How To Get Rid of Dandelions in Your Lawn

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The yellow flowering weed is notoriously difficult to eradicate. Read on to learn how to get rid of dandelions in your yard.

A dandelion‘s bright yellow flowers are certainly iconic, but the jagged fang-like leaves are what inspired its whimsical name, which comes from a French word meaning “lion’s tooth.” Learn your best bets for getting rid of dandelions in your yard.

What Is a Dandelion?

A dandelion is a wild broadleaf perennial herb found in all 50 states and southern Canada, as well as more than 60 other countries. In early spring, it produces yellow flowers. After that, their heads dry up and parachute-like seeds develop. These seeds are easily dispersed by the wind (and children!).

Are Dandelions a Weed?

“When growing in a pristine, well-kept lawn, a dandelion can be considered a weed,” says Dave Holmes of  The Grounds Guys. Keep in mind a weed is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a plant that is not valued where it is growing and is usually of vigorous growth.” However, dandelions do have redeeming qualities.

Are Dandelions Good for Lawns?

“Believe it or not, the answer is yes,” Holmes said. Dandelions’ robust root systems, which can be up to three feet long, can actually loosen compacted soil. That aerates and allows water and nutrients to penetrate deeper into the ground.

Dandelions also draw in nutrients from the soil and return them to neighboring plants. Finally, they can reduce erosion by holding the soil in place.

Too many dandelions, however, can rob your lawn of the water and nutrients it needs to thrive. The trick is to maintain a sustainable balance and keep dandelion numbers in check with an effective management strategy.

Can You Eat Dandelions?

Dandelion Salad Lara_Uhryn/Getty Images

Again, the answer is yes! Dandelions have long been used for food, the flowers fermented for wine and various parts harvested for medicinal purposes.

“Dandelions have low toxicity and are likely safe for most people to eat,” says Holmes. “Yellow dandelion flower petals and greens can be eaten cooked or raw and serve as an excellent source of vitamins A, C and K.

“They also contain vitamin E, folate and small amounts of other B vitamins, iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium. They are a rich source of beta-carotene and polyphenolic compounds, both of which have strong antioxidant abilities that can prevent aging and certain diseases.”

Holmes adds dandelions can cause allergic reactions in some and may interact negatively with certain medications, particularly diuretics and antibiotics. Check with your doctor before ingesting. And never eat plants that have been treated with chemical fertilizers or herbicides.

When Do Dandelions Grow in Lawns?

Although dandelions are some of the first flowers to pop up in spring when the soil temperature warms above 50 F, the flower and seed heads can be spotted most of the year, typically in soil temperatures around 75 F. However, the plants go dormant in winter.

“Though the above-ground plant may disappear, the taproot will continue to survive and produce new shoots come spring,” says Drew Wagner of Sod Solutions.

Is It Bad To Pull Dandelions?

“It may be tempting to pull dandelions out of your lawn,” Holmes says, “but you are taking away the benefits they bring to the soil and surrounding plants.” In addition, dandelion flowers are an essential source of food for bees and other pollinators. So eradicating too many of these nectar-rich flowers can have long-term negative consequences for the environment.

What Are the Best Ways To Kill Dandelions?

When you have too many dandelions, or some growing where you don’t want them, these are your options.

Pull dandelions by hand

If the problem is isolated to a few individual plants, these tips from Wagner can help.

  • Pull dandelions when they are still in flower, before they develop seed heads.
  • Water your lawn or wait until after a heavy rain, so the soil is damp and the dandelions will be easier to pull out.

  • Use a weeding tool or pointed garden trowel to help loosen the tap root in the soil, then gently pull the plant out. “If done correctly, the tap root should pull up from the soil with little tension, letting you know that you’re not breaking it,” Wagner says.

  • Carefully pour a natural herbicide or vinegar into the hole to kill any remaining portion of the taproot. These solutions will kill surrounding grass or nearby plants, so be precise.

  • Fill the hole with soil and top with turfgrass seeds, or wait to see if runners from the surrounding turfgrass plants naturally fill in the bald spot.

