If you try to keep a perfect lawn, it is an unhappy day when you walk outside and see bright yellow dandelions marring the tidy green surface. Unhappy but all too common. The dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), a consummate traveler, has dispersed throughout the northern hemisphere from its native Europe and Asia. Its survival strategies wring curses from lawn lovers: a deep tap root, a prolific number of seeds, and a feathery floating device that allows seeds to be carried far and wide.
You might be surprised to hear, though, that there are good reasons for letting them be. Dandelions attract bees (which pollinate your garden) and ladybugs (which feed on aphids); their young leaves, blossoms, and roots are edible (and have been cultivated for centuries); and their roots help break up compacted soil.
In home gardens, dandelion damage is mainly aesthetic: you’ve got yellow dots when you’d prefer an unbroken expanse of green. They may try to crowd out your vegetable or perennial beds.
If you don’t want to eat your dandelion problem, and you don’t want to just leave them be until the mower takes their heads off, you can dig them out. There are tools designed specifically for extracting a dandelion’s long tap root (one is simply called a dandelion weeder). You can also use vinegar to kill the plant, but know that it’s nonselective and will also take out any grass it touches.
The best method of dandelion control is prevention: keep your lawn healthy and dandelions will have a harder time taking hold.
—photo courtesy of the Kemper Center for Home Gardening at the Missouri Botanical Garden.