Dandelion Greens: Glad I’m Not a Starving Colonist

My son stood in the back of the pick up truck surveying his work. His eyes were wide, arms outstretched, and his jaw slack in amazement. “Did I plant all of this?” he asked, as he pointed to the broad swaths of brilliant yellow dandelions smothering the field, encroaching on the lawn. Grady did help sow those dandelions, but he was not alone. Many kids have blown dandelion seeds in my yard with great delight, hoping that their wishes would come true.

girl blowing dandelion seeds
Katy Hill makes a wish as she ensures the proliferation of dandelions. Photo: Susie Hill

If I were to turn back the hands of time to the era of our early American ancestors, I would be monumentally proud of my kids. Ours is an old farmhouse that was a one-room cabin in the 1700’s. If I lived in this house back then, I would have spent my winter subsisting on pork rinds, corn bread, and half rotten squashes from the root cellar. I would have jumped for joy at the sight of emerging dandelion greens. After all, colonists brought dandelions to the new world. They were a welcome addition to the dinner plate after long, vitamin deficient winters.

I am so glad that I am not a starving colonist. Green is my favorite color to eat. I grow a lot of my own greens, but when those are unavailable, I do not suffer through a long winter, waiting on bated breath for poke greens and dandelions. I just go to the store and buy what I want. I have tried, but to date, I have not developed a taste for dandelion greens. I have tried them in salad- never again. I have tried dandelion wine- not my favorite. I tried feeding them to my chickens- they turned up their beaks.

dandelion leaves
Dandelion greens. Photo: Pixabay

Hoping to find a way to reduce my dandelion colony, I thought I would try feeding them to my eldest sister. She is an extraordinary cook and she has a broad culinary palate. In the early 90’s she paid $6.00 for a bunch of purslane, a weed that grows prolifically in my sidewalk. She seemed the most likely taste tester. When I visit my sister in Manhattan, I always bring produce, eggs, and flowers. On one visit, I brought dandelion greens. I spent an hour carefully selecting the best rosettes I could find. I triple washed them and brought them bagged and ready to eat. She did eat them because of the effort involved in getting them to her, but they were so bitter that she said she had to choke them down.

On my way home from the city, I stopped in a Pennsylvania Dutch meat market where they just happened to have bags of dandelion greens for sale. I inquired about how to prepare them and the woman behind the counter told me that you must dig them when the rosettes are very small. Clean them well. Then cook them with lard and bacon, topped with hard-boiled eggs. It seems the only part of this process I got right was the triple washing.

dandelions
Dandelion flowers. Photo: Pixabay

This spring, I shall try them again. I’ll probably skip the extra lard but will surely cook them with bacon. I will dig the rosettes when they are very small and I will triple wash them with care. If after that, I do not like them, I will not eat them again until I am starving to death following the next apocalypse. Surely, dandelions will survive an apocalypse. Maybe then, I will actually turn to Grady and all the other kids in my life and thank them for a job well done.

Susie Hill is a University of Maryland Extension Master Gardener in Frederick County and a former HGIC Horticulture Consultant.

Q&A: Japanese Stiltgrass Management and Lawn Fertilization Tips

University of Maryland Lecturer and Turfgrass Management Advisor Geoff Rinehart answers your questions about lawn weeds and fall fertilization.

Q: What is this “grass” and is it possible to eradicate it from our lawn? It has been spreading down the hill from our neighbor’s property. What’s the best way to bring our lawn back to a nice quality grass?

Japanese stiltgrass in a lawn

Answer: Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum) is an invasive summer annual grass that is becoming more pervasive in Maryland. While it used to be more limited to just woodland areas, we are getting more reports of it infesting lawn areas in recent summers.

As is the approach with any weeds, practicing good turfgrass cultural practices to encourage a healthy, dense stand of grass is the cornerstone of any lawn management program. Mowing taller (3”-3 ½”), fertilizing based on University of Maryland recommendations, and overseeding annually with improved turfgrass cultivars are three practices that will help create greater density.

This summer has been a particularly difficult one for controlling summer annual grasses like crabgrass, goosegrass, and, of course, Japanese stiltgrass since these weedy grasses are favored by wet, hot conditions like the weather we had in July-September. Since Japanese stiltgrass is a summer annual, it can be deterred by applying a pre-emergent herbicide in the spring at forsythia bloom (which is a similar approach to crabgrass control). When watered-in, pre-emergent herbicides form a soil barrier to seed germination. However, most of these products only last 6-10 weeks (the lower part of this range when it is wet and/or hot, the upper part when it is dry and/or cool). This May was rather rainy, so if you applied a pre-emergent in early April, another should have been applied in June. Usually, two applications are enough to get us to early August and then summer annual weed pressure decreases as early cooler weather is usually a month around the corner.  Continue reading

A Lawn Retrospective on the Summer of 2018: Looking Ahead to the Fall Season

nutsedge and crabgrass in a lawn
Nutsedge and crabgrass have been particular challenges this year with all of the late summer rain.

It seems like ages ago, but during late spring and early summer we were in the midst of a long dry spell–and then things changed! It seems once the rain started it hardly ever stopped during late July and early August and all of this rain created its own set of problems. In particular, summer annual weeds and sedges were given new life with all of the wet conditions. For many homeowners, it has been a difficult summer keeping weeds like crabgrass, Japanese stiltgrass, kyllinga, and nutsedge at bay during the wet, humid weather. Even folks who had applied a second application of pre-emergent herbicide in late spring were seeing that product break down more rapidly with the inordinate amounts of rain the region experienced.

University of Maryland (UMD) research (and others) has indicated that the best way to deter crabgrass is to mow higher. Experiment plots mowed in the 3½-4” range have consistently had less crabgrass invasion than plots mowed at 2” or 3”. While this late summer weather has led to a lot of crabgrass and sedge invasion, homeowners can take solace in the fact that relief is in sight as far as the calendar is concerned. Late August/early September is the perfect time of year to re-seed with cool-season grasses like tall fescue to undertake a full-scale renovation or a lawn “rejuvenation.” Continue reading

Spring Lawn Care: How to Deal with Weeds and Bare Spots

forsythia shrub in bloomWith spring gardening season right around the corner, lawn questions have been rolling into the Home & Garden Information Center (HGIC). Here I’ll address some of the most common questions about weeds and overseeding.

Dealing with Winter Weeds

chickweed
Chickweed

In late winter/early spring, we typically see winter annual weeds in thin, under-fertilized, wet, or shady areas. These weeds germinated in the fall and will die as the weather warms up later in the spring. In my observations, this has not been a particularly bad year for winter annuals. They are favored by wet, mild winters and I think we had just enough “bitter cold” in January and a fairly dry stretch through December and January to reduce populations.

Typical winter annual weeds include chickweed, henbit, purple deadnettle, and shepherd’s purse. Options to address these winter annual weeds include hand pulling, spot spraying with a broadleaf herbicide, or waiting until they die once weather climbs to the 60’s and 70’s on a regular basis. For perennial weeds like dandelion which will start to re-emerge later this month, hand-pulling or spot spraying are the best methods for control.

Continue reading