Pull dandelions with a weed puller

Using special dandelion pullers is a natural, selective method that can be quicker than hand-pulling and easier on your back.

  • Use when soil is damp, so taproots come up easily.

  • Position the serrated claws of the dandelion puller over the head of the flower and step down onto the foot platform to drive the tool into the ground. Pull back, letting the claws close around the plant and its taproot. Then pull it out of the ground.

  • Dandelion pullers generally leave a much smaller hole in the ground than hand pulling, so use extra care if you decide to pour herbicide or vinegar into the hole.

  • No need to fill the small hole with soil. The surrounding turfgrass will soon cover the area.

Apply chemical weed killer to dandelions

Lots of dandelions? Chemical control may be your best bet, Wagner says. Although these products are effective against dandelions and other broadleaf weeds — results can often be seen in just hours — they contain toxic chemicals that are harmful to humans and wildlife, as well as other plants. Chemical weed killers will eradicate your dandelions completely, so you’ll lose any benefits a manageable amount of plants would provide.

  • “If you decide to use a chemical to stop your dandelion problem,” Wagner says, “make sure you read the label carefully to ensure that it will not cause any damage to your lawn and is compatible with your grass type.”

  • Chemical weed killers should be applied when the plants are young and the soil is moist enough for the toxins to penetrate.

  • If your dandelions are already blooming, opt for a post-emergent broadleaf herbicide. “Most broadleaf herbicides contain 2,4-D and/or Dicamba,” Holmes says. “These two products work great when used properly but can create problems if used incorrectly, especially near sensitive plants.”

Apply natural weed killer to dandelions

There are no selective organic herbicides on the market. If you choose a natural weed killer, you have to treat each weed individually or risk harming your turfgrass and nearby plants. You can also make a DIY natural weed killer, or simply use boiling water.

  • Like chemical weed killers, natural herbicides should be applied on young dandelions and moist soil.

  • Spray individual plants, taking care to avoid the surrounding grass and nearby plants.

  • Once the plant has withered, loosen the soil around it with a hand trowel if needed and pull to remove the taproot.

Holmes suggests another non-toxic alternative. “You can also apply iron (Fe) to control dandelions, which works through iron oxidation, which causes plant necrosis that ultimately kills the weed,” he says. “This will not negatively affect the grass, and may actually have a positive effect on your lawn by turning the grass a darker shade of green.”

How To Prevent Dandelions From Coming Back

Getting rid of your dandelion plants is only half the battle. They will come back if the entire root system isn’t removed or killed. And because you’re dealing with a perennial, you can expect the same plants to pop up year after year until you use the correct lawn management strategy. Experts recommend this three-point dandelion-prevention strategy:

Fertilize

Fertilize your grass every six to eight weeks during the growing season. “Applying the right amount of nitrogen required by the grass type you have is important,” Holmes says. “A good fertility program will help grow a dense lawn that will create competition and crowd out weeds wanting to grow in the lawn.”

Mow High

This helps shade off the soil and keep weeds from germinating. “Mowing high also helps to develop a thicker and denser stand of grass that will crowd out any weeds trying to invade the lawn,” Holmes says.

Control Before Seeding

Don’t give those flowing white seed puffs the chance to take flight and land on your lawn, where they’ll germinate. “Controlling prior to the seed head stage will help to keep the dandelion population in a lawn minimal,” Holmes says.

Use corn gluten as a chemical-free pre-emergent herbicide before weed seeds germinate. Apply twenty pounds of corn gluten per 1,000 square feet of lawn, then lightly water it to aid absorption. Corn gluten will kill dandelion seeds and others as well, so use with caution. As an alternative, Wagner recommends a general broadleaf pre-emergent herbicide to stop germinating weed seeds before they start.

Rebecca Winke
Rebecca Winke moved to Italy from Chicago in 1993 and shortly thereafter took a deep dive into country living by renovating a sprawling medieval stone farmhouse and running it as a B&B for 20 years. Today, she spends her time writing about travel, culture, and food (it's Italy, after all!) for publications like The Telegraph and Italy Magazine, as well as pondering the strange winds that blew an urban vegetarian to a farm in Umbria.