Dandelions are universal, found in lawns, fields, sidewalks and even mountain meadows. Though edible and nutritious, even ornamental in bloom, most gardeners prefer to keep them at a distance. Choosing the right tool for removal depends on both the age of the plant and the condition of your soil.
Dandelions and Their Roots
The dandelion has a taproot, the strong root that grows directly down from the crown, the place where the leaves sprout. If you remove only the leaves, or even the leaves and part of the taproot, this deep root will re-sprout and grow a new crown. Often a broken root will send up several crowns, increasing the problem. Don't worry about getting the last tiny bit up, however. Root ends less than an 1/8 of an inch in diameter rarely re-sprout.
Removing Small Plants
The easiest way to remove dandelions is to catch them when they're young, only 2 or 3 inches across. At this stage, the taproot is only 3 to 5 inches long. Any tool that you can insert into the soil to that depth will be effective. These may include a long shanked weeder with a small fork at the end, an old kitchen knife or a trowel. You may also use a pronged grabber tool with a long handle, which is easier to use while standing.
Weed when the ground is moist, when roots slip more easily from the soil. Push the tool into the ground an inch or two away from the dandelion and pry up the plant a bit, loosening the soil around it. Then pull the crown and taproot out from the loose soil.
Removing Larger Plants
The key to completely getting rid of established dandelions is loosening the soil, not attacking the plant directly. If you can disturb the ground to the depth of the major portion of the taproot, you can pull the whole plant out easily.
Often the best way to do this is to push a garden fork into the ground 4 to 6 inches away from the plant and tip it down, pushing the soil and plant up. To reduce bending, loosen all your dandelions with the fork, then go around on hands and knees to pick them out.
Removing Plants From Heavy Soil
Clay soil can make weeding dandelions more difficult, since the roots are more tightly held in the ground. Make sure that the soil is moist, then use a garden fork to loosen the soil, if possible approaching the plant from one side and then the other. If you pull and the plant resists, dig and loosen some more.
Removing Plants From a Lawn
You'll often have quite a few dandelions to remove so making it easy is important. If possible, get them when they're still small and you can use a long-handled grabber. If you have large dandelions, use a narrow-tined fork to loosen the soil. Don't worry about digging into your lawn. Aeration helps grass roots grow.