Many people consider dandelions to be pesky weeds that invade lawns and gardens. However, did you know that dandelions are actually edible and nutritious? Their young leaves can be eaten raw in salads or cooked, while the flowers can be used to make wine, jelly, or fritters. Dandelions are also great for pollinators like bees.
If you want to purposefully grow dandelions in your garden, it’s easy to cultivate these hardy plants. In this comprehensive guide, I’ll cover everything you need to know about growing dandelions successfully, including tips on:
- Dandelion benefits
- Choosing the right dandelion variety
- When to plant dandelions
- Preparing the soil
- Planting and caring for dandelions
- Harvesting dandelion greens and flowers
- Storing and using dandelions
Let’s dive in and explore how to grow your own patch of dandelions!
Before we get into the specifics of growing dandelions, let’s first go over why you may want to grow these plants in the first place. Here are some of the top benefits of dandelions:
Edible – The young leaves are tender and delicious raw in salads or sautéed. The bright yellow flowers are also edible and can be used to make dandelion wine, fritters, jelly, and more.
Nutritious – Dandelion greens are high in vitamins A, C, and K. They also contain antioxidants, iron, calcium, potassium, and fiber.
Support pollinators – Dandelions attract and feed bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects. The bright flowers provide an early spring food source.
Medicinal uses – Dandelion roots and leaves have been used in herbal medicine to help stimulate digestion and as a mild diuretic.
Hardy and low maintenance – Once established, dandelions are very hardy plants that require almost no care. They thrive in a wide range of conditions.
So by growing dandelions, you can enjoy their edible and medicinal benefits while also attracting more pollinators to your garden!
Choosing Dandelion Varieties
There are several varieties of Taraxacum officinale, the common dandelion. When choosing which to grow, consider:
Climate – Some varieties handle cold better than others. Choose one suited for your planting zone.
Leaf type – Options like ‘Broad-leaved’ and ‘Crispum’ have tender, tasty leaves. ‘French Thick-leaved’ has particularly large leaves.
Bloom time – Some bloom earlier or later than others. Stagger varieties for an extended harvest.
Height – Low-growing kinds under 6 inches work well in edging. Taller ones stand out in beds.
Popular dandelion varieties include:
- French Thick-leaved
- Vert de Montmagny
- Pink Beauty (reddish flowers)
- Pucelles (tender green leaves)
- Crispum (heavily curled leaves)
Buy dandelion seeds or transplants from a reputable source. Dig in your garden to transplant large dandelion roots or sow seeds directly.
When to Plant Dandelions
Dandelions grow best when sown directly in the garden. Plant them in early spring or fall.
For a spring crop, sow dandelion seeds outdoors 4-6 weeks before your last expected frost. The seeds need exposure to cold, moist conditions to break dormancy and germinate. Dandelions sprout best at soil temperatures around 50-60°F.
You can also transplant dandelion roots or seedlings in early spring after the danger of frost has passed. This gives the plants time to establish before summer heat.
Plant dandelions in fall 6-10 weeks before your first expected frost. The plants will go dormant for winter and emerge in early spring. Fall planting avoids the need to stratify seeds.
No matter when you sow them, make sure dandelions get full sun. Give them 8 hours of direct sunlight per day. Partial shade is okay, but will reduce flowering and yields.
Preparing Soil for Dandelions
Dandelions grow in almost any soil type, but they thrive best in slightly alkaline soil rich in nutrients. Here are some tips for preparing the soil:
Test your soil pH. Dandelions prefer a pH between 6.0-7.5. Add lime if needed to raise pH.
Work 2-4 inches of compost into beds to enrich the soil. Compost provides nutrients and improves drainage.
Till or dig beds to a depth of 10-12 inches to loosen soil and remove weeds. Dandelions have long taproots.
Rake soil smooth and remove any rocks or debris. The seeds need good contact with soil.
After sowing seeds, water gently and maintain even moisture. Seeds and seedlings shouldn’t dry out.
Well-drained, loose soil gives dandelion roots room to expand. Amend clay or very sandy soils to improve texture.
Planting Dandelions from Seed
Dandelion seeds can be either sown directly in the garden or started indoors 4-6 weeks before the last frost:
Wait until after the last frost when soil is at least 50°F.
Rake soil smooth and water lightly before planting. Moist soil helps seeds germinate.
