Have Yourself an Ambivalent Little Christmas


The Golden Age of Spam

Will the Real Renaissance Please Stand Up?

My Life of Crime

My Life of Crime, Pt. 2: The War of the Dandelions

Black (and Blue) Friday

Going Home

How Not to Celebrate a Holiday

Traffic Report Fall Down
and Go Boom

O, Holy Weekend

You Mean My Vote Actually Means Something?

Side Disorders

Lessons for Hurricane Preparedness as Taught By Example in Raleigh, North Carolina

You Mean My Vote Actually Means Something?, Pt. 2: Are They Gone Yet?

The Last Reality Show

It Builds Character

Sink the Flu

WTF (in C Major)

Intruder Alert

Kneel before Za

I Got Your Breaking News Right Here, Pal

Christmas in July...or April...or maybe even December


Why I Hate "The Little Drummer Boy"

My Life of Crime, Part 2:
The War of the Dandelions

As you know, last month my wife and I were branded hardened criminals for our insidious plot of letting dandelions take over the world. After careful consideration, we have decided to reform ourselves.

It won't be easy.

When I say it won't be easy, I don't mean that we want to let the dandelions take over. Truth be told, they were driving us crazy. What I mean is quite simply that we're having a hell of a time getting rid of them.

And when I say "we're having a hell of a time getting rid of them", what I really mean is "I'm having a hell of a time getting rid of them". My wife has entrusted me to take care of the dandelions. This is partly because killing stuff with plant poison is about the only thing I do in the yard, and partly because I made the mistake of saying how much fun killing poison ivy was in my last column (i.e., where she could read it and I couldn't deny having said it). Okay, fair's fair. I'll kill the dandelions. She also added the restriction that that I had to use a poison that targeted dandelions instead of indiscriminately killing everything in sight, but given the fact that major portions of the yard were going to wind up getting doused with this stuff, that seemed reasonable.

I bought this dandelion killer made by the same people who make the stuff I use to kill the poison ivy in our yard. As I've commented before, killing poison ivy is great fun. Killing dandelions isn't.

First of all, they don't use the same sort of pump. With the poison ivy killer, you just pull on a pump one time and it fills up with kill juice. You then hold the trigger down and it sprays a steady stream of the stuff. That's why it's so much fun: it's the plant poison equivalent of a fully-automatic machine gun mowing down the bad guys (or, in this case, bad plants).

But with the dandelion killer, the trigger is the pump. Pulling the trigger gives you one squirt of the stuff, and if you want more you have to pull the trigger again. If the pump for the poison ivy killer is a fully automatic machine gun, this is a mere pistol: one pull, one shot. This difference would make sense if poison ivy spread rapidly and was all over the place, but dandelions spread slowly and were generally found only in small patches. But in my yard, at least, it's the other way around.

The second problem is that my yard is truly infested with dandelions. I had previously commented that we didn't have any grass in our yard, just dandelions. At the time I thought this was pure exaggeration. But there are in fact a lot of areas where that's the actual case. I'm not talking little clusters, either. I'm talking about areas that are three or four square meters in size that are nothing but a carpet of dandelions. I've pumped that trigger so many times that my wrists have started hurting and I've gotten blisters on my fingers. (There is, I realize, a sophomoric innuendo buried in that last sentence which would only take a little bit of digging to bring to the surface. I'm not going there and I would prefer you not, either.)

I knew from the start that there was no way in hell I was going to get this done in a single pass. I couldn't even do the front yard one day and the back the next. This was going to be a month-long project or more (now that it's been over 30 days, I can confirm the "more" part of that). My front yard — and keep in mind as I describe all this that my lot is only 0.3 acres, and that includes the areas that the actual house is on — has a large magnolia tree in the center of the yard; it basically spans the middle third of my yard north to south and the middle third east to west. So I mentally divided the yard into a 3x3 grid with the magnolia taking Paul Lynde's square, and proceeded to knock out one square each day. Each section, on average, took twenty minutes. The back yard isn't quite so organized (and is smaller and slightly less infested), so it got divided into four or five sections. Or maybe six. Okay, so I still haven't quite got the back yard mentally divided in my head yet. It doesn't have the obvious organizing point. Anyway, after hitting the front yard I sort of did the back yard in random patches and pretended it was clearly divided so as to appease my anal-retentive tendencies. Those sections didn't go any faster.

