Make room for dandelions to grow in your garden

Dandelions flower all year around

Dandelions flower all year round - Credit: Paul Clayden

The illustration on the Weedol box portrays the dandelion as a weed to be exterminated, but this humble plant is actually one of the most important plants in our urban ecosystem and our world would be much poorer without them.

Perhaps the dandelion’s most important contribution is because they flower through the winter making them a vital food source for insects coming out of hibernation. They are particularly important if the insects wake in a midwinter warm spell. Many over-wintering pollinators, including queen bumble bees and brimstone butterflies, would not make it to start the new season’s egg laying without dandelions.

Dandelions continue flowering all year. Summer gardens may have many cultivated flowers, but most have been overbred to the point where they offer no food for insects. In a study tracking the feeding habits of urban pollinating insects, researchers at the University of Bristol found that dandelions were the flowers visited most frequently across the whole summer.

Dandelions do more than provide nectar. The fluffy seeds like tiny parachutes are fun for children, but they are also a favourite food for goldfinches and siskins. The leaves are edible too. Apart from being eaten by rabbits and slugs, many foraging humans add dandelion leaves to their salads. Older leaves can be bitter but blanching them by keeping them in the dark under a flowerpot for a few days makes them sweeter.

If the roots are dried and roasted, they can be used as a ‘herbal’ coffee substitute which is supposed to have medicinal benefit. If the roots are left in the ground, they help break up compacted urban soil and promote soil fertility, I know which function appeals to me more.

Many people would not consider dining on dandelions because of their reputation as a diuretic – they make you wee. There are dozens of old names referring to this, some are quite crude but a more genteel one is tiddle-beds. The polite name of dandelion comes from the French ‘dents-de-lion’ or ‘lion’s tooth’, from the jagged edge of the leaves. Whatever the name, it is worth keeping a corner of your garden for them and not mowing them too often on roadside verges.

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