Growing dandelion from seed

Wildflowers UK, bringing the British Countryside to you.

Perfect for pollinators
Dandelion –Taraxacum officinale– is a familiar garden plant and useful for a mini-meadow or flowering lawn. Plants grow well on most soils including fertile ones and can be introduced into short grass. Here the bright yellow flowers are very attractive to bees. Dandelion is a low growing species with a long flowering period from March to October. The flowers are followed by the familiar fluffy seed-heads often referred to as ‘clocks’. Dandelions look best growing alongside other low growing meadow plants such as Lawn Daisy, Speedwell, Bulbous Buttercup, Self heal, Forget-me-nots, Birdsfoot trefoil, and Cowslips.
How to grow Dandelion Seeds
Dandelion seeds should be sown in spring or autumn, either outside, where they are to flower, or in seed trays and covered very lightly with compost. Dandelion seeds are usually easy to germinate and the seedlings, which are quick to develop, can be pricked out and grown on, for planting out later in the year into grassland or flowering lawns.
RHS Perfect for Pollinators.
The RHS Perfect for Pollinators mark is only given to plants that support pollinating insects in gardens. Bees, butterflies, moths, hoverflies and many others visit flowers to feed on nectar and pollen; while doing so they transfer pollen and increase seed set and fruit development. Find out more at:
To discover more plants for Bees, simply enter the word “pollinators” into the search box above.
To Buy Dandelion seeds
To purchase Dandelion seeds please select a quantity above and click add to cart. To ensure the best chance of success, we sell all of our wildflower seeds by weight, which ensures each wildflower seed packet contains a good quantity of seeds. The recommended sowing rate is 1 gram per square metre, and the number of Dandelion seeds per packet is approx. 8000. All of our Wildflower seed packets contain seeds of Native British provenance.
type – perennial,
colour – Yellow,
height – 5 to 30cms,
flowering months – March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October
habitat – Dry Grassland (clay, loam), Moist Grassland (Clay, Loams),
Attracts bees

Dandelion Seed Growing: How To Grow Dandelion Seeds

If you’re a country dweller like myself, the thought of purposely growing dandelion seeds may amuse you, especially if your lawn and neighboring farm fields are bountiful with them. As a kid, I was guilty of propagating dandelions from seed by blowing the seeds off dandelion heads – and I still do, on a whimsy, as an adult. The more I learned about these perennial herbs, however, the more I began to appreciate them and saw them less as a pesky weed and more as an amazing plant in their own right.

Did you know, for instance, that the leaves, flowers and roots of dandelion are edible or that the dandelion has purported medicinal properties? Bees and other pollinators also rely on them for a nectar source early in the growing season. It’s true! So, what are you waiting for? Let’s find out how to grow dandelion seeds and when to sow dandelions!

Propagating Dandelion from Seed

It is said that there are over 250 species of dandelion in existence, though the variety known as “common dandelion” (Taraxacum officinale) is the one that is most likely populating your lawn and garden. Dandelions are quite resilient and, as such, can withstand a lot of less than ideal growing conditions.

If you’re growing dandelion as a food source, however, you will want to grow it in conditions that are conducive for yielding high quality, and hence better tasting, dandelion greens. And by better tasting, I am alluding to the bitterness factor. The taste of dandelion is a bit on the bitter side.

Hardy to zone 3, dandelions grow in sun or shade, but for better tasting greens a partial to full shade location is ideal. The best soil for dandelion seed growing is characteristically rich, fertile, well-draining, slightly alkaline and soft down to 10 inches (25 cm.) deep because dandelion roots grow deep.

Seeds can be obtained from seed companies or you can try propagating dandelions from seed by collecting seeds from the heads of existing plants once the head transforms into a globe-shaped puffball. Now, let’s talk about planting seeds of dandelion.

How to Grow Dandelion Seeds

You may be wondering when to sow dandelions in the garden. Seeds can be sown anytime from early spring to early fall. In terms of spacing, it is recommended to maintain a spacing of 6-9 inches (15-23 cm.) between plants in rows 12 inches (30 cm.) apart for dandelion seed growing. If your intent is to just grow young leaves for salads in a continual harvest, then sowing seeds more densely in short rows every few weeks would be a workable alternative.

