In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
February, 2008
Regional Report

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As the soil warms and days get longer, dandelions are ready to grow and bloom.

Weed Watch

As the snow recedes in the landscape, I'm beginning to get the urge to clean up the garden and do some transplanting. But among the new signs of life in the garden, there lurks a formidable enemy --- the perennial dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). Already I'm seeing last year's plants greening up and new seedlings awakening on the sunny slopes. It's a topic that most gardeners dread, but if we tackle it early in the season, the invasion can be reduced and often eliminated. Persistence is the key to effective weed management.

My Italian grandmother would take advantage of the early dandelion growth and harvest the young leaves and tender crowns for a spicy salad. It was one way to reduce the dandelion population. However, it's an acquired taste, and most of us can't consume the population of plants that invade our yards and gardens.

Dandelion is a tenacious perennial weed with a very strong and persistent taproot that makes itself at home almost anywhere. No lawn and garden can escape the dispersal of dandelion seeds that are airborne from spring through fall. And to make matters worse, dandelion doesn't need a rest cycle, though it grows very little in the dead of winter.

Control Measures
Most young dandelion plants can be easily pulled from the soil. Roots and all will come out quickly if you pull them when the soil is moist following a rain or deep watering. Be sure to get the root as it can produce side shoots if left in the ground. As with most plants, think of the main stem as the root's handle. Grasp the dandelion clump as close to the ground as you can. If the plants are breaking off at the crown (base of the leaves), slide a sod knife or dandelion digger under the dandelion and pry and twist as you pull the weed upward.

If the dandelion plants don't have seed heads, let them dry in the sun for a day or so before retiring them to the compost pile. If pulled dandelions are holding maturing seed heads, dispose of them in the garbage. Composting methods generally don't get hot enough to kill the seeds, so don't risk spreading more seeds into your garden.

Organic Herbicides
There are some weed sprays composed of natural ingredients that can be very effective in the battle against dandelions. One that contains clover oil or eugenol works well on young, emerging dandelions. Soap-based herbicides work on dandelion plants by cutting through the protective leaf covering and curbing the growth. They should be considered as a temporary control on well-rooted plants. Products that contain acetic acid (very strong vinegar) do a good job of eliminating dandelions. Caution: To minimize damage to neighboring desirable plants, shield them with paper bags and apply spray only during non-windy weather.

Reduce Reseeding
Dandelions reproduce prolifically from seed dispersal, and seeds can remain viable for decades when buried in the soil. It is essential to keep dandelions from dispersing seeds in your landscape. As you dig and pull dandelions again and again, you not only reduce reseeding, but this also forces the plants to use up food reserves stored in the deepest roots until they run out of food and die.


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