The first thing I noticed is that this stuff kills a lot more slowly than the poison ivy killer. That isn't surprising. What I am calling the "poison ivy killer" is actually "any plant it comes in contact with killer". In fact, given the warnings on it, it just might be "any plant, human, dog— ah, hell, any living creature of any sort it comes in contact with killer". In a pinch you could probably use it to kill cockroaches. I have no idea what's in it, and am afraid to find out, but it kills, and it kills in fairly short order. The poison ivy started turning yellow the next day. About a week later, it was gone. I don't mean there was nothing but a shriveled, yellow leaf: I mean it was gone. It just vanished. I think it went to the same alternate dimension where socks that disappear in the dryer go to. This stuff is impressive.

But the "dandelion killer" is more restrictive. It kills all kinds of weeds, including dandelions and clover (I never personally thought of clover as a "weed", but I suppose it is to people who want their lawns to look like a putting green), but is supposed to leave the plants you want to keep (i.e., the grass) alone. This particular product is even being advertised on television. You may have seen it: there's the circle of dandelions divided in half by a fence; on one side they spread regular plant killer and on the other they use this stuff; after a period of time, the regular plant killer had left a brownish-yellow circle of dying grass, while this stuff has left a yard full of grass with not a dandelion in sight.

Yeah, right.

It does kill the dandelions. I won't dispute that for a second. But it takes a while. It's almost a week before it looks like it's doing anything at all to them. I was about to give up on the dandelion killer when I finally saw proof that it was working. That being said, the death throes are kind of entertaining in a morbid sort of way. First, the stems get all twisty and start looking like one of those "crazy straws" you had when you were a kid. Then the stem and leaves start turning yellowish. Then they turn blackish. Then they move from blackish to just plain black. About this time, the plant becomes dry and brittle like a fallen leaf in autumn. This, it should be noted, is sort of weird. I'm not used to the ground under my feet being crunchy in ninety-degree heat.

But lush, green grass does not start magically growing in place of the dandelions as implied in the commercial. Instead, one of two things starts to happen: Either nothing grows back, or more dandelions do. There's something particularly galling about the latter option. The old dandelions are just turning black and getting crunchy, and right in the middle of them is a new, green dandelion. Or, even better, right in the middle of them is a new, green dandelion with its puffball of seeds ready to spread out and mess up your yard even more. So you get to go back to the hardware store and buy more dandelion killer. (This implies that you haven't made several trips already, which isn't true. I went through three gallons just hitting the yard the first time. I've bought two more since then. By the end of it, this just may be more expensive than the fine whose threat caused us to do this in the first place.)

In fact, it quickly turns into a case of "finish the front yard, then go get the back yard, then do the front again, then go back to the back, then back to the front, then..." you get the idea. Back when I started, I made the same mistake Dubya did in Iraq. I thought I was preparing for conventional warfare. These dandelions are not conventional warriors. They are an insurgency.

And just as Iraq has its innocent civilians tragically getting stuck in the crossfire, I have the clover. See, I would be perfectly happy if clover established itself in all the areas the dandelions get chased out of. I wouldn't mind if the entire yard was clover. It's green, and it doesn't grow the way grass does, so my wife would never have to mow it. (I'm thinking of her as I say this. Honest.) But remember that this weed killer takes out clover, too. I try to avoid hitting it, but sometimes the clover and the dandelions are right next to each other, and I'd rather risk hitting the clover than risk missing the dandelions. For all I know, I've accidentally bombed clover weddings right in my front yard. It truly is a tragedy.

I at least know that I am making headway on the insurgency in my yard. The dandelions keep coming back, but they are at least thinning out for the most part. The west and southwest sections of the front yard are actually dandelion-free (although now that I've said that, I'm sure they won't be for long). With a little perseverance and a little luck, my entire yard will be dandelion-free by the end of the summer.

And then I'll have what every American dreams of: a lawn that's black and crunchy.

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