To help boost germination rates, you may want to consider cold stratifying your seeds in the refrigerator for a week or so prior to planting seeds of dandelion. Given that dandelion seeds require light for germination, you will not want to completely submerge your seeds into soil – just lightly tamp, or press, the seeds into the soil surface. Another tip for good germination, and for a tastier crop, is to keep the planting area consistently moist throughout the season. Seedlings should appear within two weeks after the seeds are sown.

Planting Container Grown Dandelion Seeds

The process for growing dandelions in pots isn’t much different than for growing in the garden. Use a pot with drainage holes that is at least 6 inches (15 cm.) deep, fill it with potting soil and locate it in a bright indoor area.

The width of your pot, the number of plants you grow in that pot and how densely they are planted really depends on your purpose for growing them. For example, you will want to give plants you intend to grow to maturity a bit more space than those you are growing just for salad greens. One recommendation is to space seeds 2-3 inches (5-7.6 cm.) apart in the container for full grown greens, more densely for baby greens.

Lightly sprinkle a scant of potting soil over the seeds, just barely covering them, and keep the soil consistently moist. Fertilizing occasionally throughout the growing period with a general purpose fertilizer will also give the dandelions a boost.

The dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, is a little perennial with a pretty yellow flower. It is one of the most nutritious plants you can grow for your tortoise. Because this dandelion is not a desert plant, it will need your support to become established. It maintains a low profile¸ except when blooming. Don’t worry, tortoises of all sizes, yes, even hatchlings will find the dandelions even when they are growing among the blades of grass. If you have small juveniles, remember to keep your grass as short as you can without causing is to scorch. Small Juveniles can become exhausted walking through “tall” lawn grass and may die of overheating.

Harvest the fluffy seed heads when they are ready to fall apart in your hand. Keep them dry until you are ready to sow them. If you are creating a patch of dandelions, in a baby tortoise area, or as decorative clumps in your flower bed, keeping the soil moist may be a challenge during hot weather. Soil preparation will be vital for holding moisture and allowing the roots to grow deeply. Dig down at least the length of your shovel blade, loosen the soil, remove the rocks, and incorporate organic matter such as composted mulch. When creating a patch of dandelions, plant your pinch of seeds at least 8″ apart. Thin as necessary and when established, feed with liquid fertilizer.

If you plan to have the plants scattered in the lawn, you should have success even during hot weather if your lawn is irrigated at least every other day. When the soil of the lawn or grass patch is moist, spread the blades of grass, scrape out and collect the soil from a patch about the size of a 50-cent piece and about 1″ to 11/2” deep. An old tablespoon is good for this. Water the hole. Place a little indoor potting mix in the hole then a pinch of seeds, fluff and all, add a bit more potting mix and then the excavated soil. Press lightly in place and sprinkle with water. For the first week, sprinkle with water once a day. One way or another the soil must be kept damp around the seeds.

The seed catalogs are coming in and that gave me and my brother-in-law something to talk about over the holiday weekend. Since when did mega-seed selling Burpee stop selling dandelion seed? We couldn’t find it in the 2015 catalog. Brother-in-law went over to his shelf and pulled out the 2014 catalog. Nope. (Full disclosure: They do have dandelion listed online. Go figure.)

This seemed strange because growing bitter herbs, dandelion among them, is once again all the rage because of their reported health benefits. Besides dandelion’s super-rich vitamin content, it’s also — like most bitter plants — known to be a digestive aid and detoxifier. It’s said to give a healthy boost to the immune system. Dandelions have something of a cult-following among gardeners, the health-conscious, and gourmets who cherish the greens in the same way they cherish radicchio, another bitter plant.

That’s the other thing. The bitter foods category is so large that it’s easy to add them to your diet. All of us who use horseradish, enjoy coffee and chocolate, like a mixed green salad, or drink herbal tea are already consuming bitter foods.


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We’ve always thought of bitter herbs as something of a tonic, coming as wild greens at the first hint of spring. Of course, they have a deep and well-known spiritual connection and are often present in various rituals, celebrations, and holidays from a variety of cultures. Living back-when on a hippie homestead, I saw the steaming of the first nettle shoots we picked on the south side of the barn as a passage that marked winter’s loosened grip. We also ate early, small dandelion greens in salads before they got big. Later in the season, we’d dig a few roots, hose them off, and dry them to later grind for tea.

We didn’t spray or otherwise spread chemicals so we knew the greens were safe. Nor did we have to encourage them. They just came up.

