Opening salvos in the dandelion wars


It’s dandelion season again.

For about 30 million years, the yellow ground flower, or “noxious weed” in some states (not Iowa), has graced the planet. It’s probably not native to the United States, appearing here as an import, possibly intentional, back in colonial times.

But it’s apparently native to my yard. Whether I fight them or not, dandelions pop up on our lot in April every year. And every year I eventually decide whether to poison them, dig them or ignore them.

It’s not good form to ignore them. I know that. Some of our neighbors are diligent about their lawns, and the results are beautiful. It’s certainly not neighborly for me to let my dandelions go white and send their little feathery seeds, officially called achenes, over to take root on those handsome greenswards.

On Monday this week, before the midweek rains, I decided to try to keep ahead of the dandelions, at least most of them, by taking them head-on.

I fetched my long-handled dandelion digger from the garage and headed out to the Harrison Street parking. It slopes gently toward the south, thereby providing the warmest soil and the most fecund dandelion environment.

There was a particularly thick stand of dandelions along the curb. I started at the corner by the alley, the closest spot to the neighbors’ yards, and commenced the attack, stabbing the tines of the digger deep enough to sever the plant’s taproot.

I worked my way westward along the curb and about two feet up into the parking, digging every flowering dandelion and leaving their remains scattered on the grass. Several folks stopped by in their cars to offer encouragement, or to pronounce the obvious reminder that digging dandelions is a never-ending job.

I knew that. I made it about 30 feet west from the alley. The steel two-point digger is dull, and the matted roots were tough. I thought I’d take a break for a while.

The break turned longer than I planned, and then the phone rang, and then I had to get to my meeting. Then it was time for some other household chores.

Bottom line: It was late in the afternoon before I ventured out again with the digger. I managed another few feet, but then took another break to check in with my 4-year-old granddaughter at dance practice. She came back to our house for a while before her dad picked her up, and then it was dinner time.

Then the St. Louis Cardinals series opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates showed up on ESPN, and that’s required watching for me.

So night closed in, the dandelion flowers closed up when the sun went down, and my first battle with the dandelions turned off pretty puny.

Tuesday opened with morning rain, and I took off for Ames at 10 a.m. for a meeting that lasted most of the rest of the day. The ground was pretty wet when I returned late that afternoon, and I deferred any more digging until later.

I tried not to calculate how long it would take me at Monday’s pace to clear the parkings and yard of their by-now-everywhere dandelions. I didn’t need to do the exact calculation; a rough estimate was that it would be a heck of a long time.

I’m now ruminating on a feature I heard a couple of weeks ago on Iowa Public Radio’s Friday morning call-in “Hort Line” program. An enlightened gentleman phoned in to say that he really loved the beauty of a lawn full of dandelions, noting in addition how tasty and healthy the plant is in salads.

I’m trying to convince myself that there’s maybe something to what he said, and that I should simply revel in the dazzling display of my dandelion crop. I could maybe pull that off — after 75 years, I’m pretty good at persuading myself why I don’t need to do things I had always assumed I should.

I could possibly do that in this case, except there are those neighbors to consider.

So I’ll probably make another pass or two with the digger, and then go to the store and get some broadleaf killer and a spreader.

I’ll put off thinking about the creeping charlie until later.

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Jefferson, IA 50129

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