Gardening tips, Lawn maintenance, Pests & Diseases of Lawns,

How to get rid of dandelions in your lawn

Dandelions are pretty, but they can be unsightly if they spread too far across your lawn. Find out how to prevent them the safe way.

9 MIN 01 Jul
Last update: 09 Aug 2022
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Dandelions are those jolly, yellow-tipped flowers that sprout commonly from UK lawns, paths, and in the wild. And while they’re widely considered a weed, dandelions in your lawn could actually benefit your turf. 

However, not everyone wants dandelions popping up on their lawn, and getting rid of them is easier said than done. But don’t immediately reach for the weed killer – there are ways of dealing with the problem without spraying chemicals. 

And that’s what this article is about: how to get rid of dandelions in your lawn. But I’m also going to cover a range of interesting facts about these jolly little flowers that could benefit your health (and your turf). 

Ready? Let’s go!

What are dandelions?

Dandelion clock – Photo by Herbert Goetsch on Unsplash

Most of us know what a dandelion looks like, but do we know what a dandelion IS? While we commonly refer to dandelions as intrusive weeds, they’re actually an edible broadleaf perennial herb. And they’re found in around 60 countries across the globe. 

Historically, dandelions were exploited for their medicinal properties (yes, common-or-garden dandelions that grow in your garden could be good for you!). The entire plant offers a range of health benefits, from aiding digestion to improving and strengthening your immune system. 00

The leaves help stimulate appetite while boosting digestion and helping kidney function, and the flower offers antioxidant properties. The plant’s root helps detoxify the gallbladder and the liver. 

However, go to a registered herbalist before you rush out and eat mouthfuls of these valuable plants because over-consumption can cause an allergic reaction in some people, as well as digestive issues such as diarrhoea, heartburn or stomach discomfort in others. 

Dandelions aren’t always bad for your lawn

Dandelions can bring benefits to your garden soil. 

The taproot (more about this later) helps bring nutrients to the soil surface. This increases the soil’s nitrogen levels, which helps turn your grass green.  

Their root systems can be fairly extensive – up to 1m in length – helping aerate and loosen compacted soil. This ensures that air, nutrients and water penetrate the soil more deeply. 

Finally, dandelion roots hold your garden earth in position, minimising soil erosion. 

However:

While offering benefits, too many dandelions in your lawn will steal the water and nutrients your lawn needs to thrive. So, finding a sustainable balance is the key here. 

Are dandelions edible?

Dandelion salad
Dandelion salad – Photo by Kostiantyn Ablazov on Shutterstock

I’ve mentioned that dandelions have medicinal properties, but they’re also a popular food source, having low toxicity levels.

Winemakers ferment the flowers for wine, while the upper plant can be consumed raw or cooked, serving up a healthy vitamin boost (A, B, C, E, and K). 

But the nutritional good news goes on: dandelions contain folate, calcium, potassium, and magnesium. They’re also a rich source of polyphenolic compounds and beta-carotene, which provide antioxidants that help attack free radicals that cause cancer and other illnesses. 

However:

If you intend to eat dandelions, check first with your doctor to ensure they won’t interfere with other medications. And never ingest dandelions that have been subjected to weed killers. 

Dandelions are valuable pollinators

Bee on a dandelion
Bee on a dandelion – Photo by Jaakko Kemppainen on Unsplash

We pay a high cost for living in towns and cities in the UK, which is the loss of our valuable green spaces. And as we live in more and more artificial environments, our wildlife suffers. And, of course, when nature suffers, we all suffer because we’re all part of the food chain. 

As a result, initiatives such as No Mow May ask us to minimise mowing in the spring to help the wildlife populations – and our lawns provide valuable habitats for insects and rodents and food for pollinators such as bees.  

And dandelions are good for the bees, which – without our help – have the potential to disappear altogether. And a world without bees is effectively a world without food. 

So, dandelions in your lawn might look a little unsightly, but unless the problem is out of hand, it’s worth letting a few survive to help our wildlife thrive. 

How to recognise a dandelion?

Dandelion plant with roots
Dandelion plant with roots – Photo by RVillalon on Shutterstock

Most of us recognise the upper surface plant:

  • a stalk that releases a milky latex when it’s damaged
  • a rosette of soft leaves – mid-to-dark green
  • a distinctive yellow flowerhead
  • deep tap roots

The tap root is difficult to remove and kill completely. After all, one of the main problems gardeners experience when faced with a field full of dandelions is their hardiness.

