Weedy Wednesday - Dandelion
The next in our Wednesday Weed series is the most cheerful of Spring plants - the bright yellow dandelion. Bees love its early source of pollen, so leave some plants over winter for them.
In this weekly series, we take a quick look at common garden weeds. How they grow, what benefits they bring to the garden, and how to manage them. Organic growers recognise the importance of these native plants. Insects and birds need the flowers and seeds – and gardeners, cooks and herbalists can harvest some nutrient rich foliage.
We hope that this snap-shot view of bindweed, dandelion, nettle, bramble, thistle, goosegrass, plantain, fat hen, dock and yes, even ground elder, will help you to live with them. We also give advice on how to compost weeds. You may not love them, but you certainly won't be tempted to reach for the toxic weed-killer.
Dandelion Taraxacum officinale
What: The bright yellow dandelion is abundant everywhere but prefers chalks and loamy soils, especially lawns, roadsides and waste ground. It was growing 5 million years ago in the Pleiocene era, and today there are nearly 250 different species. The seed head is often referred to as a ‘clock’ – a white sphere made up of thousands of light seed heads easily dispersed by wind - or children blowing.
Habit: A perennial with a hefty taproot. Flowers from May to October but most profusely in May and June. It takes just 9 – 12 days from flowering to seed ripening. A flower head can produce up to 400 seeds and one plant may produce up to 12,000 seeds in its lifetime. Dandelion seeds can travel up to 500m from the parent. They are persistent – surviving submergence in water, and in cattle, bird and horse droppings.
Benefits: Important source of nectar early in the year for bees and other pollinating insects. Roots, flowers and leaves used in herbal medicine. The Victorians grew dandelions for use in salads and sandwiches. The leaves contain vitamins A and C, and iron. They can also be used to make a foliar feed, like Comfrey.
Controls: Every effort should be made to prevent dandelions seeding. Ideally remove the whole long taproot. Cutting below ground with a blade may not be successful because any portion of the root that remains can sprout and a cluster of new shoots often develops. However, regeneration and survival of root fragments is lowest when the plant is in full flower.