May 20, 2013

Love them or hate them, dandelions here to stay

By JOLENE WALLACE, Cornell Cooperative Extension

---- — When we lived in California, there were a few unspoken rules in our neighborhood. It was a nice neighborhood with friendly people who are still like family to us. But certain behaviors would earn you a scowl. 

The top no-no was not picking up after your pooch, and the second was letting dreaded dandelions grow in your lawn. We all know there’s no way to prevent dandelions from invading your yard, but when you have neighbors who spend hours every week manicuring their lawns, letting dandelions grow, flower and go to seed is not the courteous thing to do. 

For the home gardener in the North Country, there seems to be a different focus. Right now the dandelions are in full bloom and the bright spots of yellow look cheerful as you drive along the road. Maybe we appreciate it — from a distance — because it’s one of the first splashes of color that we get after winter. In your yard or garden bed, though, it may be another story. 

Dandelions are probably the most widely recognized plants in the world. Native to Europe and Asia, the name dandelion is from the French dent-de-lion, literally “tooth of lion,” so named for its sharply lobed leaves. It has the remarkable ability to thrive in the most unlikely places — the cracks in a sidewalk, gravel or parking lots — as well as the most likely — your flowerbed, vegetable garden and lawn.

They are fast growers and difficult to kill, due in part to their long taproot. Leave a bit of dandelion root in the ground when digging them out, and before you know it, another will have grown from that bit. If that’s not enough, the seeds — 50 to 175 of them — are carried in the breeze like parachutists. 

Besides digging out as much as you can, your best bet to control dandelions is to keep your lawn at a 3-inch to 4-inch length, which shades the sun-loving weeds. They do bloom two times a year, so like any other weed, you want to prevent them from going to seed. When it comes to dandelions, you can fight them or you can learn to love them.

It is thought that the first dandelions in America were brought by the Pilgrims, who held them in high regard as a nutritious herbal remedy for numerous ailments. They would have also served as a cheerful reminder of the land they left behind. In the many generations since that time, children have picked dandelions, proudly brought them to mom or grandma in a squished bouquet, and of course, blown the seeds while making a secret wish to be carried along on the breeze. I remember doing it myself, teaching my children to do it, and now my grandson has learned the secret of the dandelion.

Our annual perennial-plant sale is at 9 a.m. Saturday, June 1, and lasts until all the plants are gone. These are plants grown and/or divided from the gardens of our Master Gardener volunteers. The sale will be held in our parking lot at 6064 Route 22 in Plattsburgh. Call 561-7450 for information.

Jolene Wallace is the horticulture program educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. Contact her at 561-7450 or