Count yourself lucky if you have or know of a good-sized natural lawn or field that isn’t sprayed with herbicides, pesticides, and other compounds you’d like not to eat. When foraging food, consider what’s going on nearby as well. If they’re spraying next door you can be sure of some drift. Even public park lands and forests may not be safe.

So why not grow some dandelions? In a way, it’s the most ironic plant; hunted and sprayed out of lawns across America. Luckily, people are starting to embrace the idea of a chemical-free lawn and better ways to control dandelions if you choose to control them at all. Maybe the best control is harvest.

Grow them in the garden and you control moisture, soil quality, and sunlight. Using commercial heirloom types from France, Italy, or elsewhere makes for better eating that your common lawn weed. Like any green, they like a rich, well-drained soil. But they pretty much grow themselves.

Better yet, they can be started in a container, indoors, so you can plant them now here in January and be harvesting tender leaves sometime after Valentine’s Day. I’ve read where some growers transplant roots to pots come early fall then force the greens indoors under lights for salads and garnishes in and around the December holidays. It’s like having your own endive. Some heirloom types will grow leaves 10 to 12 inches in length. Raise them indoors and harvest when the leaves are a tender 3 inches or so long.

There are many other bitter greens you can grow, some of which, such as parsley and radish and many loose, leaf lettuces, you might already plant. Horseradish is a long-time garden favorite and easy-to-grow depending on your conditions. The seeds and flowers of many herbs, frequently served as teas, are bitter.

Smaller, local heirloom growers like Nichols Garden Nursery in Oregon’s Willamette Valley often carry dandelion seed. Baker Creek has a couple types listed online. You might check here.

My brother-in-law thought that the relative lack of popularity for growing dandelion was due to its villainization in hundreds-of-thousands of lawn company ads, and the culinary rise of arugula and kale, both considered healthy, bitter greens. You can buy them by the bag at the grocery store, he marveled.

I told him that dandelion greens were getting big with farm-to-table chefs, both in big cities and country destinations. Gourmets were always looking for the next big thing — how do you think that kale and arugula got so big? — and dandelion was about to have its day. As proof, I told him about a dish a friend claimed to have eaten in a Pacific Northwest restaurant. It featured sauteed dandelion flower buds, fat and tightly closed, tasting a bit of artichoke (another bitter plant). My brother-in-law, a steak-and-potatoes guy, only shook his head.


Herb Seed

DAYS TO GERMINATION: 7-21 days. Germinates better in cool soils.
SOWING: Direct seed (recommended): Direct seed anytime after the last spring frost or plant 6 weeks before the first frost in the fall. Sow shallowly, as seed requires some light to germinate, one seed per inch. Thin plants to 4-6″ apart in rows 12-18″ apart.
Transplant: Can be sown in flats and transplanted outdoors at anytime. If you are growing for roots, it is best not to transplant, as transplanting disturbs the root shape.
DISEASE: Dandelion leaves are sometimes prone to mildew, which is exacerbated by humidity and any kind of plant stress. To reduce the likelihood of mildew, keep the soil moist, minimize overhead irrigation, and space plants at recommended distance to allow for good air circulation between the plants. Mildew on the leaves reduces root growth in proportion to the severity of the mildew.
SOIL REQUIREMENTS: Adaptable to most soil types, but produces larger roots in a rich, deep, moist soil.
HARVEST: Leaves are harvested when they are still tender and sweet, before flowering, during the first year.
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Taraxacum officinale

How to Grow Dandelion:

Dandelion is a plant that is slightly bitter in taste, yet is very edible and provides a taste of spring. Both the root and flower are very edible and safe to eat and cook into other, already-existing dishes that you already make for added flavor and tang. Dandelion can be grown outside in the garden or in pots in the house, either way they provide a great herb and a great, tangy tool for cooking with and adding unique flavors to already-existing dishes.

Dandelions are considered a non-invasive weed and are according to the Department of Agriculture they are a plant hardiness of a level 3 which means they endure many conditions far as weather and climate very well and still grow well.

Seed Sowing Depth: Each plant should be provided at least 6″ of soil with in which they will grow and that is for a single dandelion plant. Each seed should be planted about 1/16 of an inch under the top layer of the soil. In most cases the best practice is to surface sow however.

When to Sow: Dandelions can be sown indoors any time of year in a pot of varying sizes depending on how many plants are there as to how much room they will need. Plants being grown outside should be planted after the last hard frost for a harvest in early summer (June) and another in mid-September. All flowers must be harvested by first frost to ensure they are healthy as possible. April to September are ideal months and climates for dandelions to be grown during and the average crop can be harvested about two (2) times during this period.