Sow seeds 1/4 inch deep, scattered or in rows 8-12 inches apart. Space seeds 2 inches apart.
Cover seeds lightly with soil and water gently. Keep soil moist but not soaked until sprouts emerge.
Thin seedlings to 8-12 inch spacing once they reach 2 inches tall. Enjoy thinnings in salads!
Start seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before transplanting outdoors after the last frost.
Fill seed trays or cells with potting mix. Moisten the mix before planting.
Sow 2-3 seeds per cell. Cover with 1/4 inch of mix.
Keep the seedlings at 60-70°F. Provide bright light.
Thin to 1 plant per cell after sprouting. Harden off before transplanting.
No matter if seeds are started indoors or out, consistent moisture is key for good germination rates. Dandelion seeds can take 7-20 days to sprout.
Growing and Caring for Dandelions
Dandelions are easy, low-maintenance plants once established. Here are tips for caring for them:
Sun and temperature
Grow dandelions in full sun (at least 8 hours per day) for the highest yields.
They thrive in cool weather, tolerating temperatures down to 20°F when mature.
Provide afternoon shade in hot summer areas to prevent bolting.
Water dandelions regularly, especially during germination and in dry periods.
Established plants are quite drought tolerant, but produce best with 1-2 inches of water per week.
Avoid overwatering. Dandelions don’t like soggy soil.
Dandelions rarely need fertilizer if grown in fertile soil with compost.
For poorer soils, apply a balanced organic fertilizer when planting and once in midseason.
Excess nitrogen can make plants floppy and produce more leaves than flowers.
Mulch around plants to smother weeds. Hand pull any that sprout.
Cut off flower heads after blooming to prevent self-seeding.
Dig out unwanted dandelion plants in lawns or gardens.
With basic care, dandelions are quite easy to grow productively.Their deep roots access nutrients and moisture well.
Harvesting Dandelion Greens and Flowers
You can begin harvesting dandelion leaves 4-6 weeks after planting, when they reach about 6 inches long. Pick leaves from the center, leaving some to keep growing. Use a knife to cut leaves off at ground level for clean harvests.
For the sweetest flavor, harvest greens in early morning. Choose young, tender leaves. Larger, mature leaves can be bitter. They are best when cooked.
Dandelion flowers can be harvested once they open fully. Pluck just the bright yellow flower heads, leaving the bitter green base attached to the plant. Use flowers as soon as possible for best flavor and color.
Keep picking leaves and flowers frequently for steady yields over a period of 2-3 months. Dandelions bloom from spring until first frost.
Storing and Using Dandelions
Store fresh dandelion greens and flowers in the refrigerator in vented plastic bags.
Greens last 3-5 days; flowers 1-2 days. Their flavor decreases with time.
Blanch leaves by boiling 1 minute, then freeze in airtight bags for up to 1 year.
Flowers can also be frozen whole on trays before storing in bags. Use frozen ones for cooking.
Young leaves are delicious raw in salads, sandwiches, smoothies, and more.
Mature leaves are bitter raw. Cook by sautéing or boiling to mellow flavor.
Substitute dandelion greens for spinach or kale in any cooked dish. They pair well with eggs, onions, garlic, bacon, mushrooms, and lemon.
Dandelion flowers can be used to make jelly, wine, fritters, honey, tea, and more!
Remove the green base and yellow stamens before using flowers raw.
Flowers add pretty color and floral flavor to salads, baked goods, syrups, and fermented items like wine or mead.
With their mild bitterness, dandelion greens and flowers add great complexity of flavors to sweet and savory recipes alike. Get creative with using your harvest in your cooking!
Growing Dandelions: Final Thoughts
Adding a patch of dandelions to your garden is an easy, rewarding way to enjoy their culinary and medicinal benefits. Their bright yellow flowers also attract pollinators while adding cheer to spring landscapes.
Dandelions require very little work to grow productively. Their seeds germinate readily when given moist, cool conditions. Once established, the plants thrive with minimal care.
Harvest the tasty greens and showy blossoms frequently for best flavor. With their sweet, earthy taste, dandelions make nutritious additions to salads, soups, and other dishes. The flowers can even be used to make wine!
Growing your own tasty dandelions is a budget-friendly way to add something unique to your garden. Let these sunny plants brigh`ten up your beds and menus with their versatility and vital nutrients.