It may look like an ethereal puffball, really rather pretty, but don’t be fooled. Dandelions are tough weeds! Also known as lion’s tooth, blowball, and monk’s head, it can be a problem in gardens, lawns, pastures, and tree and vine crops. Introduced from Europe where it has been used as an herb and medicinal plant since the time of the Roman Empire, the leaves and flowers are often used to make salads, beer, and wine. Mature leaves can be dried and used to make a mild tea. Roots can be used to make stronger tea, or dried and used for various medicinal purposes, including as a mild diuretic. While it’s got beneficial uses, in our environment it’s generally considered a weed.
A perennial plant, dandelions grow best in moist areas in full sun. Once established however, it can survive some shade and dry conditions, growing year-round in Marin’s climate. It produces a strong taproot, often in the top 6 to 18 inches of the soil. Buds grow from the upper area of the root, producing a crown that can regenerate “new” plants even when the plant is cut off at or below the soil surface. Sections of the root as short as one inch are also capable of generating new plants.
The pancake flat, sunshine yellow flowers grow 6 to 24 inches tall. Flowering occurs nearly year-round in our temperate area. And those pretty puff balls? They’re the seeds just waiting to ripen and be blown to a new home. Each of those seed heads can produce 150 – 200 seeds. And get these numbers – an average of 15,000 seeds is produced per dandelion plant! If you want to eliminate this weed, remove it BEFORE it develops seeds!
Prevention is the best way to manage dandelions. A good layer of mulch – wood chips or bark, at least three inches deep, can keep seeds from germinating.
Removing by hand can be tricky because you need to get the entire plant. Remove individual new dandelion plants by digging out the entire plant, taproot, and all before they produce seed. Leave a little piece behind and it will grow into a new plant! Dandelion knives and similar specialized tools are available for removing individual weeds and their roots while minimizing soil disturbance. Watch this short video about “How to Remove Dandelions” that includes tips and tools for removing dandelions by hand.