Sowing Indoors/Outdoors: Dandelion will do well either inside or outside. Either way, the plant will need adequate room to grow. Either way each plant will need about 1 1/2 inches between each plant and will need about 6″ deep of soil to grow adequately whether inside or outside. Growing plants inside will require one to obtain wider pots if they wish to grow more than one dandelion plant in each pot. Outside, spreading plants adequately is vital to avoid overcrowding.

Plant Height & Width: Each dandelion will be between 5 and 40 cm tall depending on the variety of dandelion being grown. They are also resilient plants that grow just about anywhere from gardens to roadsides to meadows and back again. Some may consider them a “weed”, but their greens can have many health benefits and are use for cooking and medicinal purposes throughout the entire world.

Leafs Color & Description: Dandelions are tall, skinny plants with either yellow or white flowers on the end depending on the variety being grown. The leaves are long and thin, lush green color and are sharply circular in shape with sharp pieces protruding in a jagged pattern, yet they are soft leafs and do not poke when being picked.

Growth Habits: Dandelions grow rapidly until they are about 5 to 40 cm tall and 4 cm wide depending on the variety of plant being grown. Dandelions grow with symmetrical heads that are scarily equal on both sides. The basal teeth provide long, lobed leaves that provide the plant with more of a symmetrical look than most other flowers out there.

General Info on Dandelions & Uses: Dandelion has a variety of uses including an ability to treat many illnesses including loss of appetite, upset stomach, intestinal gas, gallstones, joint pain, muscle aches, eczema, and bruises to name a few conditions that are treated with dandelion. Dandelion also increases urine production and can be used in vast quantities as a laxative to produce extra bowel movements. It also serves as a blood tonic, skin toner, and digestive tonic. Dandelion is also shown to decrease swelling.

Beside it’s medicinal effects the dandelion is used for cooking in many dishes and cultures including the dandelion greens which are often a popular vegetable as a side-dish to a meal. Dandelion greens can be mixed with a variety of spices to provide varying tastes with a variety of health benefits that come with them. Sometimes something simple as mixing dandelion greens with salt and pepper make a tasty side when sauteed with other foods that are being served for a meal.

Many dandelion roots also make great side dishes to other main meal courses.

Many other people view the dandelion as nothing more than a nuisance that needs to be removed from their lawn. In that case, cut grass about 3/4 inch long and leave the dandelions inadequate room to grow when they are overgrowing the lawn and causing problems where they do not belong. Dandelions are weeds and while great in gardens and in purposes for food they can also be a pain when growing in places where you had no intentions of them growing in the first place.

Pests & Diseases in Dandelions: Dandelions are quite resilient plants and are not subject to too many different issues. Most dandelions can grow in virtually every season and are pretty resilient to every temperature including sometimes frosts. Dandelions are, in reality, a form of “weeds” that grow in a variety of conditions and can grow out of control if they are not controlled as seeds are germinated and moved just by the wind blowing them from one plant to another that is able to grow in similar conditions in a proximal area.

While the most dandelions grow in the spring, they can germinate in any season and in a variety of temperatures including hot weather and cooler weather alike. Many will re-flower in the fall after the initial blooming period is over. Each plant will grow for 5-10 years and can reach quite a decent size when their growth cycle is uninterrupted.

Harvesting & Storage Information: Dandelions can be harvested as anything from a diuretic to something that helps make wines and anything in between. Dandelions, however, are a relatively mild laxative compared to other over-the-counter or doctor prescription medications and are able to be used for those who prefer a more natural approach to medicinal bowel relief.

To store your dandelion greens clip the leafs from the dandelions and store them in a cool, dry atmosphere airtight bags or containers to keep them fresh longer. These greens can also be stored in the fridge for several days and up to 2 weeks to keep them “fresh” for purposes like creating salads and other fresh vegetable delights. For more preserved leafs that will last up to a month cook or saute them lightly on the stove top and mix them with some spices and other greens to make a great mixture of vegetables that can be served alongside carbohydrate and meat dishes to complete meal and provide many great nutrients and nutritional benefits that otherwise might be completely missed.

