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Archive for Thursday, May 9, 2013

Garden Calendar: Are dandelions friends or foes?

May 9, 2013

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The cool, wet spring has really helped the dandelion crop, and to accompany the cheery, yellow flowers, I have overheard conversations reminiscent of political debates.

Having pulled my fair share to keep them from competing with flowers and vegetables or filling in the brick sidewalk, I know they can be pesky. They are unworthy of any major battles, however, as they are easily controlled with a few key practices, and the ones who survive have value to the environment.

Here are a few questions and answers to dispel any misconceptions about the plants.

Will dandelions take over my lawn?

The yellow flower of a dandelion eventually turns into a round, fluffy seedhead. You may have picked these seedheads as a child, making a wish as you blew the seeds from the stem in the same way people blow out the candles on a birthday cake.

Mature dandelion seeds are easily detached from the plant in the wind and are very viable. But dandelion seeds that fall into dense stands of native grass or healthy turfgrass will be unable to get enough soil contact to form a root.

In flowerbeds, a two- to three-inch layer of mulch can prevent growth of new dandelions.

Dandelions can be pesky but can be easily controlled and even be valuable to the environment.

Dandelions can be pesky but can be easily controlled and even be valuable to the environment.

Are dandelions noxious weeds?

The word “noxious” has a specific legal meaning when used to describe weeds. The Kansas Noxious Weed Law lists some big offenders, like field bindweed and musk thistle, but dandelions lack mention here or on the list of potential problems. The dandelion is unlisted in all 50 states.

Are dandelions native plants?

Dandelions are thought to be native to Europe and Asia, but they were brought to the United States by early settlers as a medicinal herb. They are one of the few plants that now grows worldwide within the limits of its cold-hardiness range.

Can I kill them without killing my whole lawn?

Yes.

Cultural/mechanical/organic options: Keep a dense, healthy stand of turf by mowing high, using appropriate varieties, and fertilizing in the fall. This method actually works very well — in my lawn, the only place dandelions grow are curb lines and patches where the turf is thin because of tree roots and shade. Pop the weeds out with a dandelion digger (actual tool), trowel, knife or something similar. A few organic herbicides are available but are nonselective. Dandelions could be spot-sprayed with the understanding that the grass right around them will also die.

Conventional options:

Dandelions are pretty easily controlled with broadleaf selective herbicides if the herbicides are applied at the proper time. Research has proven that the best control occurs when dandelions are treated in early November, because they quickly move the herbicide into their root systems. Right now, plants are more interested in producing flowers and seeds than anything. There are many broadleaf selective herbicides labeled for dandelions, with active ingredients including 2,4-D; MCPP; and Dicamba. There are also several products that contain a combination of these products. These herbicides should be applied on days with temperatures over 50 degrees F. Read the label to determine the proper rate and any other pertinent information.

What about the dandelions in my flowerbeds?

Dig or pull them, use a two- to three-inch layer of mulch, and/or spot-spray in the fall. Take care if spot-spraying to keep the herbicide from contacting surrounding plants.

Can I eat dandelion leaves or flowers?

Yes! All parts of the plant are edible. The leaves have a flavor sometimes described as similar to arugula and are most commonly used in salads and teas. Flowers are also be used in salads and to make wine.

Do dandelions have medicinal value?

Dandelions are high in vitamins A, B complex, C and D; iron; potassium; and zinc. They have been used to treat a number of ailments including liver, kidney, and stomach problems, although little research has been done regarding actual effectiveness. Dandelion leaves are known to be effective as a diuretic.

Do dandelions have any other value?

Yes! A number of birds feed on the seedheads, especially goldfinches. (If you choose to spot-spray weeds, spraying in the fall when the plants are not in flower will also reduce risks to these birds.)

— Jennifer Smith is the Horticulture Extension Agent for K-State Research and Extension in Douglas County. Contact her or an Extension Master Gardener with your gardening questions at 843-7058 or mastergardener@douglas-county.com.

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