You can remove dandelions by digging them up, but their roots are super-robust, and the plant can return from a tiny remnant that gets left in the soil. We’ll deal with more permanent removal later. 

Where do dandelions come from?

Dandelion clock releasing seed
Dandelion clock releasing seed – Photo by Herbert Goetsch on Unsplash

A dandelion’s flowering period is relatively short – they can go from flower to ripe seed within 12 days. They fruit between April and June; each flower head producing as many as 400 seeds – mostly averaging at around 180, while an entire plant can produce around 2000 seeds. 

Once the dandelion flower has been pollinated, it loses its petals, and the head of the flower slowly transforms into a “clock” – a seedhead composed of long-stalked seeds that release into the air when ready. 

When the seeds mature, the plant releases the seedhead into the air, dispersing them up to 500m away from the parent plant. And once they’ve landed, the seed can germinate immediately, at a 90% germination rate (approximately).

The seeds are incredibly robust, surviving freezing temperatures and living as long as five years underground before they finally germinate. As well as air distribution, you can find viable seeds in animal droppings, including birds.

So, this extreme fertility can be problematic for gardeners trying to rid themselves of the dandelions on their lawn because they WILL keep coming back. 

How to get rid of dandelions in your lawn

Digging up a dandelion
Digging up a dandelion – Photo by ulev33 on Shutterstock

These fertile flowering plants are challenging to control once they have set in, so mowing is often the best defence to prevent further spread. 

Mow when the plants are in flower (and before they have gone to seed). This will interrupt the lifecycle but won’t kill the plant. 

The plant develops deep taproots that are challenging to extract manually, although a “dandelion grabber” tool can potentially remove the whole root. You must remove the entire root – even a tiny fragment can sprout and produce a new cluster of shoots. 

We recommend these two approaches – mowing and digging the roots – to prevent spread, but there are other ways to kill dandelions in your lawn. 

Dig out your dandelions by hand

Although hand digging is time-consuming, it can produce excellent results. It’s best to dig them out in the spring when the first seedlings appear – that way, the roots are likely to be more shallow. 

Be careful to remove the entire taproot and re-dig if new shoots appear nearby, which could be offshoots of the original plants. 

How to remove dandelions with a herbicide

Chemical control should be a final resort because it can damage your soil. If you’re hoping to kill the dandelions in your lawn, use a selective broadleaf herbicide – this will ensure you don’t kill your grass! Spray it directly onto the leaves, following the instructions on the bottle or packet – especially regarding pet and child safety. 

Herbicides work best before the plant has flowered, after which it develops a stronger resistance to chemical killers. 

You’ll need 1-3 applications of your weed killer, which should contain:

  • 2,4-D
  • Dicamba, or 
  • Fluroxpyr

If the plants have already flowered, mow the lawn first and then spot apply the chemicals to the remainder of the plant. Respray any leaves that grow back within two weeks. You may need a third application in autumn if the leaves begin to grow back. 

Don’t add grass clippings to your compost heap after applying weed killer – the chemicals remain in your lawn for up to 9 months. 

However, continue to mow frequently to stop the remaining dandelions from flowering. 

Remove your dandelions with a pre-emergent

You can prevent seed germination with a chemical known as a “pre-emergent”, which can be applied during the winter to stop seeds germinating in the spring. 

This only works for seeds that haven’t already germinated, of course.

How to prevent dandelions in your lawn

As I’ve explained, preventing dandelions in your lawn can be extremely challenging because they’re so prevalent in the UK. 

But your best line of defence is to avoid letting any dandelions from flowering:

  • Mow your lawn regularly before the plant flowers
  • Dig up the entire root, and 
  • Overseed your lawn to prevent other weeds from taking advantage of the bare soil. 

FAQ

Why do you get dandelions in the garden?

Dandelions are prolific plants that release seeds into the air. The seeds can spread by 500m and have a 90% germination rate. This means that it’s challenging to eradicate dandelions completely. Mow your lawn before the plants flower to prevent further spread. 

How do I get rid of dandelions?

Mowing your lawn before the dandelions flower interrupts the plant’s lifecycle, preventing it from turning to seed. Alternatively, dig up the roots but be careful to dig the entire root – the plant can grow back from a tiny root fragment. Of course, you can also apply a selective broadleaf herbicide, but this should be a last resort. 

How does a taproot plug work?

A taproot grows directly downwards into the earth and is very thick. The deeper it burrows, the more it tapers into a smaller diameter. New plants often grow as offshoots of a taproot, carrying underground nutrients to the surface. 

 

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