Pointlessly attacking dandelions



Join me in analyzing a new marketing campaign that’s been targeting us bloggers heavily, repeatedly,  and whose attention-getting name is Coalition to Stop Dandelions (the URL is literally Stop Dandelions.com.)


Demonizing dandelions gets our attention 

How about that dandelion-slashing graphic! And the “gulp!” at the very thought of doing anything to encourage such a dasdardly plant!  And here’s another good one:  “We’re sick of dandelions and their weed masquerading as a flower.”  Yeah, those treacherous plants are producing flowers just to trick us into – what, liking them?

Well indeed lots of people do, increasingly, as any gardenblogger who follows the subject of eco-gardening knows.  Cooks are concocting recipes for them, Paul Tukey at SafeLawns is one of their  biggest fans, and there’s even a Facebook group Stop Killing the Dandelions. They’re Pretty, which I just Liked for the hell of it.

What the campaign is selling

But this just gets weirder because the campaign isn’t aimed at selling herbicides at all; its goal is to sell soil tests. And the connection (supposedly) is that only with a soil test will we choose fertilizers that feed our lawn but not the dandelions.  But how they do that I still haven’t figured out.

However, the most popular fertilizers are super high in nitrogen, and while they’re formulated to green-up your lawn right away when the soil is still cool, they also yellow up lawns weeks later when the soil warms up. And they fertilize EVERYTHING, which includes weed seeds that exist in every yard.

If this doesn’t make sense yet, here’s more from their fertilizer facts page:

Dandelions thrive off of soils high in, you guessed it, Nitrogen, and have the ability to attack areas of your lawn that are weak or bare (e.g. insufficient root systems).

If proper nutrients are applied every six to eight weeks (which can only be understood properly through a thorough soil test analysis) then turf grass will become very healthy.

About that soil test

So, what does their $20 soil test test for?  Again the answer isn’t easy to find but their “sample results” show amounts for organic matter, phosphate, potassium, % K: % Mg (whatever), calcium, pH, and sodium.

Which raises a couple of big questions.  First, the result shows a phosphate reading of 62, with the “acceptable level” shown as 16-35, which you’d think would alert the customer to stop adding phosphates, that dasdardly nutrient that’s ruining our waterways.  But instead, here’s what the results advise: “Phosphate level is High: Phosphate levels indicated will not hamper the effects of good turf growth.”  No problem!

And the recommended product (which is the whole point of the soil test, right, that it directs users to the right fertilizers?) is “CIL Golfgreen Fall”, either synthetic or organic (take your pick; they sure don’t care) and after some searching I finally found out that its nutrient content is 28-3-6 – high Nitrogen!

So here’s my suggestion about soil tests:  use a university lab, like the one at U.Mass. that I used.  It costs $15 and gives more information than the Stop Dandelions test.

A coalition of the selling

As a fan of coalitions, I was curious about this new one and here’s what the website tells us about it:  “The Coalition to Stop Dandelions is dedicated to educating people caring for lawns and gardens about how to make a healthy lawn grow, and how to get the right soil test information that golf courses and farms have counted on for decades.” And about WHO they might be we’re told: “The Coalition to Stop Dandelions is a project of A Growing Necessity,” whose About Us page doesn’t actually tell us.

Too bad, coz it looks like an improvement

I finally got tired of following links that don’t work or when they do, don’t answer the questions they’re supposed to answer, but my tentative conclusion is that this product MAY lead to an improvement over what some golf courses use – fertilizers that encourage top growth and weeds, plus lots of pesticides.  “This personalized nutritional management process reduced the need for reactive based products (such as pesticides) to less than 6%….amazing reduction!”  See, that much sounds good.

More bad marketing to gardenbloggers

The Stop Dandelions campaign is a nonsensical mess that’s off-putting to the very people it’s targeting, but it didn’t need to be.  I’ll bet that a random GardenRant reader could come up with a better approach than this one, created by – no surprise here – a marketing firm with no particular expertise in this area.

Photo credit.


  1. Ouch. I bet someone’s having or will be having a crappy Monday after this gets back around. I’m all for just letting sales figures give marketers feedback. No need to be personal about it.

    As for dandelions…I feed them to my goats!

  2. Marketing. Just more snake oil salesmen. More bad information has been distributed as a marketing effort than anything else in human existence. “Ad Men” shouldn’t be a hit television show, it should be banned as false idolatry.

  3. Heidi, “ouch” is intended – I’m pointing out what happens when you hire marketing firms who aren’t familiar with the online world they’re trying to communicate with. The good news is that experienced gardenbloggers are being hired by savvy companies and organizations, and doing a great job.
    Nothing necessarily personal in criticizing a media campaign.

  4. Hmm… speaking as someone who actually bought seeds for another (pink flowered!!!) species of dandelion to purposefully add to my lawn, I guess I don’t have much to say other than: I ADORE dandelions!

  5. What a stupid campaign. In spite of the nonsense, people like dandelions, as most of us have admired and played with these magical (and edible, chock-full of wonderful vitamins) plants since childhood. Hey let’s make blowing dandelion seedheads a national sport!
    Sure, I could come up with a big scary distorted anti-dandelion ad that would be effective, but there’s no way I’d share that here. Let the campaign fail miserably as it deserves to do…ha ha ha. It just makes me love the sun-hued darlings even more. (Now I’m off to like the Stop Killing Dandelions page.)

