Some people like the sight of yellow dandelion flowers in their lawn; others may even appreciate their skyward-stretching puffballs. But if you're not one of those people, we've accumulated some natural and organic ideas for controlling dandelions. We list them below.
But before we start, we must say this: The one way you DON'T want to control your dandelions is by using a weed killer that contains the toxic chemical 2,4-D. (You can read all about the problems associated with this chemical in our 2,4-D article.)
Now, on to the dandelion removal tips.
Pulling dandelions by hand is not that easy, but it can be done. You need to get the whole tap root out—if you don't, the piece you've left in the ground will sprout new foliage (and, eventually, yellow flowers and white puffballs).
For little weeds, pulling the tap root out is not too hard if you're careful. For larger specimens, it can be nearly impossible. A special "dandelion digger" tool can help, as can attempting your weed-pulling operation after it's rained, when the ground it still a little loose.
Dandelions pop up in one of two ways: From a dandelion seed that germinates, or from a still-viable piece of tap root that's under the surface. If you can interrupt the seed production cycle AND starve the tap roots of nutrients, you can defeat your lawn's dandelions without having to buy any chemicals or other products. Here's how to approach this "dandelion siege warfare."
1. Pick the Heads — As soon as you see a dandelion plant's yellow flowers, pick the heads off. That will prevent them from getting to the puffball stage, when they release the seeds for the next generation of your lawn's worst nightmare.
2. Pick the Leaves — Picking the leaves off a dandelion will not kill it because the tap root remains below the surface and will quickly send up new leaves. But repeatedly picking off the leaves will eventually starve the tap root of nutrients and kill the weed.
Over time, this two-front war on dandelions will be won and your lawn will once again be safe for decent folk.
WEED-FREE AND WELL-FED
It's worth noting that dandelion greens make a nutritious addition to your salad. The logical approach would be to pick the greens at the same time you're pulling the yellow heads off, but some people find the greens to be tastiest when picked before the plant produces flowers. But if you want to avoid two separate rounds of picking and the post-flowering dandelion greens taste OK to you, go for it!
Corn gluten meal—which, just like it sounds, is naturally derived from corn—acts to suppress germination of a variety of weed seeds, including crabgrass and dandelion. A multi-year program of applying corn gluten meal every spring will eventually give you a weed-free lawn. Remember that corn gluten meal will suppress germination of grass seeds as well, so time your applications away from reseedings. The only other downside of corn gluten meal is that it will also kill the beneficial, nitrogen-fixing clover in your lawn, but we recognize that from some people's perspectives, that's a good thing.
Corn gluten meal also benefits your grass by adding nitrogen to the soil. For more information about corn gluten meal, see this
or this You Bet Your Garden
Question of the Week.
If you like spending money on mechanical gadgets to help you with your gardening, you'll find flame weeders, mechanical pullers, water-powered weeders, and heat zappers, all designed to make your dandelions dead, dead, dead. These gizmos apparently work, but so do the other methods above—two of which are free!
Reader George R. passes along the 'dandelion stomp'—his own unique method for non-chemical dandelion control:
You just press your heel into the crown and twist. It opens the stem to fungal/disease infection and kills the plant. I first noticed the effect about 7 years ago when my kid's soccer game got boring. No dandelions blooming in the center of the field, solid yellow in the back corners of the goal cages. It works!
Have your own cool way to remove dandelions without toxic chemicals? Please send it along: firstname.lastname@example.org