Here there be dandelions

Actual photo of actual dandelion from my actual yard. Note that it is growing in a patch of Dutch white clover. Smart plant!

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.

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10 responses to “Here there be dandelions

  1. well, now–there’s a perspective on dandelions I would never have considered.
    Thanks for the view! 🙂
    jane

  2. That’s very interesting. I had no idea that’s what happened to the soil — it sounds just like our yard.

    We, too, tried to avoid chemicals on the lawn. I even tried to hand-dig all the dandelions up by the roots the first few years.

    You’re only the second person I’ve ever heard say postive things about that pretty yellow weed, the first being a gardening expert on TV.

    I shall now appreciate them even more. 🙂

    • Jennifer Barricklow

      They really prefer loose soil (hence their constant appearance in prepared beds), but they’re such little troopers, working even under difficult (read: compacted) conditions that ya’ just gotta love ’em! Besides, they have such sunny little faces, and you can make wishes with the seed heads – what’s not to like? 🙂

  3. I’m really glad to hear about your lengthy process to reclaim the fertility of your soil. I love the clover and the dandelions. I know they often are the bane of pristine-lawn lovers, but not me! I gather up the dandelion leaves, and snack on them, then throw some, along with clover, particularly the pink variety, to my pacas and they love me. In the summer, when the weeds are glorious and full, they follow me to the mailbox hoping for a succulent handful. So, I say, here’s to dandelions and clover! May they thrive where they’re loved!

    Nancy

    • Jennifer Barricklow

      Hear, hear! Let us raise a glass of dandelion wine to these lovely plants!

      Thanks for stopping by, Nancy!

  4. I spent the day digging dandelions out of my perennial beds. . . in general dandelions in the backyard are ok, but in the front I slowly try to limit them to the grass. (Retired neighbors constantly offer me poisons. . .)

    Anyway, where to put a new plant?? Right where the dandelion was, as the roots are nice and deep and leave lots of room for a new plant. In a garden bed, dandelions are nice new plant markers! (especially in the rock and clay that is Appalachia, where crow bars are your gardening friend!)

    (Best place for daylillies? Gilbert H. Wild – 100 daylillies for 100$! And the roots are huge!!!)

    (Nope I have no affiliation with Gilbert H. Wild!)

    • Jennifer Barricklow

      What a great idea! I never thought of using those lovely prepared holes for planting, but it makes perfect sense. Now I’ll have to check out Gilbert H. Wild…

      Thanks for the gardening tips! 🙂

  5. I really know nothing about gardening, so from a “topsoil” perspective I found this very interesting. But on a more personal level, it made me think of the people in our lives that challenge us a little more than others. The ones that require us to dig deeper into ourselves to find patience and endurance. Or maybe even those that are like a weed and require us to step-out of our comfort zone and be more assertive or set clearer boundaries in order to be more fruitful.

    “Their presence in my yard indicates an improvement in soil quality, both in fertility as well as tilth.”

    Well written – and a nice perspective. Thanks.

    • Jennifer Barricklow

      What a lovely way of viewing those “challenging” people that seem to crop up with such persistent regularity. Maybe now I can rejoice when my life abounds in dandelions as I do when my yard does. You have a poet’s vision. Thanks for stopping by!

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