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Lovers of lawns hate weeds, and perhaps the most reviled of them all is the dandelion: if you aspire to a pristine carpet of green lawn, you may not see the charm in a dandelion's sun-splashed yellow flowers and puff-ball seed heads.
Dandelions are not all bad, however. Their flowers are important early-spring sources of nectar and pollen for bees. On bright spring days when the temperature climbs above 60 degrees and the dandelions push their first yellow blooms up into the light, honeybees, those sweetest of pollinators, start to get busy. If you want to maintain a thick lawn, you shouldn't tolerate large numbers of dandelions, but go ahead and leave a few behind for the bees, which are such crucial pollinators of crops and flowers.
Some weeds are easy to pull with your fingers. Dandelions are not among them, but keeping them under control is nevertheless pretty easy if you have the right tools. A simple weeder, like the Fiskars Ergo weeder, lets you slice through a dandelion's taproot, scarcely disturbing the soil. Once the root is cut, you can pluck the whole plant out and drop it into your weeding basket. The Fiskars UpRoot Weed and Root Remover lets you do the same thing, without bending over. They're both great tools for other weeds with deep roots, too.
My husband takes charge of dandelion control in our garden. It's a rite of spring — he keeps his tools and weeding basket by the back door, and walks around the garden every day, checking on the daffodils and dandelions, which always come into bloom at about the same time. We don't use herbicides or pesticides, and hand weeding is good exercise and a good excuse to spend a few minutes in the garden, away from the busy world indoors.
It is always important to keep the weeding in perspective, particularly in the case of dandelions, the most common lawn weed. Dandelions flourish in every type of soil and climate. Each flower produces a puff-ball of up to 400 seeds; each plant may produce 15,000 seeds. The wind-borne seeds can take root just about anywhere they land, including in cracks in the driveway.
Dandelions are extraordinarily persistent perennial weeds, according to Anita Sanchez, who wrote a book about them, called The Teeth of the Lion (the word dandelion is an adaptation of the French dent de lion or "lion's tooth", which describes the jagged leaves of a dandelion plant). They were once loved for their beauty, prized for their medicinal uses, and harvested for their delicious greens. I've tried the greens, and my favorite market gardener actually cultivates big Italian dandelion greens, but I love other greens more.
In my neighborhood, it's the kids who take the greatest interest in dandelions, plucking the flowers for little bouquets and blowing the seed heads to watch the seeds fly away on their downy fluff. As I recall, you're supposed to take a deep breath, make a wish, and blow all the seeds off the stem at once, so your wish will come true. According to legend, the seeds — and your thoughts and dreams — are carried by the wind to a person you love. Judging from the evidence in my neighborhood in spring, I can say that love is all around us.