  6. Susan, believe it or not, I think this anti-dandelion campaign is based on recently updated research at Michigan State University demonstrating how lawns will have fewer dandelions if you mow across the fallen leaves and let them feed the lawn. Dandelions prefer relatively acidic conditions, and the often-recommended approach of applying calcium to a lawn (which makes it less acidic) will get rid of the dandelions. Leaves add calcium and other alkaline chemicals, reducing acidity.

    Here is a link to the abstract of the paper: http://horttech.ashspublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/19/2/297. To read a copy of the entire paper, you can do an online search with its title and the word “pdf”.

    There is a link to MSU Extension’s related report at the end of this recent article: http://www.greencycle.net/2010/11/rake-or-mulch-study-says-mulch-your-fall-leaves/

    Finally, here’s a blog entry with the standard advice about how to reduce acidity (and dandelions) in your lawn: http://www.safelawns.org/blog/index.php/2010/11/guest-blog-to-reduce-weeds-and-improve-lawn-apply-calcium/

    It is weird; the research could be used to tout more eco-friendly lawn care (mulching up fallen leaves instead of bagging and sending them away), but it’s being taken to a more extreme end here, used to justify more chemical inputs and more control over lawn weeds.


  7. I don’t understand why people need to be so underhand, though of course the internet is a whole brave new world of opportunites. What’s wrong with being open and honest and gaining your customers’ respect?

  8. Sounds like the fertilizer they are touting is really no differet than the next ten brands down the line. They are trying to differentate themselves with their dandelion campaign. Too bad.

    Unfortunately, dandelions have their good side and bad side, which is why they will never be eradicated. Afterall, they were brought to the western hemisphere because they are a dependable and early food source high in vimin C.

    Personlly, since I do not like them, I have dedicated myself to vigilance and individually hand dig them the minute I see foliage, if possible. The may seem onerous on the first pass, but becomes less so as time moves on. I’ve found the best weed control is leaving my grass longer and mowing more often thus preventing weed seeds of all types easy access to open soil or light.

  9. Whenever I see a dandelion in bloom, I am instantly brought back to childhood and its singular and oh-so-simple joys.

  10. Dandelions are an invasive, European species. As such, they are a bad thing. (We actually know who introduced them in Seattle, Doc Maynard’s wife, for medicinal purpose, but they’d have gotten here eventually without her). Soil tests are a good thing if interpreted correctly, but this sounds like pseudo science for the purpose of marketing. I suppose it’s better than selling herbicides. Sigh.

  11. Dandelions can be a sign of unbalanced soils that have larger problems like poor biology and artificial nitrogen pulses.

    See this Youtube video about weeds from Elain Ingam.

    They’re not bad in themselves but 90% of Americans are going to want to get rid of them. I try to teach people that soil health and proper mowing height will decrease dandelions.


    I know it’s not what some want to hear but in the next five years we are not going to change the last 50 years of public perception.

    Question – Would it be better to get 1000 homeowners to switch to natural or organic lawn fertilizers, build healthy biological soils and reduce some fossil fuel use in the American landscaping industry, or convince 50 homes to leave the dandelions?

    I think that the idea of soil tests is great. But just to apply another formulation of fake fertilizers is not solving the overall problem.

    Compromise will get more action on the ground.

  12. What an odd marketing campaign. I certainly wouldn’t buy anything from the. We have dandelions that grow in sandy soils that are never fertilized in some of the scraggy areas of the property. I’d hardly call them a plague. I love them, our bees love them, and our chickens love to eat them. Never have understood why so many waste so much effort trying to eradicate them.

  13. Well, since I’ve got open fields on two sides of my house, I’m pretty much destined to have dandelions so I refuse to concern myself with them – in the lawn, at least. I will go after them in my flowerbeds. I know my refusal to do anything about them probably honks off some of my more fastidious neighbors, but I really don’t give a rip. I’ve got bigger and better worries than dandelions in my lawn…….

  14. Celebrate the dandelions
    Biodynamic gardeners do!
    The Josephine Porter institute will pay you to harvest the flowers and send them to the institute. Dandelions are one of the seven very important herbs used when making preps of biodynamic gardening.

  15. On the Stop Killing Dandelions Facebook page there’s a link to dandelion wine. Just last week I heard a clerk at the grocery store rhapsodizing about how a friend of their family used to make it. There is something very wrong with making such a big deal out of something so…useful.

  16. Wilted dandelion greens – a spring delight. Hot bacon dressing, green onions, hard boiled eggs and the dandelion greens. Probably not that healthy but a dish of spring just like rhubarb and asparagas. I rarely make it because you have to pick the greens before they flower and I never see the dandelions until they do flower.

  17. Dandelions in lawns wouldn’t bother me all that much if they would stay in the lawn. The reason I have a low tolerance for them is they seed themselves into everything else. I especially don’t want them in my container plants where they quickly grow into scary monsters.

  18. I’m planning to cut tons of dandelion greens this weekend. It’s easy to find them, they’re marked by a bright yellow flower…and then I pull them out!

  19. In a way dandelion is considered a Spring Flower and a good green part of our natural not cared for lawn. It’s green and is a good grower in about any type of soil. Bit of a pain in the flower beds. I think I will start calling it Taraxacum officinale from now on and that will end all the why questions about dandelion’s growing in our yard.

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