KC Gardens

Dennis Patton: If you’re treating dandelions now, you’re probably too late

By Dennis Patton

Dandelions Submitted

Springtime is awash with color: Redbuds, crabapples, forsythia, lilac, dandelions and henbit. Wait a minute — those last two don’t fit with the rest. They are considered weeds, not desirable landscape color at all. Regardless, they are still associated with spring color, whether desirable or a source of neighborhood shame.

Dandelions, henbit and a third weed called chickweed are just as much a part of spring as the wonderful flowering tree blossoms. These three weeds have an interesting life cycle which can make getting rid of them in the lawn tricky unless you know the secrets to success.

Henbit and chickweed are referred to as winter annuals. This means these plants germinate in the cooler conditions of late September and October. At that time they are small little seedlings, maybe developing in size no larger than a quarter. They spend the winter in this stage, and as the warmer conditions of late winter arrive they continue to develop, bursting into flower with the spring hues.

Dandelions, on the other hand, are perennial weeds. This means one plant can persist for multiple years. Just like the other weeds, new seedlings germinate in the fall and come into full flower in late winter through spring.

Since most people consider them weeds they want to eradicate them from the lawn. But here is the problem: People tend to wait to treat them once they see them in the spring. The problem is by then it is too late to achieve good control. In fact, many times the applications are wasted and have unintended consequences.

Here is the reason. The goal of any plant is to reproduce. Once these pesky weeds are flowering the plant does all it can to fend off the effects of the herbicides. Basically, the plant may become stunted and distorted but it continues to flower and set seed.

The unintended consequences are the herbicides’ drift effect on the other tender, developing plants in the landscape. Many of our landscape trees and shrubs take in the herbicides as they drift through the air. The result is twisted and deformed growth that looks bad for the rest of the season. This problem is so severe it is our number one plant ailment question during the month of May.

The best time to control these weeds is to treat them with a herbicide in the fall, late October through mid-November. Remember, at this time they are small, developing seedlings. Just about any of the over-the-counter herbicides will take out these pesky weeds before they ever reach the flowering stage.

So what are you to do now? Well your options are limited. The best solutions are to mow off the flowers or hand dig and remove the weeds. The silver lining is that henbit and chickweed will soon die off as the temperatures increase and they finish their annual life cycle. Dandelions are a little more challenging since they are perennials. A sharp knife works well but it does involve a lot of bending and stooping.

Here is my best piece of advice for future control. Whip out your smart phone, open the calendar app and thumb to around Halloween. Make this calendar addition, “Control dandelions, henbit and chickweed.” Controlling weeds is all about the timing, just as much as it is about choosing the right chemical. For now, enjoy the many colors of spring, whether desired or not.