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Beloved by children for their bright yellow flowers and fluffy white seeds, dandelions are a gardener’s nightmare. Though they won’t damage your lawn, these hardy flowering herbs are persistent and pervasive—they multiply quickly and can be found in every climate across North America.
The trick to getting rid of dandelions while maintaining a healthy lawn and flowerbeds is making your yard unfriendly territory for these pesky intruders. Here’s everything you need to know about how to kill dandelions without damaging nearby plants.
What Are Dandelions and Why Do I Have Them?
The common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is a type of flowering herb. In ancient times, herbalists used dandelion plants for medicinal purposes. Today, most gardeners and landscapers consider the dandelion a weed.
Dandelions start popping up in early spring or whenever the soil gets above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. In most of the country, the plants lie dormant during winter. Throughout the cold season, the taproot continues to survive underground. As a result, these plants are among the first perennial weeds to shoot up when temperatures begin to rise.
Just because you can’t see the dandelion flowers doesn’t mean the entire plant is dead. As broadleaf perennials, dandelion plants are characterized by long taproots, which develop branching root systems. The plants die in the fall but return in the spring if the roots remain intact.
Additionally, dandelion seeds blow in on the wind, so they can originate in your yard, your neighbor’s yard, or even cracks in the sidewalk. All these factors make dandelion removal notoriously challenging.
How to Get Rid of Dandelions
If you already have bright yellow flowers all over your turfgrass, stamping them out will take a little work.
Like other plants, dandelions uproot more easily in wet soil. If the weather has been dry, you can moisten the soil yourself. Here’s how to hand-pull dandelions from your lawn:
- Use a weeding knife to loosen the soil around the dandelion.
- Grasp the plant at the base and pull it out.
- Remove the entire taproot so that the plant doesn’t regrow.
- Kill any remaining dandelion roots with a nonselective herbicide.
Hand-pulling dandelions can lead to lower back pain, so do yourself a favor and invest in a dandelion puller. This handy gardening tool features a metal shaft with a forked end. Insert the pointed bit into the ground and lift out the dandelion using the tines.
Any herbicide that kills broadleaf weeds can help control your dandelion population. Remember that a nonselective broadleaf herbicide will kill any plant it touches—including your grass.
The most effective solution is a commercial preemergent herbicide sprayed in early spring before the dandelion seeds sprout. You can order this product through Amazon or pick it up at your nearby home and garden store.
If you’re considering using a do-it-yourself (DIY) weed killer, you can try corn gluten or boiling water. Vinegar (acetic acid) will also kill dandelions. Here’s what to do:
- Fill a spray bottle with pure white vinegar.
- On a sunny day, spray it on the dandelion leaves and roots until the plant is saturated.
- Avoid spraying on windy days to prevent the solution from drifting onto other plants or on rainy days when rainwater might neutralize the acid.
Keep in mind that vinegar is a broad-spectrum herbicide that may kill other plants, too. However, it can be an effective solution for spot treatments, such as eliminating dandelions in sidewalk cracks or other small areas.
How to Prevent Dandelions in Your Lawn
Dandelions aren’t picky—whether you have loamy, sandy, or claylike soil, dandelions can find a way to thrive. The best way to get rid of dandelions is to prevent them from taking root in the first place.
Fertilize Your Grass
Nutrient-rich soil supports dense, healthy grass growth. Applying the right amount of nitrogen can help ensure that the grass root system grows close, preventing new dandelion seeds from taking root among your turfgrass.
Mow Your Grass High
Since dandelion flowers require a heavy dose of sunlight, keep your grass on the tall side. This way, the nearby plants will prevent dandelion sprouts from growing by denying them access to sunlight. Keep the same concept in mind when using your gas or electric weeder. Mowing high doesn’t just prevent dandelions—it also helps tamp down other broadleaf perennial weeds, such as crabgrass.
Mulch, Mulch, Mulch
Mulching is one of the best methods of dandelion control. It adds nutrients, improves soil fertility, and provides proper aeration as it decomposes, further enriching your grass. Additionally, by spreading a layer of organic material over the soil, you can prevent weed seeds from germinating, accessing sunlight, and growing.
One way to mulch is to leave grass clippings on your lawn. Use a thin layer (no more than one-quarter inch thick) to allow the grass to start breaking down before it begins to rot. You can also use wood mulch at the base of trees to keep dandelions from finding a home there.
Invest in Regular Lawn Care and Maintenance
For severe dandelion issues, call in professional help. TruGreen‘s natural lawn care plan offers fertilizer treatments and preemergent weed control, which can help prevent dandelions and discourage other lawn weeds.
Benefits of Dandelions
Dandelions are beautiful and cheerful flowers. They have a long blooming season and are very easy to grow. During a typical 30-week growing season, you’ll get about three generations of dandelions in your yard.
Dandelion flowers are also an excellent food source for bees and other pollinators. Dandelions were a beloved garden flower for generations, and Europeans brought them to the New World on the Mayflower due to their medicinal qualities.
Dandelions’ naturopathic benefits are legendary—and probably true. These plants contain more vitamin C than tomatoes and more vitamin A than spinach. They are also rich in potassium, calcium, and iron.
Keep your lawn healthy and well-groomed. A thick, healthy lawn will leave little room for dandelion taproots to take hold. If you start to spot little yellow heads or puffballs of seeds, however, you can probably pluck them up with a dandelion puller or spray them with a natural herbicide.
If you notice more than a few dandelions on your lawn, it’s time to call a professional lawn care service, such as TruGreen, to help eliminate the problem at the source.
What kills dandelions permanently?
Two things can kill dandelions permanently—digging them up by the roots or spraying them with an herbicide. Digging up dandelions does not harm nearby plants, but it only works if you remove the entire taproot. Otherwise, the plant will eventually spring up and blossom again. This method of landscaping can be time-consuming, but it is effective. You can also use a selective broadleaf herbicide that specifically targets dandelions.
What kills dandelions but not the grass?
A few methods can kill dandelions but not the grass around them. One is to pull up the dandelions by the root. You can use a weed whacker or a similar tool to cut the dandelions down at the base. This will prevent them from growing back for a while, but their long taproot ensures the weeds will eventually return.Finally, herbicides can be safe, especially if you use something natural, such as vinegar or corn gluten. Talk with a professional lawn care service before using more potent chemicals.
Does picking dandelions make them spread?
Although it may seem like picking dandelions would make them spread, it doesn’t. Instead, picking dandelions will help eliminate them in your yard by reducing the number of seeds produced. That said, picking dandelions is ineffective for eliminating these plants.