Why does everyone want to kill dandelions?  I like dandelions.  I like that my kids go and pick them and give them to me.  I like that they break up the monotonous green of my yard.  I like that they can be used to make wine (though I’ve never had any).  I like that I can pick one and take it apart to teach my kids and the kids in my classes about the basic morphology of flowers.

I don’t like the fact that the most common herbicide used today to kill dandelions, 2,4 D, may have serious effects on the health of dogs, in part because it isn’t rapidly excreted from the dog’s body.

I also don’t like the fact that many shrubs and perennials are killed every year because of poor spraying techniques intended to kill dandelions.

But what’s most irritating to me is that we have a technique out there for controlling dandelions which is pretty darn effective, but which is almost never used.  It’s not a 100% control, probably not even an 80% control, but it still works pretty well if we’d just give it a go.  And that technique is….wise fertilization.  You see, dandelions like to be fertilized with potassium.  They love the stuff.  In fact, they love the stuff more than grass loves the stuff, so if we’d just reduce the amount of potassium we applied to our yards…we’d have fewer dandelions.

But if you just can’t get over the idea of having a yard clear of dandelions, there is a new, relatively safe, product out there that will kill them though it may take a few applications.  It is not an “organic” product – though in my estimation it’s safer than many organic products.  The active ingredient of that product is FeHEDTA, which is an iron chelate that delivers a dose of iron the dandelion can’t handle but which, apparently, grass can. This stuff is available in two products I can think of offhand – Ortho elements lawn weed killer and Whitney Farm lawn weed killer. 

But come on — dandelions are cool.  They’ve been in the US just about as long as European settlers and their descendants have — and taken over the landscape just about as effectively.  Shoot, we should probably have the dandelion as our country’s official flower! Why are we so anxious to toss ’em?

26 thoughts on “Dandelions”

  1. I was musing earlier this spring as I mowed the lawn, how yellow and beautiful the daffodils are. And how we strive to grow them. And how beautiful and yellow the dandelions are – and how we strive to remove them.

  2. Since we removed all traces of lawn from our yard, we no longer have dandelions. I do enjoy seeing them in other people’s lawns, however. Whether it’s because of their cheerful color or because I feel smug I’m not quite sure.

  3. I love dandelions… I’ve even started collecting other species. I adore T. psuedoroseum, which looks just like the regular ones, only pink! I have this crazy vision of pulling all the yellow from my grass and replacing them with pink, just to make people do a double-take when they walk by.

  4. I love dandelions, too. They’re the first flower with pollen for the early beneficial bees. Even when the grass is tall enough to mow, we leave a section of dandelions for the bees.

  5. They are also one of the few plants you see with fasciation, where the stems are fused together making an obese-looking dandelion. Fasciation is just fun to say.

  6. I loved to see dandelions in other people gardens too.
    But after I almost broke my back yesterday pulling them out of my vegetable plot I’m thinking bloody murder.

  7. The main reason I remove dandelions is peer pressure from the neighbors.

    My neighbor, a nice person, sprays his yard with Weed-B-Gone. He does keep it away from my flower beds, but he looks on disapprovingly when the dandelion seeds go sailing off into his yard.

    So I try to keep the dandelions down in the front yard, but leave them alone in the back.

  8. Could you point me to some studies regarding 2,4 d safety and dogs? Of course when I google it I come up with studies that prove/disprove both ends of the spectrum. I don’t use it personally (and I have a yard full of weeds to prove it) but I have a design client who insists on having their creeping charlie treated with it. They have a dog and small children – trying to talk them out of it!

  9. Hi Shira,

    Actually, I don’t think 2,4 D is particularly bad for humans if used carefully — we excrete it pretty quickly through our urine. Dogs don’t excrete it as rapidly, making it more dangerous for them. There are a number of papers on it — none of them prove anything, but I think the data shows that we need to be more cautious with it.

    Here’s a few old papers that may be useful:



  10. Hey Shira, have you looked into using an herbicide called Speed Zone on the creeping charlies? (might be to late though). Anyhow a commercial client left a message stating that he did not appreciate looking at the dandelions on the property when looking out his window. Yikes! Wrong time of year to treat with success but the customer is always right! Right HA! Good thing I was out of state on vacation when I got the message. This is a guy who has to have a perfect sterile lawn. He probably has green meatball shrubs too.

  11. Actually over here in Sweden we almost NO ONE goes out of their way to remove them. The constant wet over here allows for folks to easily maintain a lawn with nothing more than edging and mowing. But folks DO NOT spray to remove dandelions. Many even eat them here. I have however run across the odd ball Swede who wants that perfect monocrop culture of the perfect American Lawn, but they are a rarity. The other interesting thing folks don’t appear to do is pick up grass clippings after mowing. Once again however, the constant wet and rainyness allows the biological forces to break ip down more quickly. Unfortunately I wish the Göteborg Bontanical Gardens would pick their clippings up. It would make the growns look so much better and manicured as we expect such places to be.

