Tuesday, December 4, 2007

When Good Plants Go Bad

There is a little, well sometimes little, plant that most homeowners love to hate. And it started out as a garden plant which escaped and naturalized. Every part of this plant is edible. It is used to make salad, wine, coffee and as a salve. Its root can even be dried, powered and used for medicine or chopped and eaten. The flowers can be fried and eaten, too. Here are some more clues. It first came to North America with European settlers, as an early spring green.

Its prolific seed capability, its fast maturation and its amazingly long tap root make it hard to get rid of. It can be virtually indestructible. If you get rid of it on your lawn, your neighbor's lawn or a lawn a couple miles away will happily re-seed your weed-free lawn.

I think you have an idea of what I'm talking about now, so I'll tell you. It is the dandelion. Yes. the dandelion. Originally brought as a salad plant. Thanks a lot folks - couldn't we have just stuck with lettuce? The dandelion is a very good cautionary tale of why exotics or plants from other places can be such a not good idea. The intentions were arguably good. North America really didn't have lettuce or edible greens. So Europeans brought them. And they're fairly healthy for us, so what's the beef?

photo by williac

The problem is that dandelions adapted too well to their "new" home. There are not the same
environmental factors here that control their growth over there in Europe. I can say, I
didn't see one dandelion over there. Even in the so called "wild" spaces. Really they were
more "untended" but that's a different story.

So back to how to get rid of them. That's what you came for, isn't it? Well, this is one
plant I've never actually tried to get rid of. Not the answer you expected, is it?
Dandelions have so completely naturalized, that to me they are like dock, mullein or
violets. They're expected in the landscape. I'll warrant though that I don't like them
actually in my garden, even though I don't mind them in my so-called lawn.

When you have dandelions in places you don't want, the trick is to dig them up completely.
You have to get the whole taproot. And you better do it BEFORE they go to seed. Otherwise,
just forget it. Of course, if you're having folks over to tour your garden, you'll want them
out anyway. There is a perfect tool for digging them up. I think it looks like a flattened
forked tongue, but you probably have your own ideas. It's called a dandelion weeder and you can get them just about anywhere. If you don't feel like spending money, a fork works pretty well, too.

If you can't dig them up, then you can slice off the top portion of the dandelion and as much of the taproot as possible up two inches. That'll at least give it a pause before it comes back.
Some people swear by regular severe lawn cutting, but this is not good for the grass and the
dandelion adapts by flowering sooner when the plant is below the cut level. Smart little
weed isn't it?

Of course, you want to take off the flower heads before they go to seed. A bonus there is that you can take them in, wash them off and pan fry them in butter with some diced onion, maybe a little salt and pepper. Yum. You may not care then that you have dandelions. I warn you, though, if you start eating them, they'll be harder to find in your yard.

For further reading on this subject check out these links:



Feel free to comment by clicking on the comment link above. I want to see what you have to say.