I get asked all the time, “How do I get rid of dandelions? They’re driving me crazy.”
My old answer used to be, “Well, how much time do you have, because there is no short, or one-word answer!”
But I have a new answer for you now! One that I am truly excited to share with you because, I mean, let’s be honest, one of the toughest and hardest weeds to get rid of is the dandelion – that is if you want to get rid of it organically.
That’s the crux of the matter: doing it organically. Because getting rid of dandelions using chemicals is quite easy, but using chemicals, while it may be easier, is not good for the soil or the soil inhabitants.
But let’s not get into that now. Read on, because I have a new organic technique to share with you that I think you’ll really be happy with.
Table of Contents
- Let's Look At The Problem
- Why Organic Controls Are Doable, But More Difficult
- Why Chemicals Are Easy, But Bad
- First - Make A Quick Decision
- Any Time Is Good, Fall Is Best
- Now Let's Throw Away Old Ideas That Don't Work
- So What Does This Leave Us?
- 1. Hand Pulling
- 2. Vinegar
- 3. Pre-emergent Control
- Finally - Let's Combine All Three Of The Above Methods
Let's Look At The Problem
I don’t like to start off with a negative, but we do need to address the problem so we can properly apply the solution, right?
Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) are perennial broad-leaved weeds, and being perennials, they will come back year after year, appearing early in the spring and continuing until cold weather arrives in the fall.
They reproduce by their long taproot, and also from seed, but the major problem with dandelions is their deep, fleshy taproot that is difficult to get out because it can go down 10 inches (25 cm) or more into the soil.
Their taproot is also quite brittle and it easily fractures when you’re trying to pull it out, and any part of the taproot that remains in the ground will regenerate and grow right back.
Why Organic Controls Are Doable, But More Difficult
The problem with organic controls for dandelions is that they don’t always quite finish the job. It can be done, but it takes a bit more vigilance that dumping some broadleaf herbicide on it.
It’s harder because organic controls only kill what they come into contact with. They don’t move systemically through the plant tissues down to the roots and kill them the way chemicals do.
Most organic controls only burn off the top foliage and leave the taproot which will just grow back.
So what you have to do is keep killing the top growth back until the plant’s taproot has run out of energy and dies. So essentially you have to wear it down.
Why Chemicals Are Easy, But Bad
On the other hand, many chemical herbicides are made just for broad-leaved weeds, and when sprayed on to the weed leaf surface, they will translocate from the leaves down to the roots killing the entire plant, root and all.
So it’s easy, but the long term ramifications of many of these chemicals is not so good. But don’t give in to temptation; we have some solutions for you.
First - Make A Quick Decision
A major decision you need to make is how many dandelions are tolerable in your lawn or garden area. We have to be realistic because even if you get all your dandelions out, the wind will invariably blow more in.
Dandelions reseed themselves so easily, but the good news is that any new dandelions that do blow in, if you have a pre-emergent down they won’t be able to take hold.
If you don’t have a pre-emergent down, just make sure you pull them while they’re young, two weeks old or younger, and you will get rid of them much easier because the taproot won’t have taken hold yet.
As the saying goes, “The easier it gets, the easier it gets.”
So let’s get to work and talk about how we get rid of our current dandelion problem so we can go into the easier “maintenance” mode.
A Dandelion With a 12 inch (30 cm) long taproot:
Any Time Is Good, Fall Is Best
First of all, timing with dandelions can be really helpful. This being the first of spring however, I know you’re not going to wait until this fall to start, but just so you know, early fall is the best time to kill dandelions.
Dandelions are broadleaf, herbaceous perennials, and since their leaves die back in winter, it is through their roots that the plants live on. In early fall, nutrients are transferred from the dandelion leaves down to the roots in order to get them ready for winter.
This transfer, which continues until the first killing frost, presents you with an opportunity. By killing the dandelions before they can get nutrients stored up for winter, you are hitting them at their weakest time.
Now Let's Throw Away Old Ideas That Don't Work
I have to say I am often amused at some of the techniques people say they use to kill dandelions, because if they really had tried them, they would know they don’t work.
Let’s take a quick look at several myths and why we can discard them forever as non-viable solutions in dealing with dandelions.
Myth 1. Keep Your Lawn Healthy
Some people say a healthy lawn can smother dandelions out, but I personally have never witnessed this. In my lawn, which is quite lush and healthy, the dandelions just get bigger and healthier, posing an even larger problem.
Myth 2. Mulching
While mulch works great with annual weeds, using mulch to smother perennial weeds is not very effective because the seeds or plants that sprout from the roots left in the ground often grow right through it.
Myth 3. Smothering
Using newspapers or cardboard to smother them out. Again this is fantastic for grass, or annual weeds, but using it to kill perennial weeds with thick, fleshy roots like dandelions, is hard.
It can be done, but you’ll have to leave the newspaper and cardboard down either permanently and plant through it, which isn’t ideal if you’re doing this on a lawn area, or for almost up to a year for it to kill dandelions.
Myth 4. Flame or Contact Sprays
Any of the organic sprays or tools that kill weeds with heat will only kill the top growth, not the taproot, so they are not very effective.
In fact studies have shown that the same dandelion must be sprayed at least 3 times before you see a difference.
Also remember, contact weed killers are non-selective, so they are fatal to grass, flowers and vegetables, in fact anything they touch.
Myth 5. Cutting The Weeds Down
Some people say to cut dandelions back, and to cut them lower than a lawn mower making sure to cut all the leaves and as much of the stem as possible. By repeatedly cutting the greens back, it will prevent the plant from getting the nutrients it needs to survive, and the root will stop sending up new growth and the plant will eventually die. I’ve tried this and it has never worked!
