How to Get Rid of Dandelions for Good—Plus, Expert-Approved Ways to Use the Plants
You may not love them in your yard, but dandelions can be put to work for medicinal and culinary purposes.
If you've ever blown off their fluffy seeds or used their flowers to make an elegant crown, you know the upside of having dandelions around. And yet, when it comes to your own lawn or garden, these common weeds are generally viewed as a pain. Why do so many of us have such a strong hatred of these yellow plants? "Many Americans have gotten used to a very specific idea of what a lawn should look like," says Caleb Gossen, crop and conservation specialist at the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. The preference may stem from the shift of lawns as a functional aspect of the household landscape to more of a status symbol, Gossen notes, adding that people may also be influenced by marketing campaigns from herbicide companies that promote a pristine lawn.
With that being said, it's important to note that dandelions are more than just a nuisance. "For the ecologically minded, dandelions actually provide nectar and pollen to some insects, including honeybees, and help foster diversity in your landscape," says Gossen. However, dandelions are not native to North America, and native plants are generally considered better food sources for native pollinators, he explains. Briana Wiles, author, herbalist, and practitioner of structural integration at Rooted Apothecary, adds that dandelions also help to restore the soils mineral content, and improve the health of soil.
Still tired of dealing with these invasive plants? Gossen and Wiles are here to help. We asked for their insights on how to handle dandelions in your lawn and garden, and they shared their best advice. Plus, the pros even offered a few unique ways to put these plants to good use. Who knows, you might even learn to love them in the end!
How to Get Rid of Dandelions
If your goal is to rid your yard of dandelions, one of the best methods is to create a natural herbicide consisting of distilled white vinegar. "For a stronger concoction, do one gallon of distilled white vinegar and two tablespoons of a naturally derived dish soap," says Wiles. You can also try hand-pulling. Gossen explains that "soil that has been well cared for, protected from compaction, and allowed to develop a healthy structure has greater tilth, which essentially means it is looser, making it much easier to pull a long, tap-rooted plant such as dandelion." When pulling dandelions, grab as many of the leaves as possible, aiming to grip at the crown of the plant (including the top part of the taproot), then pull straight up in a continuous, steady movement. Since they are perennial, dandelions will regrow if the taproot is left in the soil; however, if the crown snaps off, that regrowth will use stored energy from the taproot, usually shrinking and making it much easier to pull when it sprouts again. There are plenty of tools that can help get the whole taproot when gardening, but when tending to a lawn, proper mowing practices can also help.
How to Manage Lawn Dandelions
"A well-managed, thick, healthy lawn that is maintained at three inches or taller will make it harder for new dandelion seeds to contact the soil and will more readily out-compete weeds that do manage to emerge. Be sure not to cut more than one-third of the height of the grass during any single mowing," says Gossen. As dandelions are known to grow rouge, this solution may be too temporary for some. "All of the dandelions would need to be removed from the immediate area," the pro adds, noting that new dandelion seeds can travel more than half a mile in the right weather conditions.
How to Use Dandelions
Other than watching out for the rare allergy, "dandelions are safe to eat, use in medicine making, or for external applications," assures Wiles. She explains that all parts of the dandelion—from the roots to the flowering tops—are high in minerals, essential nutrients, and vitamins. The most common preparations are making dandelion greens or adding the young, raw leaves into salad blends, but other culinary uses include adding them to baked goods, using the unbloomed flower heads like capers and then frying, pickling, brining, or fermenting them for a tangy pop in dishes like puttanesca.
Dandelion leaf or root tea is also said to have benefits for liver, bladder, kidney and gut health. "The bitter taste helps to trigger digestion and breakdown of foods, which leads to better absorption of the nutrients you are putting in your body at meal time," says Wiles. She adds that the tea can be used to sooth urinary tract infections while the leaf can tame allergies by helping to dry up the mucous membranes. A good source of vitamins C and D, and beta-carotene (the precursor to vitamin A), dandelions have also been used historically as a mild pain killer and to treat heartburn, bruises, joint pain, and skin problems. For this reason, dandelions are a great ingredient in creating soaps, salves, and, as Wiles suggests, topical oils.