Dandelion Growth Stages

Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) get a bad rap, especially among suburban homeowners. While it often feels like the yellow flowers appear overnight, much more goes into the dandelion’s life cycle.

In this article, I’ll break down the most important dandelion growth stages. You might not walk away with a greater appreciation of the humble dandelion, but you should better understand how to control this perennial weed in your lawn.

Conditions for Growing Dandelions

Dandelions are perennials that typically live for three years or longer. Plants develop a deep taproot that lies dormant during winter and then resprouts each spring. 

These weeds with yellow flowers are incredibly widespread. Dandelions are native to Europe and Asia but are found practically everywhere. They tolerate climates comparable to USDA Zone 3 or warmer.

You’ll most often find dandelions growing in areas with rich soil. However, these plants aren’t very picky about where they crop up. We’ve all seen a dandelion growing up from a crack in the pavement or a similar inhospitable environment.

Dandelions are also quite tolerant of heat and drought. These conditions may slow down growth (and make the greens taste bitter) but rarely kill off the dandelion completely. 

If you want to grow your dandelion greens, you might be able to find commercial seed. However, according to the University of Wisconsin, these seeds aren’t widely available in the United States. Consider harvesting seeds from uncultivated areas that haven’t been treated with herbicides or other chemicals.

Note that some parts of the world ban the cultivation of dandelions due to their weedy nature! Check your local regulations before planting dandelions yourself.

Dandelion Growth Rate

Dandelions transform from seed to flower in 60 to 95 days on average. The toothed leaves can grow up to 16 inches long in this time. 

A single dandelion plant can live up to 5 to 10 years before the taproot dies. In my experience, older dandelions tend to form larger rosettes because their taproots have had several years to get established.

Growth Stages of Dandelions

If you’ve gotten this far, you probably want to learn about the life cycle of a dandelion for one of two reasons:

  • To grow and harvest your edible dandelion greens
  • To figure out the best time to treat your lawn and garden against dandelions

I’ll try to cover both approaches throughout the rest of this article. Just remember that a dandelion is only a weed if it’s growing somewhere you don’t want it to! Otherwise, there’s little wrong with letting this plant carry on with life.

1. Seed Germination

You’ve probably noticed that dandelions can take root when there isn’t snow on the ground. Most seeds germinate in spring or early fall when temperatures are particularly mild.

Dandelions need a few things to germinate. First, the seeds respond well to cold stratification. This means that the seeds need to be exposed to cool temperatures for a brief period for optimal germination.

According to the University of California, dandelions can sprout when soil temperatures are above 55°F. Optimal growth occurs around 77°F. Moisture and sunlight are also needed for germination. Dandelions germinate best when the seeds are lightly sprinkled on damp soil.

When these conditions are met, the dandelion seeds will start absorbing moisture. The moisture enters the seed embryo and triggers rapid cell division, forming the seed’s basic structures. 

Dandelion seeds usually germinate and sprout 14 to 21 days after dispersal.

2. Seedlings

A dandelion seed can turn into a young seedling seemingly in the blink of an eye. The first structure to break free of the seed coat is the radicle. This structure will develop into the dandelion’s taproot.

Next come the cotyledons. These are also known as seed leaves because they form in the seed embryo. Cotyledons are smooth and ovular, lacking the characteristic serrated edges of mature dandelion foliage. Each dandelion seedling possesses two cotyledons.

Shortly after the cotyledons emerge, the dandelions’ first true leaf will grow from the center of the sprout. While small, this leaf will have toothed edges.

Dandelion Seedlings
Credit image: Salicyna by cc 4.0

3. Vegetative Growth

Dandelion leaves grow in a rosette from a point practically flush to the ground. New leaves grow from the center of the plant, pushing preceding leaves further out. It’s pretty normal for dandelion leaves to lay almost flat, especially when they’re on the longer side.

Meanwhile, the dandelion’s taproot is growing deeper and thicker. These roots usually penetrate up to 18 inches deep. In extreme cases, however, dandelion taproots have been known to grow 10 feet or longer!

This deep taproot is part of what makes dandelions so hard to control. Manually pulling dandelions without using a special tool typically results in the taproot snapping in half. Segments of roots as small as 1 inch long can grow into new plants if left in the soil.

Dandelion Vegetative Growth

4. Flowering

Dandelions can start blooming as soon as 60 days after sprouting. Most dandelions flower in early spring but can flower again in the fall if growing conditions remain favorable.

Each dandelion flower forms on a tall, hollow stalk that grows from the center of the leaf rosette. A dandelion plant can produce up to 10 individual flowers at a time. 

Dandelion Flowering

These flowers famously look like plump, yellow puffballs. A dandelion flower is an inflorescence — a cluster of small florets that seem to form one large flower — consisting of countless ray florets. Every ray floret is connected to an ovary and can produce a single seed.

Green involucre bracts surround dandelion flowers. These bracts close up around the florets every night. They also enclose the flower as the seeds develop and mature.

5. Pollination

Dandelions are capable of self-pollinating but also rely on insects for cross-pollination. Cross-pollination is beneficial because it helps disperse unique genetics from plant to plant.

The common dandelion is an example of an apomictic plant. Apomictic flowers can produce seeds asexually (with neither self- nor cross-pollination). There’s evidence that this type of asexual reproduction is super prevalent in many dandelion populations.

Dandelions are often lauded as a good food source for bees and other flying insects. Since dandelions bloom so much earlier than many other garden flowers, they offer energy when food is scarce. I like to let the dandelions in my lawn go to flower (I mow as soon as the flowers fade to prevent seed dispersal) because they attract bees and more.

6. Seed Development and Dispersal

Most dandelion flowers turn to seed within 9 to 12 days. Each seed is attached by a thin tube to bristles that act like a tiny parachute. This design helps the dandelion seed travel far and wide using the wind.

According to the University of Notre Dame, dandelion seeds most often land about 2 meters from the parent plant. However, the wind can carry seeds over 30 kilometers if the weather conditions are right.

Seed Development and Dispersal

When to Harvest Dandelion Greens

Every single part of the dandelion plant is edible! The leaves, also known as dandelion greens, are most commonly harvested in salads and other fresh dishes.

I recommend harvesting dandelions in early spring. For the best flavor, you want to harvest young, tender dandelions that have not yet flowered. While flowering dandelions are still safe to eat, they will have a more bitter flavor. 

You can plant dandelions in your herb garden or forage dandelions growing ‘wild’ around your property. Just be careful to pick dandelions free of pesticides and other chemicals. Always wash dandelion greens before using them in the kitchen.

If you enjoyed this article, here’s a link to Mint Growth Stages that you may also love.

FAQs Dandelion Life Cycle

What month do dandelions appear?

Most dandelions bloom from May to October, most flowering in the spring. However, depending on your local climate, you could see yellow dandelions as early as March! 

When is the best time to spray dandelions?

Dandelions respond well to consumer-grade broadleaf herbicides like RoundUp. The best time to spray for control is typically in the early fall when dandelions redirect energy to their hardy root systems. 

How do I keep dandelions from spreading?

There are a few ways to prevent dandelions from spreading. The first is to apply a pre-emergent herbicide in the spring and/or fall to stop any seeds in the soil from germinating. The second is to mow down dandelions before the flowers turn into seeds.

Citations

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Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.