Many various dandelion greens have a bitter taste to them which can be softened by other spices that are added to them through salads or even when sauteing them. Balancing the flavors with other great choices like lemon or lime and providing dressings and salt/pepper as a topping can help make dandelion greens taste great while you enjoy all of the awesome health benefits that the plant has to offer.

Dandelion is a plant that grows in the wild in most fields, pastures, and gardens of course.

A summary of key dandelion facts

Name – Taraxacum officinalis
Family – Asteraceae
Type – perennial
Height – 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm)
Exposure – full sun, part sun
Soil – ordinary
Harvest – 10 to 12 months after sowing

Even though it is considered a weed, it can actually be grown and eaten in salad, both leaf and flower.

  • Read also: dandelion: more than just a weed
  • Health: dandelion health benefits and therapeutic properties

Sowing dandelion

Dandelion can be sown right as spring starts, ideally after any risk of freezing has disappeared.

Dandelion can thus be sown from March to July.

  • Break up the soil on an inch (a couple centimeters) or so, to lighten up the ground.
  • Dig furrows 1 inch (2 to 3 cm) deep every 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm).
  • Drop 2-3 seeds in seed holes every 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm) and cover thinly with soil.
  • Water regularly to ensure that the ground stays damp.

After sprouting:

  • Thin to keep only 1 plant per seed hole, the strongest and most vigorous one.
  • Keep watering if it doesn’t rain.

Caring for dandelion

Dandelion requires extremely little care, it is much more famous for its hardiness and vigor than it is for being weak and frail…

You can run the hoe along often to remove the true weeds that might alter the proper growth of your dandelions.

  • Dandelion tolerates rather poor soil, no need to add fertilizer.
  • Cut flowers as they appear to trigger budding of new flowers all season long.
  • Water in case strong of heat waves and/or heavy drought.

Blanching dandelion

Blanching dandelion means covering the plants to cut them off from light for a while, to reduce the bitterness of their leaves.

It’s possible to blanch the dandelion by covering it with an opaque garden cloche, a wooden box, empty flower pot or an opaque sheet of plastic.

It you don’t have any of this, simply pile up some straw or dried leaves on the dandelion should be enough to blanch it.

Dandelion before winter

It is recommended to cut all the dandelion leaves 1 inch (3 cm) from the crown and ridge each plant with a thick layer of soil, about 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm).

Harvesting dandelion

For the dandelion, one can harvest leaves, flowers and even the root. Nothing in the dandelion goes to waste!

Harvesting dandelion leaves

Dandelion leaves are harvested in spring, while they are still young, for use raw or in mixed salads.

When cooking the leaves, you can harvest anytime during the year.

Harvesting dandelion flowers

The dandelion flowers are harvested in spring when the inflorescence is well formed.

Cut the capitulum, breaking off the small stem with a sharp pull.

You can used it to decorate both mixed salads and desserts, and cook it to make delicious dandelion jelly.

Types and varieties of dandelions

  • ‘Ameliore de Montmagny’: easy to force, very wide leaves.
  • ‘Ameliore a coeur plein’: dense rosette.

Cooking with dandelion

With particularly high levels of vitamin C and beta-carotene, dandelion leaves are very interesting in salads, soups, and infusions.

The leaves and the roots of dandelion are both edible.

Flowers can bring a surprising decorative touch thanks to their golden yellow color, and they are simply delicious when added to jelly and jam.

  • Read also: Dandelion: more than just a weed

Biology of Dandelions

By Johnny Caryopsis (Click thumbnails for more images.)

Name Derivation

OK, let’s get one of the most pressing aspects of Dandelion biology out of the way first, their name. “Dandelion” is an English corruption of the French name for this plant: “dent de lion” meaning “lion’s tooth”, a reference to the tooth-like serrations on the plant’s leaves. It was known as lion’s tooth in other Latin based languages in Europe, too, so the English corruption may have evolved separately numerous times.

It’s scientific name is Taraxacum officinale. The Genus name “Taraxacum” is thought to have been derived from a Persian word for the plant: “tarashaquq”. It was recognized and used by Persian pharmacists around 900 A.D. (Thanks, Wikipedia.) The species name “officinale” derives from the Latin “officina”, an office, store-room or pharmacy. Dandelion is recognized for a number of medicinal properties (see below).


Click for images.

