Fighting dandelions

Next summer when you find yourself waging the annual war against this prolific flower, mull on this little trivia fact: Once upon a time, North America had no dandelions. That’s right. We may be fighting dandelions, but long ago, folks encouraged them to grow.

[The] common dandelion is an introduced plant in North America. In the mid-1600s, European settlers brought the common dandelion (scientific name, Taraxacum officinale) to eastern America and cultivated it in their gardens for food and medicine. Since then it has spread across the continent as a weed.


Imagine that? Had those darn settlers only realized what they were doing to us Suburbanites with our need for a nice, green lawn.

Actually, those Settlers might have known a thing or two. Did you know that dandelions have some medicinal purposes? It’s true, America’s most hated weed provides a whole host of benefits in herbal medicine:

Traditionally, dandelion roots and leaves were used to treat liver problems. Native Americans also boiled dandelion in water and took it to treat kidney disease, swelling, skin problems, heartburn, and upset stomach. In traditional Chinese medicine, dandelion has been used to treat stomach problems, appendicitis, and breast problems, such as inflammation or lack of milk flow. In Europe, it was used in remedies for fever, boils, eye problems, diabetes, and diarrhea.


In addition, the leaves are very nutritious, and if you’re purchasing overpriced greens from a natural foods market, the package probably contains dandelion greens.

Still, to most of us, it’s a bothersome weed that we don’t want living in our lawns. But before I get to some dandelion-eradicating tips, I’ll share this little tidbit as well. A friend of mine is a back-to-earth, tree-hugging, crunchy type and she wanted to grow some dandelions in her garden for those herbal benefits I listed above. She bought some seed and planted it, and tended the little seedlings. But they all died, every single one of them. She couldn’t believe it, they were everywhere, how hard could they be to grow on purpose?

She found that dandelions like competition. They need to fight for their lives in order to truly thrive. So they love our lawns and our well tended flower beds. They like to push through weed barriers, and spring up along rock borders and fence posts. Good to know, eh?



Tips for fighting dandelions

  • Kill dandelions with commercial chemicals. Round-up will also kill surrounding plants including grass. Weed-B-Gone only targets broadleaf weeds like dandelions. Follow the directions on the containers, and be careful.
  • Fighting dandelions in the fall may be more effective than waging war in the summer. Plants, including weeds, go dormant in the fall. By spraying dandelions in the fall, the herbicide will be carried down to the root, killing the plant more thoroughly.
  • Plain white vinegar makes an earth-friendly weed killer. Be sure to buy the kind with a high concentration of acetic acid. Regular vinegar from the grocery store is only 5% and isn’t very strong. Either boil it down to a higher concentration, or order some online with a percentage of 20 or higher. Spray the plant until it is wet, keep the sprinklers turned off, and make sure the forecast says no rain. In a few days, your weeds will be brown and dead.
  • Here’s a handy tip: Don’t mow your lawn for a week or so before you spray for weeds. You want nice, healthy weed leaves to receive the spray. If you mow them down, there won’t be much left to kill.
  • Spray weeds before they go to seed! You’ll lessen your work load that way.
  • Just as many new fangled electric steam mops fail to clean the floors as well as the good old fashioned ‘on your knees’ scrubbing, you can’t go wrong with elbow grease. Get on those knees and dig out the weeds with a spade or other long, sharp tool for weed digging. This, of course, only works well if you don’t have a giant field of dandelions to deal with. And don’t forget – weeds, including dandelions have a very long ‘taproot.’ If any of it is broken off and left behind, it’ll send up a new plant.
  • Some tips my grandmother swore by: plain salt sprinkled at the base of each plant helps kill dandelions, as does dousing them with boiling water. You may have to reapply the treatments for the best results, but it will kill the entire plant, root and all!

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