By Stephanie Parthie
Many people want a lawn completely free of weeds, including dandelions. But before you use herbicides, remember that dandelions can be beneficial to your yard and even your health. Also, be aware that there are less hazardous ways to kill and remove weeds.
Top Ways to Deal with Dandelions Naturally
1. Prevention: Grow a Healthy Lawn
The best defense against dandelions is to focus on growing a healthy lawn. The Environmental Protection Agency sums it up: “You don’t have to be an expert to grow a healthy lawn. Just keep in mind that the secret is to work with nature. This means creating conditions for grass to thrive and resist damage from weeds, disease, and insect pests.”1
Over-seeding and Mowing High:
Steps to a healthy lawn include over-seeding with a type of grass suited to your area, to crowd out weed seedlings.2 Mow frequently and leave the grass clippings on the grass as fertilizer.1 Set your mower to cut high at a height of about 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 inches, depending on the needs of your grass species.1 Don’t cut off more than 1/3 of the height of your lawn at a time, especially just before the Northwest’s typically dry summer, as this could cause the grass to go into shock.1
No Over Watering:
Avoid over watering; watering deeply and less frequently will build deeper grass roots and help prevent disease.1 Northwestern lawns need (on average) an inch of water per week to stay green during dry summers.3 Lawns on clay soils, or soils rich in organic matter, may only need to be watered once or twice per week. Sandy or gravelly soils will need to be watered more often. "The moral of the story is that you should water sandy soils with smaller quantities of water applied more frequently than with clay/silt soils," according to Don Horneck of Oregon State University's Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center.4
2. Physical Control
Decide how many dandelions are tolerable in your lawn, then pull them as necessary. Note that this will likely need to be done repeatedly over several months to remove the entire taproot system. Get as much of the root as possible.5 Pulling or digging is easiest and most effective when the soil is wet.6 Dandelions are most successfully pulled when they are small seedlings, before they have developed tenacious tap roots; this should be done regularly for several years.5
There are a variety of pulling tools that make dandelion removal easier, including many "dandelion weeder" hand tools that are a more inexpensive option. Other more ergonomic tools include a stand-up weed puller, "Grampa's Weeder" and a garden twist tiller.
Cutting the weeds with long-handled shears is another method, though it will take more than one time to kill the weed entirely. When cutting, cut lower than the lawn mower and make sure to cut all the leaves and as much of the stem as possible. Repeatedly cutting the greens prevents the plant from getting the nutrients it needs to survive. The root will stop sending up new growth and the plant will eventually die.4
One product that uses radiant or infrared heat from a propane burner to kill dandelions is the Eco-Weeder Punto. According to their website, the device "uses the combustion of liquid gas in ceramic pyroelements to reach temperatures of up to 1,000 degrees Celsius.... This explodes the weeds protein cells, stopping photosynthesis within a few seconds. Even the most stubborn weeds can be eliminated...."
If you have lots of dandelions in cracks in sidewalks, brick patios, gravel areas or driveways, you might want to try a flame weeder. These tools burn propane from refillable tanks that are carried on a backpack or on wheels. The flame destroys the cell structure of the plant's leaves, stopping photosynthesis which leads to the death of the whole plant including the root system.8 Wilting and death should occur several hours or possibly days later, and repeated applications may be needed to kill larger weeds.8 It is best to flame weed when the ground is moist so that dry debris is less likely to catch on fire, and always keep water or a fire extinguisher close by in case of emergency.9
3. Least-Toxic Chemical Control
There are least-toxic herbicides available. Vinegar can effectively kill dandelions if done correctly, but if the plants are very well established they might survive from their roots. Spray vinegar directly onto the weed for about three seconds, so that is thoroughly covered. Be careful though, as vinegar can also kill grass or other nearby plants. See our page on vinegar herbicides for more information.
Corn gluten meal has been touted as a pre-emergent weed control product, however there are conflicting views on its effectiveness in the western U.S.
4. Other Control Methods
Avoid fertilizers that contain potassium (one of the nutrients in many lawn fertilizers). Long-term studies in the United Kingdom found that potassium fertilizers increased dandelion densities up to 20-fold.10
Anecdotal evidence suggests that if you can boil water you can kill dandelions. Pour the boiling water directly onto the weed. Boiling water kills any vegetation it touches, so be careful where you pour it.11
More About Dandelions
Identification and Biology
The dandelion is one of the most common and recognizable weeds. The official name for the dandelion is Taraxacum officinale,12 which means “official remedy for disorders”.13 There are many common names for dandelions including priest’s crown, swine's tooth and lion’s tooth.14
The dandelion is a broadleaf weed, with a deep, fleshy tap root that can reach depths of up to 10 or 15 feet.15 The dandelion head contains 100 to 200 or more yellow ray florets that spread outward, with green bracts (leaves) below that form a cylinder shape enclosing the ovaries of the flowerhead.16 The stalks grow up to 6 to 24 inches tall.15 Their shiny, hairless leaves are in a basal rosette shape branching out from the center, and they have jagged edges.15 Since the buds grow from the uppermost part of the root, if even an inch of root remains in the soil after weeding the plant can regrow from that.15
The common dandelion is a perennial plant that reproduces by seed.15 The seeds spread with the help of their downy parachutes; blowing on one puffball can disperse more than 100 seeds miles away.15
People often confuse the common dandelion with the false dandelion, Hypochoeris radicata, or flatweed. Flatweed looks similar to the common dandelion and can be controlled with similar methods.17 View our factsheet on flatweed.
