I know that “weed and feed” formulations of fertilizer, the wonderful combination of lawn fertilizer and chemical herbicide, are still being used by gardeners. We do, after all, sell such a product in our garden centre.
I had no idea, however, just how much is being applied until I took a leisurely afternoon ride on my mountain bike Monday afternoon through the streets of Summerland. The odour is unmistakable and I detected it on at least ten lawns in the hour and a half I was out.
Not everyone, it seems, is content to leave a few dandelions and other non-turf plants in their lawns.
I’ve been thinking about dandelions since they magically appeared in my lawn about two weeks ago. Ten minutes one morning with the wonderful implement known simply as the dandelion puller yielded about a bucket worth of leaves, flowers and roots of the Taraxacum officinale. The bounty looked terrific on the top of my compost pile. Two days later and it was like I had never been there; it seemed as if they were all back, along with a multitude of others.
You must admire the adaptability of the dandelion. It’s first leaves lay flat in the grass, able to duck underneath the blades of the early passes of the mower in spring. The plant grows slowly at first as it stores energy in its secret weapon, the taproot. Once that deep and well-anchored taproot is in place the dandelion can survive repeat beheadings.
Flowers form and open later in the mornings, followed only a few days later by the feathery round “puffballs” of seeds. Each seed has its own parachute, which enables it to fly on the breeze and colonize any lawn it may land on.
Pulling on the clump of leaves in the grass will produce a handful of leaves, but if the taproot is still intact the leaves will return in a few days. Although they are most active in the spring dandelions continue to live throughout the heat of summer, using the energy stored in the roots.
It’s not for me to judge those who apply herbicides onto their lawns in an attempt to control dandelions and their kind. Consider the evidence, however. Look at the sheer numbers of dandelions growing in the lawns, open fields, vineyards and orchards around your garden. Imagine all of those dandelions going to seed and setting sail on the wind. Does your lawn really stand a chance of remaining weed free?
Consider also that the flowers of the dandelion are edible and taste like mushrooms when they are battered and fried. The leaves have a spinach flavour if they’re harvested before the flowers form. The roots are roasted to make a coffee substitute. Dandelion flowers are an important early pollen source for bees. There isn’t enough space here to examine the use of the dandelion as a medicinal plant through the centuries.
Time to go. My bucket is empty and the dandelions are blooming on the lawn again.