June 28, 2022

Down the Garden Path: Guest columnist series--Dandelions: Friend or Foe

Many of us have a lifelong relationship with dandelions. We may remember as children picking spring “bouquets” and blowing the seed heads at our playmates throughout the summer, not realizing that, as adults, we would probably have a very different opinion about what most people consider a weed.

Dandelion, or Taxaracum officinale, is a common perennial that grows most anywhere. It has a distinctive bright yellow flower and jagged-edged leaves for which it gets the name dandelion, meaning lion’s tooth. Throughout history, dandelions have been used for food and as herbal remedies; but most people do not appreciate them when they crowd out turf in the lawn.

The dandelion thrives regardless of soil conditions and in hot and dry weather. It will withstand frost and freezing and can survive crowding to bloom repeatedly through the summer.

The unusual seed head is another distinctive characteristic of the dandelion. It has soft white hairs that carry the seeds on the wind or when blown by a child. Each plant can produce up to 20,000 seeds. You can see why a few dandelions one season can become a lawn full the next season.

Management methods

If you feel that you cannot live with them, dandelions in the lawn can best be addressed by digging them up with a special tool that removes most of the root. If the number is too large for this tactic, then a broadleaf weed killer can be used by broadcasting or spot treating. (Always read and follow label instructions).

The key to preventing an overgrowth of any “weed” is to have a healthy lawn. Make sure to adequately fertilize and prevent soil compaction.

Pollinator pal

For those of you interested in encouraging pollinators, dandelions are an important nectar source. They bloom early when there are not many flowers available for bees and other pollinators. The leaves are a food source for caterpillars. There is a movement afoot in some areas to welcome dandelions for their beauty and pollen source.

Also, nearly all parts of the dandelion can be eaten and are cultivated for this use in some areas. One word of caution to those allergic to latex: Dandelion sap contains latex and should not be handled by anyone with this allergy.

• Have questions for the University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners? You can call, email or visit during the growing season. Learn more about connecting with the Kendall County Master Gardener Help Desk at go.illinois.edu/HelpDeskMGdkk, or call or visit during office hours: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at 630-553-5823 or at 7775-B, Route 47, Yorkville.