Research shows that limiting the amount of potassium you use in your fertilization practices can help control dandelions. Again, ask yourself if you’re willing to deprive your lawn of one of the essential nutrients it needs to sustain healthy and vigorous growth. Probably not, but the research is out there and I’d be remiss not to include it.
Natural Control Methods
Some people prefer to try taking the natural route before you resort to breaking out the chemicals. Let’s take a quick look at some of the options.
You can use white vinegar or the apple cider variety as a control method. Pour the mixture into a spray bottle and go to town on the whole weed: the flower, the stalk, and the leaves. The higher concentration of vinegar will cause the leaves to wither in a matter of hours and have the nuisance ready to be removed. This is best done on a hot day.
If you’re not able to carry this out on a hot day, use a vinegar mixture instead. Combine 1 quart of vinegar, 1 tablespoon of biodegradable liquid dish soap, and ¼ cup of lemon juice into a spray bottle. Thoroughly coat all parts of the dandelion and wait 3 hours. If it hasn’t completely shriveled up by that point, apply the solution again.
It’s important to remember that vinegar is non-selective and will damage any plant it comes into contact with. So take care to mind over-spraying onto your grass or plants.
Mix 2 tablespoons of isopropyl alcohol with 1 quart of water into a spray bottle. Then spray the dandelion thoroughly, ensuring that you are entirely coating the leaves of the weed. The alcohol works by drawing out all the moisture from within the plants. Use the heat of the day to your advantage and apply while the sun is out and the wind is down.
Check back a couple of hours after application to see if the leaves are showing signs of wither. If not, apply the solution again.
Bring water to a boil and pour it directly onto the top of the dandelion. Ensure that you are using enough water to reach and damage the taproot. Check back in 2 to 4 hours to see if the leaves have turned brown. If they have, you can pull the dandelion from the ground. Ensure that you remove the entire taproot from the earth or the weed will grow back again.
Salt will draw every drop of water out of these weeds and render them incapacitated. The only problem with using salt like this is that even though dandelions won’t be making a return in that spot for 3 years, neither will anything else. Salt will absorb into the soil and remain there for the foreseeable future. If you intend on planting again in that area of your lawn soon, keep the salt in your cabinet.
You can consider using this in your sidewalk cracks where you don’t want any plants growing.
Create a Weed Barrier
Using cardboard or dark plastic, cover larger areas of dandelions on your lawn. Weigh down the chosen material with compost, wood chips, mulch, or grass clippings. This will suffocate the weeds underneath the material and possibly create an opportunity to plant some ornamentals in that area that you’ll transplant to another location once the dandelions have died.
Corn Gluten Meal
An application of corn gluten meal to your entire yard is an organic alternative to a chemical pre-emergent herbicide. The corn gluten meal won’t kill any existing dandelions, so those must still be dealt with. The great thing about this natural alternative is that it acts as a pre-emergent herbicide that also works on clover and other pesky broadleaf weed varieties.
If you notice that any weeds have made it through your preventative defense of corn gluten meal, you need to treat those weeds and remove them quickly. This seems inherently obvious, but there’s a greater sense of urgency when corn gluten meal is in the equation. This is because as it breaks down in the soil, it becomes a nitrogen-rich fertilizer for the plant roots to absorb. And not just the root systems of your desirable grasses and ornamentals. The weeds’ root systems, too.
There are commercially available organic alternatives that can be used to kill any of these weeds that are already growing on your property. Combining one of these products with corn gluten meal will give you more environmentally safe organic pre and post-emergent herbicidal options.
Chemical Control Methods
You already know about pre and post-emergent herbicides. So what you’re going to find here are some recommendations about products available for purchase on Amazon.
You’ll find recommendations on the best selective and non-selective pre and post-emergent herbicides that I have experience using.
Selective Pre-Emergent Herbicide
Surflan A.S is relatively inexpensive and covers a wide variety of broadleaf weeds along with some weed grasses as well. It will prevent dandelion seeds from germinating for up to 4 months after it is watered in. Also, you can water this herbicide in immediately or allow it to sit for 3 weeks on your lawn before you water it in without affecting its potency. The only downside to this herbicide is that it is not safe for use in gardens with edible vegetation.
Selective Post-Emergent Herbicide
If you use Bonide Weed Beater in combination with the suggested pre-emergent herbicide, dandelions won’t stand a chance. Neither do a lot of difficult to manage weeds like poison oak and clover. This post-emergent spray will need to be reapplied whenever you see new dandelions sprouting up from the ground. It’s not as user friendly because there is some measuring and mixing you have to perform, but the product is worth a little inconvenience for the results you see.
Non-Selective Pre-Emergent Herbicide
Preen Weed Preventer – one application of this product can cover up to ,2080 square feet of turf. You only have 48 hours to water it in, but, once you do, it bonds with soil particles and builds what amounts to a control barrier for weed seeds. It will prevent dandelions and other weeds from establishing roots. This herbicide will not leach into the groundwater or soil, either. However, it is not intended for use on flower beds, vegetable gardens, water gardens, or anything edible.
Non-Selective Post Emergent Herbicide
Spectracide Weed and Grass Killer kills both broad and narrow-leafed weeds in as little as 3 hours is what the bottle says. In truth, I have seen it kill weeds in a little less than 24 hours. It can be used over a sizeable area and is very adept at removing vegetation from your lawn before you reseed it. It becomes rainproof 15 minutes after application. Although it is not an industrial-grade herbicide, it is very effective across a great range of broadleaf weed varieties and several narrow-leafed weeds.