So What Does This Leave Us?
It leaves us with combining three of the most effective dandelion killers out there.
1. Hand Pulling
2. Vinegar with 20-25% Acidic Strength
3. Pre-emergent Control
I can hear you now, “But wait a minute I thought you said that hand pulling was useless because you have to get ALL of the taproot in order for it to work.”
That’s right, when done by itself, hand pulling won’t do the job, but when you combine hand pulling with the two other products – it works wonders.
Let’s take a look at each method to see why individuallythey don’t work too well, and then I’ll show you how to effectively combine all three to get the best results.
1. Hand Pulling
Here are the pros and cons and the best way to hand pull if you’re not going to use our combination method.
Like it or not, hand pulling is one of the best ways to get rid of dandelions, or any perennial weed, because when done at the right time, you can get the entire plant and root.
The easiest and best time to pull by hand is while the plants are still small and before the taproot gets too well established or the plant flowers and sets seed.
This is usually when the plants are two weeks old or younger. After that, the taproot is growing and it gets harder.
Pulling or digging is easiest when the soil is wet because your chances of getting the entire root is very good.
Note: It’s also always a really good idea to remove any flower heads you see before they go to seed.
You must make sure you get all of the taproot since leaving behind even a small piece is enough for it to grow back.
Sometimes it’s necessary to dig out the roots with routine digging, which means you’ll probably need to repeat the process several times to ultimately get them all.
Note: One of the best tools to use is a dandelion weeder with a forked blade which helps pop the plant out of the ground.
The Best Way To Hand Pull Dandelions
1. Water the lawn or area first because weeds are more easily pulled from wet soil
2, Make an incision into the soil, down along the side of the dandelion taproot, using a dandelion weeder, a knife, or screwdriver
3. Wiggle the tool to loosen the dandelion taproot
4. Using the ground as a fulcrum, try to pry up the dandelion weed. Get a good grip on the dandelion leaves, as many of them as you can close your hand over, and use them as your “handle” on which to pull
5. Give the dandelion a gentle tug to see if the taproot is loosening
6. If the taproot is loosening, pull with even tension on the the dandelion weed until it comes out of the soil
7. If it’s not loose, then make further incisions around the taproot, wiggle and continue to tug gently at the dandelion leaves until it comes out
Here are the pros and cons and the best way to use vinegar if you’re not going to use our combination method.
According to recent studies, acetic acid, or vinegar, works very well, even on dandelions, but it must be at the correct strength.
Vinegar does not persist in the soil or cause water or other pollution.
Vinegar eats concrete so be careful if you’re using it on dandelions growing in sidewalks.
It’s non-selective so it will kill anything it touches.
Vinegar is not translocated from leaf to root in plants, so it will only burn the top foliage from the dandelions and any weeds with a well-developed system of roots below the soil won’t be harmed for long. These plants will quickly re-grow after treatment. Frequent re-treatment may allow you to manage the weeds by eventually depleting the reserve of food stored in the roots of these plants.
The Best Way To Use Vinegar
Use the right strength and in combination with hand pulling and a pre-emergent.
The best strength is at least 20% to 25% acidity, your household vinegar has only 5% to 10% acidity and is not strong enough for the job. I recommend a vinegar product called Natural Horticulture Vinegar which has a 20% acid content.
3. Pre-emergent Control
Here are the pros and cons and the best way to use a pre-emergent if you’re not going to use our combination method.
Corn gluten meal, or any product containing corn gluten, is a great organic and all natural weed pre-emergent .
It’s highly effective against all seeds.
It’s best when the entire area is already weed free and it must be put down before any new weed seeds come into the area.
It works on all seeds, so if you have a lawn or garden area that you want to put in by seed, you can not use corn gluten, because the seeds will not germinate.
The Best Way To Use A Pre-emergent
Spread corn gluten in early spring to suppress seedlings.
Finally - Let's Combine All Three Of The Above Methods
To Get Rid Of Dandelions Forever
As you can see each method, as mentioned above, (hand pulling, vinegar, and a pre-emergent), has its merits, but it’s when they are all used together that they shine.
Here's What You Do
1. Using the “Best Way To Hand Pull” method talked about above, lift out the dandelion portion that is above ground, and as much of the taproot, as you can get.
2. After you pull the dandelion root out, a small hole is left behind. Into that hole, using a baster, or syringe, carefully pour in some of the 20% to 25% vinegar in order to kill any taproot that may have broken off or been left behind down there. Get the vinegar into the hole as best as possible. Remember this is hot stuff and will burn anything it touches.
3. When your entire area is as free of dandelions as you want it, then put down the corn gluten weed pre-emergent to keep any other seeds from germinating that may blow in.
I'm sure you can see the many benefits of using this combination method because:
1. You are not using any chemicals that would be harmful
2. While it will take some time to hand pull your dandelions, you are also using the vinegar to eliminate any chance that the taproot will grow back.
3. The pre-emergent will make sure no new seeds will germinate and get established.
4. If you can’t use a pre-emergent, you should pull any dandelions as soon as you see them because if they are young they are easily dealt with.
I know this was a lot for you to read, but now you know why the question, “How do I get dandelions out of my yard?” is such a tough question to answer.
You also now know why dandelions are so hard to kill, but the exciting thing is you have a way to successfully fight back.
Good luck in getting rid of your dandelions, and I hope you enjoy your yard, lawn, or garden even more when they are gone!
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