Leave those spring dandelions alone! Learn to love your lawn, dandelions and all. When you understand exactly how beneficial dandelions are, you’ll never look at them the same way again.
Benefits of Early Spring Dandelions
My husband can’t stand dandelions in the lawn. I’m outside admiring them for how they spangle the lawn with beautiful yellow stars and he’s racing for the herbicide. It’s one of the few areas we disagree on, but at least I’ve convinced him to leave them alone in the early spring.
And that’s important, because early spring dandelions do a lot for the local environment and the long-range health of your garden.
Bees Depend on Dandelions
Early spring dandelions are often the only food available to newly awakened bees. As bees emerge from their hives when the weather warms up, they’re hungry. On a warm March day, there may be few other food sources available to local bees. Those lawn dandelions may be enough to keep them humming until the crocus, tulips, forsythia and other early spring flowers begin to bloom.
It’s not just the bees who need the early spring flowers. This morning, I saw the first butterfly of spring. It looked like a small spangled frittilary, and I guessed it was hungry since only the yellow crocus is blooming today and a few meager snowdrops. When the dandelions start blooming, they’ll also provide much-needed food for butterflies and other pollinating insects.
Dandelion Tap Roots Serve a Purpose
If you’ve ever tried to pull a dandelion out of the ground, you know that their long, thick tap root goes down into the soil very far. These tap roots can extend up to a foot into the ground. Small feeder roots extend out horizontally from the tap root as well, making the dandelion’s roots extremely tough.
The dandelion tap root serves a marvelous purpose. Because it has already broken down and into the harder soil under the toil soil, it acts as a wick for water and nutrients to flow into the soil. The slender roots off of the main tap root also help water flow from the surface into the soil where other plants, insects and microorganism can use it to survive. That tap root actually helps improve the soil!
Beneficial Effects of Dandelions
Lastly, spring dandelions also serve as a tonic for people. Dandelion tea, made from roasting the clean tap roots, is said by herbalists to be a liver tonic and good for spring cleansing. The leaves are rich in vitamin C and can be eaten in salads or cooked. Even the flowers serve a useful purpose. They can be made into dandelion wine or brewed into tea!
So the next time you see a dandelion in the lawn, give a silent thanks and walk away from the spray bottle. Let it be. If it’s still troubling you in late spring, gently pull it out. But thank it for its help in all aspects of maintaining your local ecosystem. Spring dandelions are the most misunderstood of flowers, and a little thanks in the form of letting them grow is all they ask from us.
Jeanne Grunert is a certified Virginia Master Gardener and the author of several gardening books. Her garden articles, photographs, and interviews have been featured in The Herb Companion, Virginia Gardener, and Cultivate, the magazine of the National Farm Bureau. She is the founder of The Christian Herbalists group and a popular local lecturer on culinary herbs and herbs for health, raised bed gardening, and horticulture therapy.