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Dandelions, dandelions and more dandelions: What NOT to do

Friday - 6/13/2014, 9:47am  ET

The best cure for dandelion problems is proper lawn care year-round. (Thinkstock)

Dandelions will make you wise — about correct lawn care

Marcel in Adelphi writes: "I have 1,732 dandelions. They went to seed and I plucked the seedheads by hand. Now I'd like to squirt something on them to kill them, but I have a dog who likes to sniff around. I'm also concerned that the dandelions will come back in force, and I still won't know how to combat them next spring. Any advice you can give a beginner?"

Absolutely, Marcel. First, this is not the right time of year to do anything that might stress a cool-season lawn such as bluegrass or fescue. "Squirting something" would likely just result in big patches of scorched earth. As boring as it sounds, proper lawn care is the only rational way to control weeds like these.

Sorry; I realize that many lawn owners would prefer to buy into the fantasy of the Cowboy of Death on the TV commercials, spinning around to deal out weedy justice with a cancer-causing six-gun herbicide sprayer, but Old West justice is bad for you and the lawn. And for birds, and toads, and pets, and children, and ... you get the point.

Just cut the lawn at three inches high with a sharp blade. Don't feed it (or spray anything on it!) over the summer. And be sure to leave the clippings on the lawn after cutting to give the grass more strength. Then in mid-August, have the lawn core-aerated with a machine that pulls out plugs to relieve soil compaction -- dandelions are a sure sign of compacted soil.

Then, if the grass seems to be in fairly decent shape, feed it with corn gluten meal. Applying corn gluten meal toward the end of August gives your lawn its recommended fall feeding and prevents a lot of this year's dandelion seed from sprouting.

But if the lawn is just a complete mess, aerate; spread an inch of compost; level the surface and reseed -- again, in mid to late August.

Gifts for dad that are just dandy -- especially when yellow flowers and puffballs appear

Yes, the long-term answer to dandelions is booooring — relieving soil compaction with core aeration in late summer/early fall, cutting the lawn at the right height and feeding correctly. Yawn.

But that doesn't mean you can't engage in some really enjoyable direct combat when the dreaded plant appears in the spring. Three types of devices get rid of these weeds very well without poisons. All are fun to use and easy on your back, and they make great Father's Day gifts! (Hint, hint…)

  • The first is a tall, step-on weed puller, like the Weed Hound. You place the little cage on the business end over the weed, put your foot onto a plunger and the tool pops the dandelion right out of the ground, root and all, while you remain standing. Very satisfying and easy on your back (or dad's back. Hint, hint…). There are several other different-branded versions, many available in home stores and garden centers.

  • The Water Powered Weeder from Lee Valley Tools funnels the power of your garden hose into a long, thin spike to deliver a laser-like burst of high pressure water to the root zone, blasting the weed out of the ground.

  • But my favorites are the propane-powered flame weeders that wilt weeds with heat and turn dandelion puffballs into Munchkin fireworks! Same with crabgrass seeds at the end of the season. Just search "flame weeders" online -- and don't delay. Amazon is saying that my absolute favorite, Bernzomatic's Outdoor Torch, is being discontinued and might soon be unavailable.

You can't cure years of neglect with a herbicidal attack

Vicky in Laurel writes: "Can you recommend an herbicide that will kill existing weeds in my lawn both now and through the summer? I have not been able to maintain my lawn properly for several years. While I prefer to go the organic route, the weeds have gotten the upper hand and I need to eradicate them now."

Eh, no. You do not "need to," Vicky. Lawn weeds pose no danger to anyone, and there is no possible need for such immediate -- and ill-advised -- action. And perhaps more importantly, nuking large areas of your turf with chemical herbicides would not give you a nice-looking lawn, especially as grass-stressing warm weather is moving in. It would instead turn the area into a dust bowl or mud puddle, depending on the exact summer weather to come.

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