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Gardeners battle surge of dandelions


Haines may see more dandelions in years to come.

Some Haines residents are saying there’s a growth boom this year. “Instead of here and there, they appear to be in big clumps. There appear to be lots of them this year,” said Lutak resident Margaret Mock.

  An invasive plant, dandelions can reproduce in explosive numbers, partly because a single flower sheds as many as 400 airborne seeds.  

Naturalist Judy Jacobson, author of “Native Plants of Southeast Alaska,” said invasives and other species are flowering in greater numbers this spring, perhaps due to above average rains.

Thirty years ago there were “hardly any dandelions here,” she said.

Botanist Katey Palmer said she can’t answer what, exactly, accounts for this year’s big dandelion bloom, but there’s possibly a relationship between their numbers and heavy snows last winter.           

While other invasives are also spreading, dandelions seem to do particularly well, Jacobson and Palmer said. Dandelions are pioneer plants and are able to grow where other plants can’t. Even when their seeds land on gravel, for instance, they can flourish.

A problem with dandelions is that “they’re very good at wiping out other plants,” Jacobson said. They threaten native plant populations, such as lupine and fireweed, that previously flourished along roadsides, she said. Even at Glacier Point, dandelions have covered large, shoreline fields where native plants used to bloom.

That dandelions thrive in disturbed areas explains why they’re seen on roadsides and in areas where people typically walk.

Their ability to thrive when disturbed is also what makes them hard to control. “A big problem with invasives like dandelions is that digging them up or picking them can encourage their growth,” Jacobson said. “They’ve adapted to disturbance.”

But there are ways. As with other invasives, it’s important to get to them before they seed. “You want to get them first thing in the spring. Dig them out before they flower or when they’re flowering,” she said. After pulling them, she said, it’s best to double bag them and throw them out.

Another method of eradication involves covering the dandelions. If there’s a big lawn or field full of them and you don’t mind getting rid of everything else, Jacobson said, cover the area with a carpet to prevent the sun from reaching them. “This is a long term thing,” she said. “You’d have to leave the carpet on for a while.”

Garden store owner Glenda Gilbert has been looking into organic methods for dandelion eradication. Potent vinegar, she noted, is one effective organic option. Gilbert said that while there are more dandelions this year due to the rain, it’s nothing too uncommon. “It’s normal stuff.”

Nursery owner Toni Smith said she hasn’t seen a rush on dandelion removal products. Smith has been in Haines more than 30 years and said dandelions get worse every year. “It’s horrendous,” she said. She recommends pulling them – getting the entire root – and spraying with vinegar.

Longtime resident and gardener Fred Shields said the dandelion battle is never-ending. “I’ve been managing them for 30 years,” he said, looking out the window at his flourishing garden and neatly manicured lawn. In the summer, Shields tends his garden every day, often spending hours digging up dandelions and other invasive plants. “I pull them all the time. There’s no end to it.”

But dandelions aren’t all bad, he said. They actually provide a service, as their long tap roots bring up nutrients and minerals. “Dandelions are really kind of okay,” he said. “But if you don’t do anything, you’ll have a lot of them. And I just don’t want them taking over the yard and garden.”

Using a 3.5-foot spade fork, Shields wiggled out a dandelion root nearly a foot long.

“Let’s go find an even bigger one,” he said with a smile. He said he hasn’t noticed an increase in dandelions over the years.

Jacobson said the dandelions will probably continue to spread, becoming increasingly prevalent. “I think dandelions are beyond hope for us ever to eradicate them,” she said. “But it could be an experiment for us in Haines to try it and see what we can do.”

Dandelions can be used as food and medicine. Their flowers have been used in soups and buds are added to omelettes. Greens and sometimes roots are blended into tea and brewed into beer. Some herbalists also advocate the consumption of dandelions to support health, recommending them for ailments ranging from high cholesterol to gout.


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