Friday Free For All: The Much Maligned Dandelion

 

In today’s Friday Free For All post, I thought we would take a look at the much maligned dandelion. I hope that I can put a different spin on what most gardeners consider a weed. Dandelions are probably one of the most targeted weeds in the lawn and garden…it’s a close tie with crabgrass if I were guessing. I wrote a post about weeds but just touched on the dandelion. Let’s take a closer look.

Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) are native to Eurasia but they have made themselves quite at home in the Mid-Atlantic gardening region. They are a perennial weed which means that they come back from the roots each year. You can pull the tops off all you’d like but all you’re effectively doing is pruning it. Unless every piece of the root is removed, you’ll have dandelions for years to come. Now let’s step back from the conventional way of viewing a lawn and decide if that is necessarily a bad thing.

dandelionWhat do dandelions have going for them? First and foremost in my mind is that they bloom at a time of the year when few other things are blooming. This timing coincides with the first flights of bees for the season. Bees adore dandelion blossoms and the flowers offer them an early drink of nectar. As bees are needed for virtually all of the pollination that occurs to bring you fruits and veggies, this early source of nourishment helps to get the hive going in the spring. That reason alone is enough for me to allow dandelions a place in my lawn. (that and I’m a lazy gardener)

Another reason to allow dandelions to grow where they may is that they make delicious salad greens. If your salads consist primarily of iceberg lettuce, you may not welcome these greens at first. If you pick the youngest leaves and offer your palate a chance to warm up to them, you may be surprised how tasty they can be. You can also add them to stir fries or steam them like you would kale; in my opinion, vinegar makes everything green more tasty.

How about wine? If you like to consume a little vino from time to time, you can take that weed in your garden and turn it into wine. Check out this recipe for a quick and easy homemade wine. Who knew that those pretty little flowers could do so much?

What about tea? The leaves can be dried and then steeped in water for a refreshing, albeit bitter, tea. The roots can also be used for tea; Jillian Michaels of Biggest Loser fame even recommends it as a way to lose extra water weight.

I hope that I’ve given you some alternative ways of thinking about dandelions. I certainly don’t want a lawn full of them but they also aren’t the bane of my existence. Let a few hang around in the lawn to attract bees to your garden in the early spring. And let a few survive for the pleasure of making wishes on the seedheads. Enjoy being in your garden and observing nature in her true form…don’t let a little plant take the joy out of gardening. Let me know what you think by leaving me a comment below or e-mailing me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. Happy gardening!

Pests and Diseases: Weeds

 

Today we will look at one of the most prevalent pests in any garden: weeds. Who said that pests have to be defined as little creepy crawlies? In my experience, it isn’t the aphids, spider mites or thrips that cause the most damage; it’s the groundsel, chickweed, dandelion, bittercress, henbit and wiregrass that wreak the most havoc. Not only are they unattractive in the garden, they also compete with the very plants that we are nurturing for water and nutrients.. I won’t delve into controlling them too much in this post…I want to make sure that you can identify them as that is over half the battle in controlling them.

  1. Groundsel – this is a cool season annual that doesn’t look half bad until it flowers and spreads its hundreds of seeds across your landscape, not to mention to the rest of your neighbors. The yellow flowers give way to fluffy seed heads in a matter of days. The good thing about groundsel, if there is such a thing, is that it is an annual. If you can prevent it from setting seed this year, next year’s crop will be dramatically reduced provided that your neighbors’ yards aren’t harboring any.
  2. Chickweed – this too is a cool season annual that germinates as the temperatures drop. The upside to chickweed is that it is edible…check out this link for recipes. One of the most frustrating things about chickweed is that when you go to pull it, you are really just pruning the tops…chances are that the roots will remain and you’ll just remove the foliage. The plant is left stronger and will come back with a vengeance. Perhaps that means you’ll be eating more chickweed salads.
  3. Dandelion – unlike the previous two weeds, dandelions are perennials…that means that they come back each year stronger and stronger. When you pull dandelions, you have to make sure that you remove every piece of the roots or they will regenerate themselves from even the tiniest piece of root tissue. Of course, dandelions have the distinguishable yellow flowers and fluffy seed heads that kids can’t seem to get enough of. Perhaps you can carry that sweet thought with you as you watch the wind disseminate thousands of seeds for next year’s crop.
  4. Bittercress – when I was in the nursery business, this was my nemesis…it could survive in the smallest amount of soil and thrived under the frost cloth that was used to cover the beds. When someone would sneak up on the weeds to pull them, they would explode with hundreds of seeds. I know it sounds impossible, but if you’ve encountered this weed in your landscape, you’re familiar with its projectile seeds. It’s an annual, so that’s one thing that’s good about it…if you can catch it in flower, you’ll be reducing it’s population next year.
  5. Henbit – this is an annual weed that I’ve come to despise as my career has transitioned from the nursery industry to landscape maintenance. In the landscape, henbit is what makes you have to mow the grass in January. It transforms itself from the tiniest little innocent plant to a 8″ tall monster seemingly overnight. Its purple flowers are attractive but not pretty enough to allow it to continue growing unchecked. Often times, chickweed and henbit will take over a winter lawn…if this describes your lawn, you know who you are.
  6. Wiregrass – my grandma has always called this weed wiregrass but it’s also known as bermudagrass. Many people grow bermudagrass as a lawn, for which it is an excellent choice if you have full sun and don’t want to water. However, if you have a plant that you don’t hate nearby, you will curse the day that you purposefully introduced this plant to your landscape. It is a perennial and spreads by stolons that grow just underneath the soil. I’ve actually read that Virginia Tech has done studies that show that the stolons can exist 6′ down in the soil. I’ve tried to find this documentation online but I’ve been unsuccessful in locating the research. Regardless if the stolons are 1-inch or 6-feet below, they are virtually impossible to eliminate without a ton of hand digging or Roundup. Just like with dandelions, one piece of root is enough to form a colony.

 

I hope that I’ve helped you identify some of the weeds that may be taking over your lawn and landscape. What you decide to do with them is certainly your choice…your neighbors may or may not thank you. Let me know which weeds are giving you a fit; if you need help identifying them, send me a picture and I’ll post it for other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers…maybe we’ll do a little contest to see who can identify the weed. As always, leave me a comment below or e-mail me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. Happy gardening!

January 24, 2012Permalink 1 Comment