  12. I have been a “maintenance” gardener/designer for 30 years. Recently I have been working with a client with a very large lawn area infested with clover. Based on recommendations from a gold course manager we called a licensed pesticide applicator in to spray with Speed Zone. He did not want to because of his concerns for the 2,4-D. His concern was the residual affects on adjacent trees and shrubs and how long the toxicity of the chemical stays in the grass. Based on his recommendations, we manually removed the clover and took plugs of the grass from healthy areas to fill the bare areas. Though the labor was expensive the cost of spraying would have been higher with no guarantee. Now reading of the concerns for dogs and 2,4-D, and the client has a dog she loves to play with on the lawn, I’m especially grateful we stayed away from chemical spraying.

  13. @Timeless Envirnoments

    Well, that’s because dandelions are native to Europe. Well, they’re native to NA as well, but not the weedy, invasive ones. They’re a problem because they take over forest floors.

  14. The “Perfect American Lawn” strikes me as funny. Maybe that is a city thing, but out in the country there is no such thing as the perfect lawn. We just mow what we have and call it a yard. We have mostly weeds, actually like the clover, and yes the dandelions too. We leave the grass clippings, hardly ever fertilize or lime and are very happy with what we have.

  15. @plantman

    Actually plant man you don’t really find them in the forest floors here. In fact with all the science-based industrial forestry that goes on in Sweden, you don’t find many things living on the forest floors here. Not even Squirrels or birdlife.

    But most folks here accept them as part of a lawn’s natural look.

  16. One of the happiest sights in our neighborhood (to me & my kids, anyway) is the arrival of dandelions in the public lawn areas. My kids are teen & pre-teen, and as such come with a good deal of sarcasm & snark. But dandelions turn them into smiling sweethearts again, picking the sunny yellow flowers for me, or picking the seedheads to make wishes. Only a small bit of this enthusiasm comes from their love of The Hunger Games – anyone who’s read the series understands that dandelions are a symbol of hope & promise.

  17. For some reason my significant other HATES dandelions and is convinced that the rest of the neighborhood is mocking us behind our backs due to the large number of them that we have in the little lawn we have left. Up here in North Dakota though, they’re the only thing blooming this time of year and I think they look really pretty. We’ll probably try one of the weed killers you mentioned though and use it selectively on the dandelion intensive parts of the lawn.

  18. Removing dandelions is jusgt one of the absolutely arbitrary & absolutely destructive things that Americans have been doing on their way to destroying the environment over decades. Ladybugs need dandelions, bees need clover, birds need insects to eat. All those things go together naturally because once they all existed together. Now people have to buy ladybugs to make up for the fact that we’ve decimated their food supply & so are over-run with pests. Then we waste millions of gallons of water artificially nurturing lawns that benefit no one.
    Scotts Miracle-Gro — the bird-killing company?
    The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company pleads guilty to knowingly selling poisoned birdseed and lawn and garden care products containing undocumented pesticides to an
    unsuspecting public

  19. I’m not dandelion-obsessive, but I don’t like to see them in my lawn. A lawn is a grass garden, no different from a flower garden. I want what I put there to be there, and I don’t want anything else. I nicely mowed green lawn is a thing of beauty, just like a field of prairie wildflowers is. A lawn is no different than a row of shrubs, or a bed of flowers. And most anti-lawn talk seems to be a nasty class bigotry at heart. I’ve heard people say they didn’t like a Latino business district – all those ghastly garish colors they paint with! Same thing.

  20. @SecretGardener, I hope you realize that the common yellow dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is not native to North America: four centuries ago we would have called it an “invasive species” if that designation existed back then. The point is: systems adapt to new species to the extent that native species may become reliant on the newcomers for food or other habitat use.
    @MarkB, aesthetics aside, a lawn is nothing like a field of wildflowers: it’s more like a field of wheat, as both are maintained as monocultures and not mixtures of diverse species. And while I agree there is a certain class bigotry in the lawn wars, for me it’s an issue of the costs associated with keeping a lawn green through our droughty Seattle summers.

  21. I don’t know how much I can quote of “Dandelions” by Howard Nemerov (Collected Poems, University of Chicago, 1977), but the first four lines should suffice: “These golden heads, these common suns
    Only less multitudinous
    Than grass itself that gluts
    The market of the world with green,”

  22. Is the iron chelate safe for earthworms? I was using an OMRI iron product for slugs in my garden but it seemed to be reducing the earthworm population. Was it my imagination?

Leave a Reply