BOULDER COUNTY – On most of the house calls I do on sick lawns, conversation inevitably turns toward dandelions. Not because the weed is causing the lawn’s problem, but because many people want it out of the grass. So, when on a recent LawnCheck I spotted dandelions sprouting through the grass, I figured we’d get around to talking about them sooner or later.
We stepped around them, talked over them, and strolled past them without any mention of the weed. We talked lawn care, disease suppression, and overseeding with nary a whisper of question on control. The suspense was killing me. As the visit drew near to a close, I figured I’d get the “dandelion mention” by asking if there were anything else about the lawn she’d like to discuss. Not a word about the cheerful little flower.
Finally I broke, waving a hand towards the few dandelions and asking if she needed information on them. “Oh, I just pull them,” she said, “I have this great weed puller.” She went to the garage and brought back a long-handled tool with four claws at the tip (Fiskars Stand-Up Weeder).
Stabbing it into the ground with the claws surrounding the dandelion, she stepped on the foot platform and rocked the weed from the ground in seconds. Lifting the tool, she ejected the weed from the claws like shells from a pump-action shotgun. The sound was oddly satisfying.
No wonder she didn’t want advice on controlling dandelions. She had something far more fun. And it does a great job on many types of weeds – thistle, mallow, or western salsify, for example. Anything with a central root is fair game.
In Colorado, having a weed free lawn is rarely attainable. With the pressures of hot, dry summers, lawns don’t compete as vigorously as in other states where conditions are more moderate in temperatures and water. Unless the weeds are carpeting the ground more than the grass, digging them is a good way to keep things to a dull roar in the lawn.
Bees love dandelions so keeping a few around for them is helpful. And the leaves are delicious in salads, on pizza, or sautéed as you would spinach. Like spinach, the leaves taste better before the plant has flowered.
Using a hand-held weed puller is useful for working in flower or vegetable beds. The fork-tipped tool comes with long or short handles for working around plants. It pops the weed from the soil and saves arms and shoulders from the strain of pulling the weed.
One plant pulling doesn’t eradicate is the most hated weed in our gardens: field bindweed (Convovulus arvensis). Despite being a member of the morning glory family, there is nothing ‘glorious’ about it. It snakes through the garden. It entwines itself through branches, along trellises, and into every nook and cranny of the area. Pulling this plant results in a nightmare out of Greek myth – four hydra-like plants sprouting from the single plant pulled. Its roots reach 20 feet long and have many nodes for regeneration of sprouts when surface shoots are pulled. Stamina is required in pulling to control this plant because it must be done repeatedly and frequently, until the energy in the root system is exhausted and the plant can no longer regenerate.
If pulling weeds to the point of obsession is not for you, mulching garden beds is a great method of weed control. In order to control weeds mulch should be applied to a depth of four inches across the surface of the garden. Weed control fabric, when laid underneath the mulch may help, but research is suggesting that this fabric may limit water and air from getting to roots.
Colorado State University Extension, together with Boulder County Parks and Open Space, provides unbiased, research-based information about consumer and family issues, horticulture, natural resources, agriculture and 4-H youth development. For more information contact Extension at the Boulder County Fairgrounds, 9595 Nelson Rd., Box B, Longmont, 303.678.6238, or visit the web site at ext.colostate.edu/boulder.