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The Fight Against Dandelions, Lawn Care and Pesticides

Yellow dandelion in grass

What are Dandelions?

Are dandelions overtaking your lawn? You’re not alone, since Ontario passed the cosmetic pesticide ban in 2009, it’s become increasingly common to see lawns covered in dandelions.  Bright yellow Dandelions are most commonly referred to as weeds, but they’re actually herbaceous perennials.  Although it seems as if dandelions are here to stay, by understanding their life cycle and what products are available, you can reduce dandelions on your lawn.

Understanding the Dandelion Life Cycle

Dandelions grow from a thick, unbranching tap root and were originally native to Eurasia, but have since been introduced to North America. Dandelions grow from seeds and do reproduce asexually by seed. In other words, it only takes one Dandelions to cover your entire lawn.

Dandelions flower in the spring, but can re-flower in the fall, too. It’s easier to spot the yellow dandelion flowers during the day, as they tend to close up at night. Dandelions will flower for a couple of days and then close to develop their seeds inside the closed head. The seeds have their own set of feathery bristles that catch in the wind and ensure the seeds are distributed.

Dandeloin seeds blowing away in the wind

After taking flight and landing on the ground, the seed germinates produces a cluster of tiny leaves close to the ground and establishes its deep tap root. By the time you see a dandelion flower the plant is well established, which is why it can seem like dandelions are overtaking your lawn. Dandelion plants can grow for up to 5-10 years!

The Pesticide Ban

Historically Dandelions were treated and controlled with pesticides to stop the spread and maintain lush green lawns. This changed when the province of Ontario passed its cosmetic pesticide ban on March 4, 2009. When the provincial-wide ban came into effect in April 2009, it outlawed more than 250 products and over 95 ingredients for cosmetic uses, making it one of the toughest pesticide laws in Canada. This pesticide ban targeted use on lawns, residential vegetable and ornamental gardens, patios, driveways, cemeteries, and in parks and school yards. It also superseded any local municipal pesticides bylaws.

  • Exceptions to the ban:
    • public health or safety; poisonous plants, insect control
    • Natural Resources; to control invasive species
    • Golf Courses
    • Specialty turf, lawn bowling, cricket, lawn tennis, croquet
    • Trees
    • Agriculture
    • Public Works

Not everyone was happy about the ban of cosmetic pesticides, specifically landscapers and homeowners. They argued that the pesticide ban was more political than science based, since it did not align with the Health Canada Guidelines. Some of the pesticide products banned were still acceptable for use under the Health Canada guidelines. Another argument questioned why some of the permitted pesticides require more stringent personal protective equipment than some of the banned pesticides.

Probably the biggest issue with the Pesticide Ban were the exceptions to the ban for industries like golf courses and agriculture, who by far use the largest amount of pesticides.

Management Tips

Unfortunately, the war on dandelions is a war we won’t win and we’ll need to accept that they’ll be part of our lawns going forward. However, by developing healthy lawn and yard care practices we can limit the populations of Dandelions.

  1. Focus on creating a thick healthy lawn;
    1. Top seeding each spring
    2. Fertilizing in the spring, summer and fall
    3. Aerating 1x/season
    4. Irrigation
  2. Mow your lawn regularly; not too short and not too long
  3. Pull dandelions from their root; specifically, in the spring when they’re flowering
  4. Use a legal weed control product to spot treat.