More weeds? That's just dandy

More weeds? That's just dandy

We are used to neighbors cringing when they walk by our lawn.

There’s the annual stinky ginkgo problem, the 80-20 ratio of weeds-grass, a certain lumpiness to the terrain and, for a few weeks every spring, swarms of ground bees that take up residence along our sidewalk. (I’m told they are good pollinators.)

This past year we added a new feature to our garden walk of shame: several giant piles of dirt, courtesy of major sewer work. A year later, they’re still “settling.”

So I wasn’t surprised a few weeks ago to see dandelion stems blanketing our lawn, in between the Blog Photoclover, bees, violets and errant stalks of grass.

Then I looked down the block and realized we weren’t the only ones. I actually smiled. Lawn schadenfreude.

Everywhere I went in town it seemed there was a veritable bumper crop of dandelions.

To find out for sure, I consulted the gardening experts at University of Illinois Extension.

Turns out the weeds got a big head start this year with a warmer-than-normal March, according to Extension educator Sandra Mason. March 2016 was the 10th warmest on record, with an average temperature of 46.5 degrees — 5.2 degrees above normal.

Some yards are still recovering from droughts in 2012 and late 2013, Mason said.

Weeds pop up when the grass isn’t growing well, so if people didn’t reseed after the droughts their lawns never fully recovered, she said.

That would be us.

“Dandelions usually have a big flower in late spring, and that’s when you see them everywhere,” Mason said.

They’ve subsided for now, in part because people have treated their lawns with weed-killer and started mowing.

But they’ll be back. Dandelions flower periodically throughout the summer, especially when spring rains subside, she said.

“As things dry out and people aren’t mowing as often because grass isn’t growing, they will start to notice more dandelions flowering,” she said.

Mason is not one to worry with dandelions. She lives in the country, where wildflowers are more accepted. Plus, gold finches and ground squirrels love the seed heads, she said, and the flowers are a good source of pollen for bees before trees and bulbs start blooming.

Hence our resident bees — and our lawn’s popularity with squirrels.

Dandelions and other “weeds” have their good points. What child hasn’t blown a seed pod to the wind Blog Photoor collected a bunch of dandelions or violets for mom? Our violets turn the front yard into a wildflower meadow and fill in the bare patches of shady gardening beds where nothing else likes to grow.

Mason’s advice for city dwellers who don’t fancy dandelions or violets?

The usual: feed your lawn and keep grass tall and thick so weeds can’t get a foothold. They thrive in bare patches and open space.

“Rather than just looking at herbicides to correct everything, think about what you can do to get your lawn growing vigorously,” she said.

It’s not too late to reseed for this year, Mason said, with more rain on the way this week, but it will require watering as summer arrives. Do it again in August or September, to thicken up the lawn.

All of this work makes me wonder, for the millionth time: Who decided turf was the standard for yards?

I dutifully reseeded and patched the bare spots in our back yard this spring, and finally invested in some “weed and feed” for the front. As I was rolling it out in the spreader, a neighbor called out, “Is that stuff guaranteed to work?”

It appears to have made a dent, for now.

So it’s on to the dirt piles.

The backstory: Last April we discovered that our main sewer line needed to be cleaned out (a rather unpleasant finding, if you know what I mean). Problem was, our sewer cleanout was hard to get to, under the basement stairs.

We were told we’d have to hire an excavating crew to find our exterior cleanout. Unfortunately, the crew had trouble finding exactly where the sewer line came out of the house.

Three holes and $1,500 later, we learned we didn’t have an exterior cleanout. They did find the sewer line, which runs under our brick front walk and rhododendron bush. Rather than dig those up, we had the cleanout installed in a more accessible spot. Right by our front sidewalk.

The crew assured me the piles of dirt would settle in a matter of months. I tried to level them out and plant new grass — right before torrential rains. It didn’t exactly take.

A year later, the moonscape we’re left with is begging for a makeover. We considered sod, but we will probably bow to the yard gods and go for gardening beds instead.

In the meantime, the dandelions and violets have taken to them just fine.


Julie Wurth blogs about kids and families and covers the University of Illinois for The News-Gazette. Leave a comment below, or contact her at 217-351-5226, or

Photos: Robin Scholz/News-Gazette


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