I refuse to pull dandelions from my yard during the first bloom. I don’t even let my husband mow.
Those cheerful drops of sunshine are not only pretty to me, but as a beekeeper, I know they are a good food source for pollinators during the gaps between blooms of other essential spring plants.
And when the white fluff emerges, my yard fills with ecstatic little birds gobbling up the seeds.
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Not only are dandelions good sources of food for birds and bees, but most of the plant is edible for humans (that’s us!) too.
Yes, you could just go forage wild dandelions from your yard instead of growing them intentionally, but you shouldn’t forage from other people’s yards or roadsides.
People tend to hate dandelions, so you don’t know what they’ve been sprayed with (or whose dog peed on them).
Plus, frequently mowed dandelion greens can be too bitter to make a yummy addition to your salad.
So why not grow them? They’re healthy, easy, and as you’ll find out below, you don’t even need a yard or garden to have fresh dandelion greens handy.
Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about growing my favorite weed, the cheery dandelion!
What You’ll Learn
Cultivation and History
It’s a loathed weed now, but this central Asia native was initially imported to America as a food crop.
And, obviously, it did very well. You can find T. officinale, a member of the aster or Asteraceae family, in Europe, North America, southern Africa, South America, New Zealand, Australia, India…
Its success is no wonder.
Not only does each plant produce an average of 5,000 wind-borne seeds, they are perennials that are hardy in Zones 3-10, they survive from the lowlands to over 8,000 feet in elevation, tolerate wet and compact soils, poor and dry soil, and are generally pest and disease free.
Their biggest enemies are bunnies and humans.
The sight of a dandelion carpet might cause a spike in the blood pressure of some lawn owners, but they are a healthy food.
The greens are high in calcium, iron, vitamin C, and potassium, and low in calories. Excluding the flower stems, the rest of the plant is perfectly edible.
Dandelions can be beneficial to grow alongside your other plants, too. Their bright, pollen laden flowers attract a variety of beneficial insects such as lacewings, ladybugs, bumblebees and other pollinators.
The long, strong taproot also helps break up the soil, doing some tilling for you! As it grows deep into the ground, it makes nutrients available that other plants may not be able to reach.
Propagation: How to Sow
You can either collect wild dandelion seeds or buy them to sow in your garden.
If you search for dandelion seeds and greens, you may come across Italian dandelion (Cichorium intybus). Although this plant also can be grown as a green and the leaves look very similar to those of true dandelions, it is actually a type of chicory.
You can start seeds indoors four to six weeks before the last frost date in your area.
Fill a deep tray or some pots with at least six inches of moist potting soil and sow the seeds one and a half inches apart.
Cover lightly with the medium, but don’t bury them because the seeds need light to germinate.
Place the pots or tray in a warm, sunny location and keep them moist but not waterlogged. The seeds should germinate within seven to 21 days.
When the plants are three to four inches tall and outdoor soil temperatures are at least 50°F, you may transplant the seedlings into your garden.
Alternately, you can transplant them into deep pots and keep them on your balcony if you don’t have a garden or yard.
If you’d rather sow outdoors, you can plant seeds anytime after the last hard frost, as long as soil temperatures are at least 50°F.
Either space the seeds six to 12 inches apart or sprinkle the seeds on the soil surface and thin the seedlings later. If you want to harvest baby greens (young, tender leaves), sow or thin to three inches apart.
You can learn more about how to start dandelion from seed in our guide. (coming soon!)
How to Grow
Seeing how they grow cheerfully without any attention (or with a lot of negative attention), dandelions are not a difficult type of leafy green to grow. But like all plants, they have their preferences.
Dandelions prefer full sun locations but typically the best greens come from plants grown in part shade.
If you do grow them in full sun, you can shade the leaves with a dark cloth or cover the plants with a box a couple of days before harvesting.
These taproot plants love to grow in lawns and prefer slightly acidic soil just like turf does, with an optimal pH of 6.2-6.8. But they can survive in a pH range of 6.0-8.5 if necessary.
Dandelions like fertile soil, but if you are planting in a poor soil you can amend with compost. They will grow in poor soils that are low in potassium or phosphorus, but the tastiest greens come from plants grown in more fertile soils.
If you are growing in fertile or compost amended soil, applying additional fertilizer is unnecessary.
If you are growing them in a pot, you can fertilize with a fertilizer such as AgroThrive General Purpose Fertilizer 3-3-2 (NPK), available from Arbico Organics, every six weeks.
These robust plants can tolerate short periods of waterlogging and drying out, and do surprisingly well in wet and compact soils.
Though dandelions tolerate short-term drought, the taste and succulence of the leaves is best if they are watered regularly. If you are growing in containers, keep the soil evenly moist, but not waterlogged.
- Grow in full sun or partial shade.
- Remove flowers before they produce seed.
