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Jeff Lowenfels: We're in the weeds when it comes to stopping dandelions

Jeff Lowenfels

My neighbor and I just don't want to admit we have lost the war we have been waging on dandelions. I am afraid we have, however, and by the looks of it, almost all of Southcentral Alaska should consider a truce and treaty. Without even going to Fairbanks, I am pretty sure 'yardeners' there have lost too, and while Juneau's isolation may save it for a while, dandelions are coming and there is really nothing to do to prevent this last invasion.

I came to this realization last week as I lay in a hammock in our backyard. I spent the next hour laying on my back, watching an alien air force invasion. There were literally millions of floats of seeds sailing overhead into our yards (and beyond). For awhile I was able to delude myself into thinking they were rafts of cottonwood seeds, but after about 15 minutes one fell on my face and I took a good look at it; There they were, a half-dozen dandelion seeds clumped together. Another zillion paratrooper weed seeds drifted over head, a constant wave of them with no end in sight.

Both of us can remember the days of having yards virtually free of dandelions (and not so very long ago). This was back in the days before we realized just how dangerous dandelion chemical nuclear warfare happens to be, so we used all the poisons you've heard me since rail against and we did so without a thought.

When we saw the light (and it is a bright one dear reader: no weed-be-gone products are safe), we resorted to other methods. One year we lugged propane tanks across our lawns, connected to a wicked gas burner that heated dandelions to death. We hit every single one with BurnOut another season and ADIOS the next. Sure we got relief, but it was temporary either because the "dead" weeds grew back or because new ones germinated quicker than we could kill the old ones.

Throughout the years, we've used every single kind of dandelion weed fork, step-on digger and hand puller on the market. What is more, since I have a small national following due to my books, we have even tried some inventions sent to me for testing that have not made the market, like electric dandelion killers, steam heaters and even weirder.

It could be the arthritis on my part and the appearance of the cutest twin grand babies on his, but we are about to give up on trying to eradicate our nemesis. They line the roadways that lead to our homes and are literally spread by cars and trucks. They fill our local school yards and parks and, as attested, then clog our airway over head as they migrate to find a spot not already inundated by fellow weeds.

Oh, sure, we will still do the gardener-yardener thing: fight them. I for one have been trying to train the dog to eat the flowers. Heck, I have been trying to train myself to do the same thing! My lovely wife, conceding to my arthritis, has been diligently picking them whenever she sees a flower. Most of all, however, I simply mow them when the flowers first appear. Remove their heads and you would never know they are through out the lawn, especially when you mow in a pattern to distract the eye.

My neighbor is mowing his too, but is considering planting vegetables instead of a lawn. I am not sure there are enough hours to farm that much land, however. Surely, there must be a better way.

And, just as we are about to throw in the towel, a new idea appears, sent to me by an old Alaskan friend who now lives in Montana. She lugs a shop vacuum out to the yard and sucks up the seed heads as they appear. Hmmm, I wonder if I can point my vac upwards and pull down the invaders in the sky? You can bet as soon as I finish this column I am going to go out and see how it works.

Jeff Lowenfels is co-author of "Teaming With Microbes" and author of "Teaming With Nutrients." Contact him on his website at teamingwithmicrobes.com.

• Midsummer Gala at the Alaska Botanical Garden: Tonight. There are still a few tickets left. Go to www.alaskabg.org, but hurry.

• Boreal Garden and Arts Fest: June 28 and 29. Remember the Alaska Botanical Garden's midsummer Faire? This is the revamped, updated and all-new Alaska Botanical mid-summer family offering. Two days of Art, cooking and planting demos, Tai-chi for gardeners, plant vendors, children's village, music, food vendors (more needed, so call), bug safaris, birds, baby goats and speakers. It's $8 per person, children 5 and under are free. Free shuttle from parking at the Alaska Club and Chugach Square. 11 to 5 p.m. with a 10 a.m. members-only preview opening Saturday. Another reason to join the ABG and get first pick of plants.

• Radish: Harvestable after only 25 days. Are yours ready?

• Potatoes: Hill the new growth, leaving only a few inches above the soil or mulch level.

• Thin: What are you waiting for? Thin carrots, beets, lettuces and anything else you have not attended to already.

• Stake: Delphiniums, peonies, malva.

• Nurseries: Sales, sales, sales. Visit several this weekend.Jeff's Alaska gardening calendar


Jeff Lowenfels
Gardening