Weed and Feed
Scotts Turf Builder Weed and Feed 3 comes in granule form and will cover 5000 square feet with one bag. It’s simple to spread across your lawn and is guaranteed to prevent dandelions and clover from appearing on your turf. Some professionals consider this to be the best pre-emergent herbicide, bar none. To say nothing of the additional benefit you derive from its use as a fertilizer for your lawn, too.
It’s important that you keep children and pets off of the lawn for 24 hours after you have applied the Turf Builder. After 24 hours, your lawns should be safe for normal activity to resume.
The fertilizer in this product contains 28% nitrogen, so you’re sure to experience a vibrant color and healthy growth in your grass.
The one downside is that while this product can be used on most warm and cool-season grasses, you cannot apply it to grasses like St. Augustine, carpetgrass, or bentgrass.
What if You Need a Product That’s Safe to Use Around Your Pets?
It’s important that any product you use be non-toxic to your children or your family pets. Fortunately, a great deal of progress has been made in the development of products that effectively kill dandelions and other weeds without harming your loved ones, both human and furry.
Organic pre and post-emergent herbicides are available. Here’s a list of some of the more popular products on the market right now.
Espoma Organic Weed Preventer
Epsoma organic weed preventer is an organic pre-emergent herbicide that markets the readily available corn gluten meal that you’ve already read about. It is effective at preventing seeds from sprouting and growing in with your grass. Corn gluten meal is an effective treatment for a variety of broadleaf weeds, as its selective capacity suggests, but it is also effective at preventing crabgrass from emerging as well. So you have the added inclusion of this narrow-leafed weed variety besides the broadleaves you set out to prevent.
Bayer makes an organic line of Natria applications that have two of the best organic post-emergent herbicides. Whether you need a selective or non-selective treatment, you cannot go wrong with using them.
The selective weed killer is derived from iron and offers nourishment for actively growing grass besides its ability to kill the dandelions that appear in your yard. Pre-mixed with a corn gluten solution, this product kills the entire taproot of the dandelion and the roots of other broadleaf weeds.
What’s wonderful about this product is that you won’t have to return to remove the weed from the turf because it kills the root completely. The entire plant will decompose and return itself to the soil as nutrients for your desirable grass.
The broad-spectrum solution uses an herbicidal soap that will cause the dandelions and a litany of other weeds to wither away and perish. It doesn’t eliminate all the vegetation growing where it’s sprayed. However, for the plants and grasses that it treats, it does an admirable job.
Allow both products to dry after you have applied them. Then you can allow your children and pets to return to the area.
How To Get Rid of Them Without Hurting the Grass
Follow the proceeding steps for successful dandelion control without harming the vibrant grass growing around the weed.
Step 1: Unearth the Dandelions
Dandelions are characterized by their deep, strong taproot. They do not leave the soil without a fight. To ease your struggles, water the area a bit and let it settle into the soil to dampen it.
Once the moisture has softened the earth, work a weeding tool or garden knife around the base of the dandelion in a few different places. Wiggle the handle of your knife to shift the dampened soil away from the root.
Once it is sufficiently loosened, pull it from the ground. If you have trouble, continue working your knife around the base of the plant until you can pull the entire plant out of the soil.
Step 2: Kill Any Root Left Behind
If any portion, no matter how small, of the taproot is left living in the soil, the weeds are guaranteed a second act in that spot on your lawn. So you must make sure to kill any piece of the root that may be left in the ground.
Use a selective post-emergent herbicide, organic or chemical, and carefully apply it to any pieces of the root you find in the hole.
Step 3: Fill the Hole
The newly created hole in your lawn is unsightly and vulnerable to other invasive weeds. Therefore, you’ll need to fill it in with soil and a little something extra.
Mix a pre-emergent herbicide with the loose soil to fill the hole. This offers your lawn yet another line of defense in the battle to beat dandelions and other weeds.
If you’re inclined to, you can sow grass seed that particular spot on your lawn. But it isn’t really necessary if your turfgrass surrounding that spot is growing in well. The roots and runners from your already established grass should fill the hole in nicely.
Step 4: Ongoing Lawn Maintenance
You have done what you can to fight the invasion of weeds on your lawn. The next task is to continue strengthening your lawn to make it less vulnerable to another weed invasion. Do what you must to ensure that your grass and other plants experience virile and vigorous growth. After all, healthy growing plants and grass leave very little room or opportunity for weeds to take hold.
As always, use proper lawn care practices. Without them, you’re probably just creating a problem you’ll have to fix somewhere down the line.
Tips for Application
Just a few tips that you may want to keep in mind as you prepare for your dandelion assault.
When is the Best Time to Spray Herbicide?
The best time to spray the leaves of these weeds is in the fall. Dandelions are perennial weeds that will reappear in the spring. In the fall months, they prepare for winter by transferring sugars from their leaves down into their taproots for winter storage. Spraying the herbicides during this time ensures that the herbicides are transported to the taproots along with the sugars.
Preventative maintenance and proper lawn care practices are always the most effective way of dealing with any problems on your lawn.
As it relates to dandelions, there are a couple of things you can do to prevent their presence on your lawn. The first you’re already aware of; ensuring that the taproot left in the soil is completely dead. Another way to prevent them from spreading is to cut the yellow flowers off the stem so the seeds do not have the opportunity to spread around your yard.
Are There Any Reasons to Not Get Rid of Dandelions?
Because dandelions are unsightly and don’t necessarily offer a bunch of advantages to your lawn, I would recommend trying to get rid of them. The only reason you may consider not getting rid of them is if you like the natural look or if you want to try picking it to add as a tasty ingredient in your salad.