The Dandelion is an herbaceous perennial growing from a thick, unbranching tap root. The deeply toothed leaves are basal, meaning they don’t grow up on stems, but emerge from the crown of the plant at ground level. The bright yellow flowers (do you really need a description?) grow on hollow stalks that may hug the ground or reach as high as 70 cm. The flower head is actually a tightly packed mass of many tiny florets (individual flowers), typical of the entire family of plants, the Asteracea. Each petal represents a single flower. The plants have a milky latex that oozes out if leaves or stems are broken.


Dandelions are native to Eurasia, but have been introduced to North America, South America, India (where it hadn’t reached naturally), Australia, New Zealand and probably anywhere else where Europeans, the people, have migrated. It’s thought that the introduction of this species to North America was intentional, as people wanted a flower that reminded them of their old homes, and as it was used medicinally. Once out of the bottle, though, the genie proved uncontrollable.

Alien invasive species have a great edge over native species, be they plant or animal, largely because the invasive or introduced species generally arrives in a new land without its predators, pests and diseases in tow. They have an unfair advantage over native species which have an extensive array of things that like to eat or kill them that have evolved in place with the natives.

Dandelion Relatives

Click for images.

The evil Eurasian Dandelion has lots of close cousins around the world, which often closely resemble it, which is bad for the native varieties, as they get lumped in with and sometimes persecuted along with “Dandelions, the weed”. For example, in North America there are various species of False Dandelion (Agoseris spp.) whose flowers look like classic Dandelion flowers, but which have quite different leaves. The rounded, compact, multifloreted, yellow flower is actually pretty standard as far as plants in the Cichoriaceae (a taxonomic tribe) go.

Life Cycle

Dandelions grow from seeds and do not spread asexually from stolons or runner; they have a single tap root. However, they can and do reproduce asexually by seed. They are capable of producing viable seed without need of cross-fertilization, a process known as “apomixis”. The resulting progeny, also capable of apomixis, are basically clones of the parent plant. Most of the seed production in Dandelions is due to this process. In other words, how many Dandelions does it take to cover your entire lawn? Only one, given a little time.

Dandelions tend to flower most abundantly in spring, but can re-flower in the fall, too. Flowers open in the morning and tend to close up at night. After a couple of days in flower they close and the seeds develop inside the closed head. The seeds, technically a fruit called a “cypselae” are produced on the flower stalk with each seed representing one of the florets in the flower head. Each has a pappus, a set of feathery bristles that act as a sail or parachute ensuring distribution of the seed by the wind. (What kid doesn’t know that?) As the seeds mature the flower stalk elongates greatly, raising the fluffy seed head up into the breeze.

Click for images.

When a seed germinates it produces a rosette of tiny leaves close to the ground surface and concentrates on growing a deep tap root. By the time you see a dandelion plant it is well established, which is why it seems you can never get rid of all the Dandelions in your lawn. There’s always a new generation in the waiting. Individual plants can grow for 5-10 years and reach a considerable size, up to 50 cm across. (Just check out the ones behind your neighbour’s garage!)

As Food and Drink

Did you know you can make wine out of Dandelions? There are lots of recipes for making Dandelion wine on-line. Or that the young leaves go great in salads? In fact, the family of plants that the Dandelion belongs to also includes lettuce! If you let a lettuce plant go to flower in your garden you’ll see what I mean. And the roots of dandelions can serve as a coffee substitute when baked and ground. (Hint: if you are a real coffee aficionado, don’t try this.) Hey, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade, or in this case if you have a yard full of Dandelions eat’em and drink’em. Apparently, you can make green and yellow dyes from the flowers, too.

Medicinal Use

The root of Dandelion is said to be diuretic (makes you pee). Some of its other common names suggest this quality: Pee-a-bed and Wet-a-bed. It is also reported to be a mild laxative, and the milky latex has been used as mosquito repellent. As always, use caution when using any plant for medicinal purposes. Read up on their properties and possible interactions with drugs or other medications.

Controlling Dandelions

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As anyone with a lawn knows, Dandelions are prodigious plants, producing copious amounts of seeds which blow into your yard from your neighbours’ yards. (You know, the lazy guy on one side who won’t bother with his yard and the nature-nut on the other side who thinks Dandelions are “cool”. Why can’t everybody be like you.) If you’re bent on getting rid of Dandelions in your lawn, here’s a few tips:

  • Don’t cut your grass so short! Never cut grass shorter than 5 cm and don’t cut more than 1/3 of the blade length at a time. When you scalp your grass you let more light in for Dandelions to grow!
  • Don’t use fertilizers! Dandelions and other weeds are better at sucking up fertilizers than the grass! Encourage plants like clovers to grow in the lawn providing natural sources of nitrogen fertilizer.
  • When using a weed poker carry a cold beer in the other hand, make weeding more enjoyable!