Dandelions can be beneficial to a garden ecosystem as well as to human health. Dandelions attract beneficial ladybugs and provide early spring pollen for their food.18 In a study done at the University of Wisconsin, experimental plots with dandelions had more ladybugs than dandelion-free plots, and fewer pest aphids, a favorite food of the ladybugs.19 Dandelions’ long roots aerate the soil and enable the plant to accumulate nutrients,18 which are added to the soil when the plant dies.
Not only are dandelions good for your soil, they are good for your health. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a cup of raw dandelion greens contains all of an adult’s daily requirement of beta carotene and about one third of the daily requirement of vitamin C.12 Dandelions are also rich in vitamins A and B, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, zinc and protein.12,13,14,20
Dandelions have also been used as medicinal and herbal remedies for thousands of years. Some people use the white sap from the stem and root as a topical remedy for warts. The whole plant is used as a diuretic to eliminate fluids from the body, and to help with digestion.14
Remember that dandelions can be beneficial- be willing to put up with a few dandelions in your yard!
If you need to control dandelions, focus on creating a strong, healthy lawn. By maintaining a healthy lawn, you will eliminate the need for other time consuming controls. If necessary, there are many non-chemical tools available to kill dandelions or remove them from your lawn.
- U.S. EPA. Healthy lawn, healthy environment: Caring for your lawn in an environmentally friendly way [Internet]. Washington, DC; 2004 Sept [cited 2021 Feb 23]. Available from: https://www.epa.gov/safepestcontrol/healthy-lawn-healthy-environment-caring-your-lawn-environmentally-friendly-way
- Cox C. Restoring a lawn without chemicals. Journal of Pesticide Reform. 2000;20(3):13. Available from: https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/ncap/pages/44/attachments/original/1429733334/restoring-lawns.pdf?1429733334
- Seattle Public Utilities. The natural lawn & garden: healthy landscapes for a healthy environment: smart watering [Internet]. Seattle (WA); 2016 [cited 2021 Feb 23]. Available from: https://www.mytpu.org/wp-content/uploads/watering-wisely-june-1.pdf
- Horneck D.Soil texture determines how much and how often to water [Internet]. Hermiston (OR): Oregon State University Extension Service; 2012 June [cited 2021 Feb 24]. Available from: https://extension.oregonstate.edu/news/soil-texture-determines-how-much-how-often-water
- Roncoroni JA. Pest notes: dandelion [Internet]. University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program; 2018 Jan [cited 2021 Feb 24]. Available from: http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7469.html
- Lerner R. Weeding is good exercise [Internet]. Lafayette (IN): Purdue University, Purdue Consumer Horticulture; undated [cited 2021 Feb 24]. Available from: https://www.purdue.edu/hla/sites/yardandgarden/weeding-is-good-exercise/
- Schultz W. 1989. The chemical-free lawn. Emmaus (PA): Rodale Press, p. 127.
- Flame Engineering, Inc. Flame weeding 101 [Internet]. La Cross (KS); undated [cited 2021 Feb 24]. Available from: https://flameengineering.com/pages/flame-weeding-101
- My Green Montgomery.Flame weeding–a great replacement for herbicides! [Internet]. Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection: Montgomery County (MD); 2020 Aug 23 [cited 2021 Feb 24]. Available from: https://mygreenmontgomery.org/2020/flame-weeding-a-great-replacement-for-herbicides/
- Tilman EA et al. Biological weed control via nutrient competition: Potassium limitation of dandelions. Ecol. Appl. 1999; 9:103-111.
- Manitoba Eco-Network. Organic alternatives for dandelion and ant control [Internet]. Winnipeg (MB); undated [cited 2021 Feb 24]. Available from: https://www.gov.mb.ca/sd/envprograms/initiatives/pesticide_red/pdf/dandelion_and_ant_control.pdf
- U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. FoodData Central: Dandelion greens, raw [Internet]. Agricultural Research Service; 2019 Apr 1 [cited 2021 Feb 23]. Available from: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/169226/nutrients
- Texas Master Naturalist. The dandelion invasion [Internet]. Texas A&M University; undated [cited 2021 Feb 23]. Available from: https://txmn.org/indiantrail/articles/the-dandelion-invasion/#:~:text=Dandelions%20were%20brought%20to%20American,remedy%20for%20disorders.%E2%80%9D%20Eureka!
- Mount Sinai. Dandelion [Internet]. Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai; undated [cited 2021 Feb 23]. Available from: https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/herb/dandelion
- Hourdajian D. Introduced Species Summary Project: Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) [Internet]. Columbia University; 2006 Nov 13 [cited 2021 Feb 23]. Available from: http://www.columbia.edu/itc/cerc/danoff-burg/invasion_bio/inv_spp_summ/Taraxum_officinale.htm
- Hilty J. Dandelion [Internet]. Illinois College; undated [cited 2021 Feb 23]. Available from: https://www2.ic.edu/prairie/dandelion.htm
- Buschmann G. Weeds of South Puget Sound prairies. In: Dunn PV, Ewing K, editors. Ecology and conservation of the South Puget Sound prairie landscape. Seattle (WA): Nature Conservancy of Washington, 1997. p. 163-180.
- Cheek L. 4 reasons to love dandelions [Internet]. Fayetteville (AR): University of Arkansas, 2018 Mar 27 [cited 2021 Feb 19]. Available from: https://wordpressua.uark.edu/sustain/4-reasons-to-love-dandelions/
- Harmon J, Ives A, Losey J, Olson AC, Rauwald KS. Coleomegilla maculata (Coleoptera: Coccinellidae) predation on pea aphids promoted by proximity to dandelions. Oecologia [Internet]. 2000 [cited 2021 Feb 19]; 125(4):543-548. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/deref/http%3A%2F%2Fdx.doi.org%2F10.1007%2Fs004420000476
- Mattern V. Don’t weed ‘em, eat ‘em. Organic Gardening. 1994;41(4):70.