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Time to Deal With Those Darn Dandelions!

Q. I'm new to your show.  What is the best way to get rid of dandelions?  I don't like the taste of dandelion wine or greens.

    ---RayWilliams; American Red Cross Penn-Jersey Region; Philadelphia.

A. That's right,April showers have bring us lots of May flowers. Unfortunately, they're yellow and in your lawn! Sorry to disappoint you, Ray—but it's already too late to try and change your mind and convince you to eat the greens from this first batch of dandies,which you couldhave enjoyed raw in a nice 'Spring tonic' salad or cooked up as a spinach substitute—the leaves are only nice and tasty before the flower buds form, after which they turn bitter. But you'll have a chance to save or young members of the next generation if you don't scorch those puffballs before they can drop seed, and then remove the perennial roots.

That's right—scorch! Your most important dandelion chore right now is to not allow any of those pretty yellow flowers to turn to white; those puffballs you used to love to blow into your friends' faces contain the seeds of hundreds more dandelions. So, cut them down quick like a bunny with a lawnmower or weed whacker if they' rest ill yellow.

If they' real ready ghostly white, you only have two options. 1) Destroy them without spreading any seed with a little flamethrower; you can use the small kind of propane torch sold for sweating pipes or get a real flame weeder like BernzOmatic's "Outdoor torch" and do the job standing up; either way,incinerate those seed heads before they can propagate!  Or, 2) Spread corn gluten meal on your lawn;no seed can germinate when this all-natural weed and feed is around! (We'll discuss the details on corn gluten in just a few minutes. But now,it's back to flame!)

The original flame weeder—BernzOmatic's "Out door Torch" (just attach a small, 'camp stove' size propane bottle to the long metal wand, click it on, and the fiery tip will incinerate your dandelion seeds before they can sprout)—is available at hardware and garden stores or direct from BernzOmatic; call them toll-free at 1-800-654-9011 (they don't sell online) and ask for Model JT 850, which features an automatic ignition.Lots of other sizes and models are also available from BernzOmatic and a number of other companies—check them out; flame weeders are great!

An especially perfect one for the task that must follow this extreme act of dead-heading—the removal of the perennial roots—is the "Dandy Destroyer", a propane-powered device that sends 1800° of radiant heat through a spike to chart hose not-so-dandy roots without harming your lawn, and with youstanding up! It's available from the Canadian company Ritten house; on the web at   Toll free #: 1-877-488-1914.

You can also destroy the roots with a well-aimed spray of herbicidal soap or a vinegar-based organic herbicide. Just be careful and spray only the dandy, and not the grass around it.

Or instead of destroying them, remove those roots with a tool that pops them out of the ground, root and all, like an old fashioned hand-held dandelion fork.   Mechanical pullers like the "Weed Hound"—available in garden centers—or the Water Powered Weeder from Lee Valley Tool sallow you to do the job while standing up. All deliver the mineral-rich roots unharmed for your compost pile (so you get free phosphorus and potassium rich plant food out of the deal)and you don't have to poison yourself, your pets or your family!

The 'Water Powered Weeder' is a long, thin metal shaft that hooks onto your garden hose and blasts water down into the root zone,allowing you to essentially flood the suckers out; its available from Lee Valley Tools (;1-800-871-8158).

Your LONG-TERM Dandelion Plan

Yes,dandelions make home owners crazy, but hold back on those harsh chemical herbicides—you can pull or poison dandelions all you want, but if you don't change your basic horticulturally-evil ways, they'll be baaaaccck.

To do the job right,spread lawn-feeding, seed-killing corn gluten meal on your lawn when the very first puffballs appear in your neighborhood. This will prevent any newdandelions from taking root in your turf and give your grass a healthy,gentle feeding.

Then slowly kill off old dandies AND prevent new ones by simply taking proper care of that lawn!

Raise the cutting height on your mower to two and a half to three and a half inches—especially if you have bluegrass, which BREEDS dandelions when it gets the traditional American scalping.

Then continue to feed your lawn correctly, so it develops the thick roots that deny dandies their hold. Give up on those steroid-like chemical fertilizers; the weak growth they cause invitesweeds. Instead, use that all-natural weed and feeding corn gluten meal in the Spring, and again when ghostly seed heads appear in lawns all around you. In the Fall, feed with high quality compost or a gentle organic lawn food.

Gardens Alive carries corn gluten alone as "WOW"(short for "With Out Weeds"), and with added natural turf fertilizers as "WOW Plus". They're on the web at or call them at 513-354-1482. Depending on where you live, you might also find corn gluten for sale in bags at larger garden centers.

"Who says this stuff really works"?

The eminent University researcher who discovered it!

It all began when Dr.Nick Christians, a researcher at Iowa State University, used corn gluten meal in some turf tests a few years ago, and the grass didn't sprout. Dr. Christianssoond is covered that the corn gluten contained naturally occurring compounds that prevent all seeds from sprouting—just like chemically - based pre-emergent herbicides. AND corn gluten is VERY high in Nitrogen,the food that lawns crave the most. Eureka: A chemical-free weed and feed that's so safe your family could eat it for dinner! If you'd like to read the research behind this amazing discovery, visit Dr. Christian's corn gluten research page at the Iowa State website:

You Bet Your Garden ©2004 Mike McGrath


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