If you really hate “the environment” then go ahead and use chemicals to control Dandelions, just do it properly! Weed killers containing 2,4-D work well on Dandelions. But the best time to use them is in the fall when the plants are transferring resources into their roots in preparation for winter. A fall herbicide application may not seem to be doing much visually at first, but come spring the effects will be far superior to a spring or summer application. If you’re going to use 2,4-D read this article first: 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid.

Biological Control

Why not biological control? Isn’t there some little bug or disease in Eurasia that we could transplant to North America to go to work on our dandelions? Unfortunately, no one has yet to come up with any magic bullet for Dandelions. One of the main factors limiting work on biological controls is the fear of releasing yet another alien invasive into the North American ecosystem. People are so worried about releasing something that might have unforeseen consequences that they place huge road-blocks to doing so, to the extent that biological controls researchers are largely ham-strung.

A fungus, Sclerotinia minor, has shown some efficacy in controlling Dandelions, both by itself and with lower, sub-lethal doses of 2,4-D, but it’s still a long way from becoming a truly effective bio-heribicide. (Bad News for Dandelions)

Some researchers have suggested that Dandelions are poor competitors for potassium. Limiting potassium in fertilizer regimes may help weaken Dandelions. (Biological Weed Control via Nutrient Competition: Potassium Limitation of Dandelions)

Economic Consequences

What is the cost to our society due to Dandelions? Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an up-to-date accounting. Some older sources quote figures for the costs related to residential weed control; that includes more than just Dandelions, but that species is the single most important residential weed. Numbers in the BILLIONS of dollars are thrown around! Do Dandelions have much impact on agricultural weed control? Well, they’re not among the worst agricultural pests, but they can be a problem. And how much do farmers spend on herbicides? BILLIONS and BILLIONS.

Final Thoughts

The war on dandelions is a war we cannot win. These plants are here to stay. By developing more environmentally sound lawn and yard care practices we can limit the populations of Dandelions somewhat, but face it, they are now a part of our landscape. And remember, it’s just a little plant, it’s not the second coming of Satan. Take a deep breath, relax and enjoy your lawn more. Life’s too short to get all bent out of shape by a little plant.

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Thanks for learning about Dandelions! Bye for now!

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Out My Backdoor: In Defense of Dandelions

By Terry W. Johnson

One of the most interesting plants that grows in Georgia backyards is often either overlooked or scorned.

This plant doesn’t need an introduction; it is known by most of us. We know it as the dandelion. It is hard to believe that a plant that has fed and healed mankind for thousands of years is now considered by most Americans to be nothing more than a lowly weed; a weed so terrible that, in the minds of many, it should be eliminated at all costs. Indeed, time has not been kind to the dandelion.

The story of the dandelion begins thousands of miles away from Georgia. Botanists aren’t sure, but they believe the dandelion is native to Europe or the Mediterranean. What we do know is that the dandelion is a vagabond that has made its way to the far corners of the world.

Its journey has been abetted by humans. With our help, the dandelion made its way to the British Isles, north to Scandinavia and east to the Orient. Vikings carried it in their longboats to Greenland. Puritans brought it along with them to the New World and planted it in their herb gardens. French, Dutch and German colonists did likewise. When the first settlers moved westward they, too, transported the plant with them all the way to the Pacific Coast.

When the first shots of the Civil War were fired, dandelions were already growing in the Deep South. Today, the dandelion occurs across the entire lower 48 states northward to Canada and in much of Alaska. You are probably scratching your head and asking yourself, “Why did so many people go to so much trouble to bring the dandelion with them wherever they traveled?” The answer is really quite simple. To our forefathers, the dandelion was a valuable source of medicine and food, and could even be used to make wine and beer.

Dandelion greens have long been a relished food. They were eaten by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Throughout Europe, dandelion leaves have long been eaten. The dark green leaves and sliced roots are often served on buttered white bread. Dandelion flowers are dipped in batter and fried to make a tasty dessert. During the War Between the States, Confederate soldiers used dried dandelion roots as a substitute for coffee. For thousands of years dandelions have been eaten because they are delicious. Nutritionists now tell us the plant is also a great source of iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium and carotenoids, as well as vitamins A, B, C and D. In fact, the dandelion contains 25 times more vitamin A than tomato juice.