- Maintain even moisture.
Dandelions will grow well without much attention, but if you don’t want them to spread all over your garden and lawn, harvest all the flowers before they produce seed.
Removing the flowers before the plants put a lot of energy into producing seeds will result in larger roots, if you plan to harvest those as well!
Cultivars to Select
Gourmet dandelion varieties? You better believe it. You can find dandelion varieties specifically produced for growing as greens in some seed catalogs.
True, or wild dandelion is naturally leafy and delicious, producing fresh greens and sweet blooms.
Seeds are available in a variety of packet sizes from True Leaf Market.
Wild dandelions, especially those that are foraged, can sometimes be on the bitter side, but there are a couple of named varieties cultivated to have a more mild flavor.
Amélioré à Coeur Plein
‘Amélioré à Coeur Plein’ produces an abundance of jagged leaves in a dense, compact clump which makes it ideal for growing in pots and containers.
Vert de Montmagny
‘Vert de Montmagny,’ also known as French dandelion, is a mild variety cultivated in the 19th century, with dark green leaves and an upright growth habit.
Managing Pests and Disease
Dandelions are typically pest and disease free, so this might be the easiest edible green you’ll grow! But we aren’t the only ones that find the leaves yummy, so dandelions will occasionally attract some hungry visitors.
Rabbits can be a big issue once they discover your garden. If you have a family of bunnies chewing through your greens, you can try protecting your plants with wire screening.
Other visitors can include slugs or snails, which you can pick off by hand. You can learn more about how to control slugs and snails in our guide.
The best leaves are the young, light colored ones which are much more tender and mild tasting than older ones.
The best time to harvest the baby leaves is in the spring, but you can harvest the leaves and flowers at any point during the growing season.
Cut the leaves as close to the roots as possible. Pick the flowers and discard the stalks on your compost pile.
Store fresh leaves and flowers in the vegetable drawer of the fridge out of the light so they don’t turn yellow. It’s best to eat them soon after harvesting, because they will only last up to three days in the fridge.
Wash the leaves thoroughly before use and dry in a salad spinner. Don’t have a salad spinner? Check out our sister site, Foodal, for recommendations.
To dry the leaves for later use, bundle them up and hang them upside down in an airy, shaded place.
The best way to dry the flowers is without the stems, so pop the flowers (and leaves if you prefer) in a dehydrator at 86-104°F until they are crispy.
Store the dried plant parts in a sealed jar or bag in a cool dark place.
Harvest the roots when the plant is two years old, either in the fall or early spring. Wash well and use the roots fresh in cooking or tinctures.
To store them long term, chop the cleaned roots into one- to two-inch sections and either air dry or use a dehydrator at 95°F until brittle.
After this they can be roasted in a 200°F oven for four hours, ground, and used as a coffee substitute.
Recipes and Cooking Ideas
From salads to coffee, our happy yellow-flowered weed is a versatile, nutritious plant.
If dandelion can be a coffee substitute, what about making it into tea? Why not?
You can make tea from fresh or dried leaves or flowers.
To make a cozy cuppa, add fresh or dry plant parts to a strainer and brew in boiling water for five to 10 minutes.
You can learn more about the different ways to use dandelions for food and health in our guide.
Quick Reference Growing Guide
|Plant Type:||Herbaceous perennial||Maintenance:||Low|
|Native to:||Central Asia||Tolerance:||Wet, compacted soil|
|Hardiness (USDA Zone):||3-10||Soil Type:||Organically rich loam|
|Season:||Spring to summer||Soil pH:||6.0-8.5|
|Exposure:||Full sun to part shade||Soil Drainage:||Moderate to poor|
|Time to Maturity:||85-95 days||Attracts:||Bees, beneficial insects, other pollinators|
|Spacing:||6-12 inches||Companion Planting:||Mixed leafy greens, beans, clover, tomatoes|
|Planting Depth:||Surface (seeds)||Avoid Planting With:||Corn, potatoes|
|Common Pests:||Rabbits||Common Diseases:||Aster yellows|
Weeds or Not, Dandelions are Garden Delights!
Easy to grow and healthy to boot, you really can’t go wrong with a small patch of dandelions in your garden.
Not only do dandelions provide you and your pollinator friends with food, but they can be good for other plants in your garden as well.
Would you ever consider growing dandelions in your garden or are they still a weed in your mind? Let us know in the comments section below!
And more for more information about growing edible flowers in your garden, check out these guides next:
- How to Grow Pot Marigold (Calendula) Flowers
- How to Grow Sunflowers: A Beautiful and Tasty Addition to Your Landscape
- How to Grow Bee Balm: Bring Out the Hummingbirds!
© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via Arbico Organics and True Leaf Market. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock. With additional writing and editing by Clare Groom and Allison Sidhu.