How to Kill Dandelions

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Dandelions are the bane of any homeowner’s existence. And getting rid of them is a notoriously difficult task. 

Years ago, chemical herbicides would be recommended as the first line of defense by just about anyone who had ever wanted to kill Dandelions, but we now know that the detrimental effects of those substances render them an unacceptable solution. Even if you did want to try the chemical option, you’d have to check the bylaws of your municipality, since many are now banning the use of herbicides for cosmetic use. And, as much as we might all like to think otherwise, the dandelion issue is a purely cosmetic one. The reality is that these plants can be useful. The leaves, high in vitamins A and C and iron, can be eaten and are a flavourful addition to salads. Dandelion root can be ground and used as a substitute for coffee. The root is actually registered as a drug in Canada and sold as a diuretic. The milky substance in the stems has been used to repel mosquitoes. And the plant contains antioxidants. When you consider all of those attributes, it makes you think twice about killing them doesn’t it?

Well, maybe not.

If you do decide to take on your dandelions, get them while they’re young. With each plant producing up to 2,000 seeds per year, you’ll be most successful if you remove them before they turn to seed. And beware the taproot. It can grow to 18 inches long and if you do not get the whole root, you will not solve your problem.

Getting Rid of Dandelions is Not Easy

The most earth-friendly method of removing dandelions is also the most labour intensive: elbow grease and a shovel or special dandelion “digger” tool. The latter has a fork shape that you slide into the ground around the root. When you pull it out, the entire root comes with it. There is also a tool known as a weeder/aerator. It has prongs that you place over the centre of the weed. With a twist of the wrist, you can remove the entire weed.

Another environmentally friendly alternative is horticultural vinegar. The concentration of acetic acid is higher in this type of vinegar than in household vinegar. But this option is what they call a non-selective herbicide, that is, one that kills grass and plants along with weeds. For that reason, vinegar is best used on sidewalks, driveways and patios. Some people suggest you heat the vinegar for a little extra kick.

Another method of dandelion control is simple prevention. Corn gluten meal has proven effective in preventing new growth, but it requires planning. Corn gluten herbicides prevent dandelion roots from forming during seed germination. You need to apply this weed killer in the spring, about 4-6 weeks before the weeds germinate, and again in the fall. Because it kills plant seeds, it should not be used on newly planted grass. These herbicides are not always easy to find, so you may need to purchase them online.

There are other ways to prevent the growth of dandelions and other weeds. One is to keep your grass cut to 6-7 cm (2.5 inches). Long grass has stronger roots and shades the weed seeds that fall, preventing them from germinating. The other is to address problems in your soil. The presence of weeds indicates poor soil quality. Test the pH of your soil – the more acidic the soil, the better it is for weeds. Use compost and mulch to reduce the acidity and you will be rolling up the welcome mat for dandelions.

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