For centuries the dandelion also has been considered a natural medicine chest. It earned this reputation because it was commonly used to help relieve arthritis and as a laxative. The plant’s milky sap has been employed to remove pimples and warts. Other medicinal uses of the plant include improving appetite, and treating heart and liver diseases, gallstones and jaundice. If that isn’t enough, dandelions were once thought to be able to ward off witches.

It is believed this hardy plant is named dandelion because the jagged edges of its leaves look like the teeth of a lion. In China, it is called Nail in the Earth. Over the centuries, it has also gone by a number of other colorful names such as Irish Daisy, Peasant’s Cloak and Devil’s Milk Plant.

A perennial, dandelions have a long taproot and leaves that rest on or close to the ground. This hinders other plants from growing nearby. Its bright yellow flowers are displayed on hollow stems. On bright, sunny days, dandelion blossoms open by 8 a.m. and begin closing by 1 p.m. Flowers often remain closed during rainy or cloudy weather.

Without a doubt, the plant’s most intriguing feature is its bright yellow flower. Yet what we call a flower is actually not a single flower at all. It is composed of 50 or more individual blooms. When the plant’s seeds mature, they are equipped with delicate parachutes. When dislodged by the wind or an animal, these parachute-equipped seeds can drift for long distances. This allows dandelions to colonize sites far from the parent plant.

If you take the time to really look at a dandelion flower, I’m certain you will find it quite attractive. The Japanese are so enamored with the plant that members of the Japanese Dandelion Society have developed more than 200 varieties. The flowers of some of their hybrids range from white to black to copper.

Dandelions are great wildlife plants. Their seeds and foliage are eaten by at least 33 species of wildlife. Chipping, field, house, song and white-throated sparrows, American goldfinches, and indigo buntings are but a few of the many songbirds that devour dandelion seeds. Dandelions also show up in the diets of bobwhite quail, wild turkeys, ruffed grouse, rabbits, white-tailed deer and eastern chipmunks.

I have been fortunate enough to watch chipping sparrows eat dandelion seeds. The birds snip off the frilly parachutes before devouring the seeds themselves.

Some 93 species of insects collect nectar from dandelion flowers. These nectar feeders include bees, and butterflies such as sulphurs, cabbage whites, admirals and commas. Birds such as the ruby-throated hummingbird weave dandelion seeds into their tiny nests.

For centuries, children have used dandelions as toys. One such toy is a horn that can be fashioned by making a quarter-inch slit in a dandelion stem. Sound is created by blowing through the opposite end of the stem. Different sounds can be made by varying the lengths of the stems.

Dandelion necklaces and bracelets can be fashioned by tying together series of the flowers. Dandelion jump ropes can be created the same way.

Dandelions have long been used in children’s games. Who hasn’t competed in a dandelion seed race? Two or more contestants blow seeds of a dandelion seed head to see whose seed travels the greatest distance. Some say you can tell the time by blowing seeds off a dandelion seed head. Supposedly you blow once on a seed head and the number of seeds left corresponds to the time of day. (I have often wondered what it means when no seeds are left.)

During the 1800s, youngsters sometimes would blow on dandelion seed heads to tell when it was time to stop playing and head home. So the story goes, if no seeds were left on the seed head after blowing on it three times, they could continue playing. If any seeds remained, they knew it was time to hit the road toward the house.

I believe that the ability of dandelion seeds to easily spread is the main reason it has fallen into disfavor throughout the country. If the dandelion had stayed put in Puritan herb gardens and around settlers’ homesteads, I’m certain this truly lovely, valuable plant would be scorned today by so many. In a time when society prizes vast expanses of green lawns devoid of any plant but grass, there is no place for the dandelion. Consequently, each year homeowners spend millions of dollars and untold hours trying to eradicate the plant with powerful herbicides and backbreaking labor.

This is a war with no end in sight. In the meantime, the next time you see a dandelion, I hope you will realize that it has a lot of redeeming values and doesn’t deserve its bad reputation.

Terry W. Johnson is a former Nongame program manager with the Wildlife Resources Division, a backyard wildlife expert, and executive director of TERN, the friends group of the Nongame Conservation Section. (Permission is required to reprint this column. Contact [email protected]) Learn more about TERN, The Environmental Resources Network, at

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