Dandelion

The bright yellow flowers and ‘clock’ seedheads of dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis) make this weed easily recognisable. Dandelions are particularly troublesome in lawns but have many herbal uses and are a good early source of nectar and pollen for insects.

Dandelion

Quick facts

Common name Dandelion
Botanical name Taraxacum officinalis
Area affected Lawns, hard surfaces and cultivated ground
Caused by Spread by seed and regenerates from tap root
Timing Flowers March to October

What is dandelion?

Dandelion is a persistent, perennial weed of lawns, borders and hard surfaces. It’s difficult to eradicate dandelions by digging alone as the deep tap root can regrow and fluffy seeds are readily spread by the wind.

Taraxacum is found throughout the British Isles and over 200 microspecies has been identified. Dandelions have many uses including as a diuretic, the blanched leaves can be added to salads, roots are used to make dandelion ‘coffee’ and dandelion wine is made from the flowers.

Appearance

Dandelion has a rosette of basal leaves sprouting from a stout tap root and exudes a milky latex when damaged. The leaves are soft, mid-to-dark green lobed or unlobed with a midrib sometimes pink especially near the base.

Flowerheads are mid-yellow, 2.5-5 cm (1-2in) across; the flower stalk pinkish and hollow. The seedhead is a large conspicuous ‘clock’ composed of cylindrical seeds with a long-stalked pappus or parachute to aid dispersal. Flowers from March to October and the basal leaves persist all year.

    Dandelion showing long taproot that can regrow if left in the groundDandelion 'clock' seedhead whose seeds blow long distances on the wind

    The problem

    The long tap root of dandelions can regrow from a fragment if not completely removed. Plants are quick to flower and produce masses of windborne seeds.

    Control

    Non-chemical control

    Dandelions are difficult to control by cultural methods once established.

    Try digging out isolated specimens, removing as much of the tap root as possible early in the spring. Dandelions can regenerate from fragments of root so it may require several attempts to completely remove a deep or awkwardly positioned plant. There are many specially designed tools to help with removal. Dig plants out as soon as they appear and don’t allow to flower and set seed.

    Chemical control

    Grassed areas

    Selective weedkillers in lawns:
    Dandelions can be controlled with one or two applications of weedkillers containing 2,4-D, dicamba, clopyralid or fluroxypyr. Lawn weedkillers based on mecoprop-P may check the growth of dandelions but not completely kill them.

    Apply lawn weedkillers in summer after cutting off the flowering heads to prevent seeding, then re-spray leaves that re-grow 14 days after cutting back. Treat again in autumn if basal rosettes are present.

    Treated clippings
    Do not add the first lawn clippings after application to the compost heap. The first clippings from products containing clopyralid (which is especially persistent) should not be composted and the next three mowings should be used as a mulch only after composting for at least 9 months. To avoid possible contamination of compost, do not collect the clippings at all but mow frequently and allow the short clippings to remain on the surface of the lawn. These will quickly disperse to leave an acceptable finish.

    New lawns
    New lawns can be easily damaged by lawn herbicides so avoid using them within six months of seeding or turfing. However, products containing fluroxypyr (Scotts Weedol Lawn Weedkiller) are claimed to be safe if applied two months after sowing or laying turf. The new lawn must be growing well.

    Selective weedkillers in rough grassland:
    Use a selective weedkiller which contains triclopyr (SBK Brushwood Killer) as this would leave the grass unharmed. However, other broad-leaved plants will be damaged (e.g. wildflowers) and so should only be used in grass where such action is acceptable

    Non-selective weedkillers for spot treating in grass:
    Glyphosate is a more effective treatment for established dandelions but is not selective and any spray coming into contact with grass around the dandelions would be killed or severely checked. Use a ready-to-use spray or a gel formulation (Roundup Gel) to spot treat individual weeds. Apply when growing strongly from midsummer onwards.

    Borders

    • Apply glyphosate as a spot treatment to individual plants or spray areas that have been cleared of cultivated plants
    • Glyphosate is a non-selective weedkiller applied to the foliage, where it is translocated throughout the weed. Tougher formulations are worth trying (e.g. Scotts Roundup Ultra, Bayer Garden Rootkill, Bayer Garden Super Strength Weedkiller or Doff Maxi Strength Glyphosate Weedkiller)
    • Being non-selective, it is essential to avoid spray drift onto neighbouring plants. It is important to have good leaf coverage so that as much chemical is absorbed as possible
    • Sprays are most effective if applied from early June to mid-August
    • As this weed is so persistent several applications may be necessary

    Hard surfaces

    To control dandelions growing in cracks between paving or on other hard surfaces, use a proprietary path, patio or drive weedkiller. See our page on controlling weeds on hard surfaces.

    Inclusion of a weedkiller product does not indicate a recommendation or endorsement by the RHS. It is a list of products currently available to the home gardener.

    Download

    Weedkillers for gardeners (Adobe Acrobat pdf document outlining weedkillers available to gardeners; see sections 1a, 1b, 1c and 4)

    Links

    Chemicals: using spot and broad-scale weedkillers
    Chemicals: using a sprayer
    Chemicals: using safely and effectively
    Weeds: non-chemical control

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