My yard is full of dandelions!! Whahoo!! Allow me to explain:
Twenty-some years ago, a developer bought a tract of land from a farmer who was retiring and had no one to carry on after him. The land had been used to pasture cattle, being a little too rolling to make easy fields for crops. The developer scraped away the good Kentucky topsoil that had been built up over thousands of years and sold it. Then he graded the rolling hills to make good postage stamp-sized lots and built houses on them, laying sod directly over the compacted clay hardpan that now comprised the soil surface. (I’ll give him credit for one thing, though: he left the existing trees, mostly choke cherry and locust, in the ravines and along the fence rows. I bless him for that.)
The new homeowners dutifully watered and fertilized and pesticided the sod, artificially sustaining it on its tilth-less foundation. They kept this up for fifteen years, maintaining a very respectable-looking lawn of artificial turf. Then some nature-nuts moved in (that’s us) and made the yard quit cold-turkey: no more watering, no more dope.
The first summer was unseasonably cool and rainy, so the yard got a chance to ease into this new, clean life just a bit. The next summer was hotter and drier, and the ill-adapted sod grass fared poorly. We put compost on the yard, but the hardpan had such low absorption capacity that the first good rain washed it away. Crabgrass loves infertile soil with poor drainage, however, and took over the bare patches. We were just glad that SOMETHING was growing.
The next year, we spread Dutch white clover seed. The rains carried much of it away, but enough found a toehold to make a few lush, green patches. Several shallow-rooted species of “weed” began to appear, and we rejoiced: it was a beginning.
Now to the dandelions: last year (year five) was the first year dandelions appeared anywhere other than the raised flower beds. Dandelions have deep taproots; they will not grow where the soil is too compacted to penetrate. Once they do start growing in compacted soil, though, their taproots help to loosen it. Their presence in my yard indicates an improvement in soil quality, both in fertility as well as tilth. There remain places in the yard where they will not yet grow, but this year’s crop is a big step forward.
Another year or two of dandelions and we might be able to grow some grass.