GROWING A LOVE FOR DANDELIONS
Dandelions have always received a bad reputation from lawn perfectionists looking to eradicate said “weeds” from their yard. Dandelions, although great at propagating and seed spreading, are actually not weeds nor are they an invasive species. Dandelions are considered a type of herb, packed with nutrients good for our bodies and can be used in many ways. An invasive species is typically a plant that is not native to an area it is growing in and spreads aggressively, altering natural habitat in its path. Dandelions are non-native to North America, however they are not considered invasive because they do not disturb other native plants growing in the same area. Therefore, they are not a bad influence on ecosystems here.
Dandelions grow extremely quick in early spring and are among some of the first blooming flowers in April, especially in cooler regions. They can be a source of food for all kinds of pollinators, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, ducks, goats, chickens, and wild birds. All winter, animals that are active live without the richest of foods and rely on fat stores and food stashes to get them through the coldest of months. These first blooms are a source of nutrition for them after a hard winter.
Why You Shouldn’t Weed Pull Dandelions From Your Yard
Dandelions are great natural aeration systems for your yard. Their wide spreading roots help to loosen the soil around the plant, which enables nutrients from the deep earth to be pulled up towards the top soils, allowing other plants to benefit. Like other deep rooting plants, dandelions also help reduce erosion in areas with heavy rainfall as well as along pathways where they grow frequently. They grow well in disturbed soils, like along sidewalks, pathways, or a place in your yard that may have experienced movement like water runoff or lots of digging.
The misconception around dandelions as pests have made weed pullers popular yard maintenance tools. As if a small metal fork could get deep enough to remove the entire plant. With this mentality, weed pulling will become your full time job! Dandelions have a down reaching root system, stretching ten to fifteen feet underground. Removing the upper most part of the plant will just encourage the growth of another flower, in fact dandelions only need one inch of root to grow a new plant. It is an incredible survivor of a plant that, although non-native, helps other species to grow well in the same soil.
Not a Dandelion Lover?
Dandelions are loved by children for the reason that they can not get into trouble by pulling them out. Adults too should embrace the beauty of these bright yellow sun reaching spring flowers for their ecosystem friendly properties. But, ultimately, there are still going to be lawn enthusiasts who may despise these signs of spring (perhaps you are one of them). Dandelions are not for everyone, but whatever your views, there is one action you should NEVER consider participating in.
Applying herbicides and pesticides to lawns is a common way of eradicating unwanted plants, but these chemicals are destructive in ways we are unable to see. Not only do they disturb the plants, but take an extreme toll on wildlife. This may happen in several different ways, including wildlife eating the sprayed plants, consuming insects that may also have been caught in the chemical application, or water runoff that carries the harmful chemicals into waterways. It is estimated that annually 7 million wild birds die from the use of lawn maintenance chemicals, and shockingly homeowners use more chemicals on their lawns than farmers do on their crops.
Herbicides are incredibly dangerous for plants and animals, and if these harmful chemicals are bad for the environment, well they are probably not too great for humans either!
Food For Pollinators
Being one of the first blooming flower species in the spring, you may have heard the phrase “Don’t mind the weeds, we are feeding the bees”. Dandelions are a source of food for the first pollinators to emerge in spring, however there is a contrary perspective that dandelions are not a good or preferred source of food for bees.
Even humans eat things that are not “preferred” sources of food, and although this may be true about dandelions for bees, flower availability in spring is less varied than during summer months especially in cooler climates. I am a true believer in giving the option and letting the wildlife decide what is best for them.
If you want bees and other early pollinators to enjoy other flowers in the very early spring, you could consider planting flowers that bloom early throughout Canada which will provide with more wildlife diet variation.
Hepaticas, which bloom in April even in Calgary, are a great garden planting flower that is also frost and snow tolerant. It can snow and still continue blooming weeks after.
Adonis – a yellow alpine flower blooming in April is also a good choice for western provinces.
Bloodroot, a member of the Poppy family, is native to eastern Canada and low growing, great for garden edges.
Mountain Saxifrage and Blue Eyed Grass are also two others that flower in spring. Some wildflowers that are great for pollinators are not readily available in garden centers, so finding species that are early bloomers and good for pollinators in the area you live is the key!
Dandelions For Us
Being a less known herb, dandelion is an excellent source of Vitamin A and C and has several minerals like iron, calcium, and potassium. Dandelions can be added to salads, used in wines, and added to skin products. It can taste quite bitter though, so the best time to harvest is when the plant is still young.
Dandelion root can also be used in teas. A great tea mixture using dandelion root also includes fresh ginger, lemon, and a little sweetness by using honey or syrup. A great detox or evening tea, very nutritional for your liver, headaches, and stomach uneasiness.
Overall, dandelions are wonderful plants that have been given such a poor reputation. Now is the time to reverse the dandelion myths instilled by perfect lawn achievers. Perfect grass lawns are overrated, and dandelions should be leading the way to wildflower populated yards!