Alaska News

Jeff Lowenfels: In the unending war with dandelions, a détente

My very first gardening chore was dandelion patrol on what was essentially eight acres of lawn. I still have and use that dandelion fork. I am now 65 years old and I have to finally admit to myself it will never slay the beast.

If you want to know what I am talking about, just go out and check your lawn. You may have fooled yourself into thinking you got them all last year, but you don't have to look very closely to see the dandelions. They are already green and growing, getting a good jump on the grass plants surrounding them.

You know where this column is headed: Now, while they are easy to spot and before the first flush of flowers (we get two in a normal year, by the way) and the consequent blizzard of seeds, is one of the prime times to attack dandelions if you are so inclined. There are a few new rules.

First, we all have to realize that all weeds are opportunistic. This is just another way of saying they will take advantage of any situation to make sure they have as secure a niche as possible. Dandelions are the best at this. They have more seeds than we have the ability to cope with, more root branching than we will ever be able to dig and the ability to start so small that we can't see them until they are established and have developed the aforementioned branching roots.

The only thing we can do about dandelions is keep them in check. There are several degrees or levels of control, however.

First, there is manual control. There are all manner of tools to help, ranging from simple, short- and long-handled, fork-headed tools all the way over to elegantly engineered, step-on-and-grab-the-weed pullers. Or you can get down on your hands and knees and slice and dice and pull by knife and hand. Usually, the aim is to get as much of the root system as possible and to get as many as you can before flowers develop. You can, however, just deal with the tops using a weed eater or 5-iron.

And, of course, the best manual control is to mow the flowers well before they develop seeds. Even if they develop, you can still mow to control. Just pick up the cuttings and put them in a compost pile to destroy seeds. Dandelions are full of calcium and make great compost material.


After manual control comes organic herbicide control. I acknowledge, this is a temporary patch, not a fix. BurnOut and other clove mixes, vinegar mixes and A.D.I.O.S. (which is table salt) are all fine. Sometimes they can be effective for a season, but usually you will need to apply later in the season as well. You can even use corn gluten now to prevent seeds. Just read and follow the labels. Organics can be caustic and dangerous, too.

Note the new rule: Buy only organic herbicides. There is absolutely, without argument (and don't bother sending nasty emails), no non-organic methods of control allowed. None. Not one. Nada. Period. RoundUp? Weed B Gon? (I don't even breathe while I walk by them in stores). I sure as heck don't want you, not to mention your children and grandchildren, to be exposed to these chemicals any more than all of us already are. (There should be laws, but there aren't). Do not buy these products anymore.

I can hear the gnashing of teeth, but buying only organic labels when it comes to herbicides, pesticides and especially weed products is not a lifestyle, eat-only-organic kind of choice here. Ingest what you want. Just don't spray things in the air in Anchorage that can be detected by people who don't want it all the way out in Wasilla. That is not your right. Nor should you be able to contaminate well water.

Others are gnashing teeth because you demand a totally weed-free lawn and you think I am crazy. Simply put, for a short time that dream of having a lawn that looks like the outer field in Yankee Stadium may come true, but even these non-organic chemicals don't work. (I've made several admissions to myself in this column and you need to as well). Why do you think you have to re-apply every year?

Lawns used to be meadows before we were convinced, starting in the 1950s, that all should look like putting greens and golf course fairways. Having been brainwashed, now it is time for our rehabilitation. I am all for keeping dandelions in check and this is a great time to do some work, but let's not kid ourselves. Neither you nor I will ever win the battle against the dandelion.

Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar

Northwest Cannabis Classic-Alaska: Saturday, May 16-Sunday, May 17, Dena'ina Center. I'll be joined by author Jorge Cervantes, aka George Van Patten, and Tom Alexander, America's first grower of sinsemilla. Find more information at www.nwcannabisclassic.

Harden off: You can plant boxes and containers now. You must harden off plants grown indoors.

Happy marriage: To Erik and Naaq, two great gardeners.

Rototilling: Do not till unless you are putting in a brand-new garden. The least disturbance of the soil possible is the way to go: small holes, furrows and the like.

Raised Bed Gardening: Thursday, May 14, 6-7:30 p.m. Selkregg Chalet/Russian Jack Springs Park. Raised beds can add a new dimension to your gardening experience and are especially useful for gardeners with limited space in their yards. Parents must accompany children. For ages 6 and older. Cost: $5. Register online at, by phone at 343-6992 or 343-4217 or in person at Selkregg Chalet.

Composting 101: Wednesday, May 20, 6-7:30 p.m., Selkregg Chalet/Russian Jack Springs Park. The how, what and why of composting in Alaska. Parents must accompany children. For ages 8 and older. Cost: $5. Register online at, by phone at 343-6992 or 343-4217 or in person at Selkregg Chalet.

Lawns: Water. Water. Water.

Jeff Lowenfels

Jeff Lowenfels has written a weekly gardening column for the ADN for more than 45 years. His columns won the 2022 gold medal at the Garden Communicators International conference. He is the author of a series of books on organic gardening available at Amazon and elsewhere. He co-hosts the "Teaming With Microbes" podcast.