Dandelions started a party this spring at Knoch Park in Naperville. But on Thursday evening, volunteers pulled the plug and sent the pesky plants packing.
During an hourlong Dandelion Pull at the large park near downtown, about 20 volunteers with trowels and Trader Joe's bags removed 122 pounds of the yellow-flowering weeds from grassy or mulched areas near picnic tables and a playground.
The event was a collaboration between the Naperville Park District, a resident advocacy group called Non-Toxic Naperville and the Midwest Pesticide Action Center. While beautifying the park, these organizations also educated participants about the benefits of natural lawn care instead of chemicals or synthetic weed sprays.
"The conventional method basically kills a lot of the soil biology," said Ruth Kerzee, executive director of the Midwest Pesticide Action Center, referring to synthetic weed sprays or fertilizers as "conventional." "Whereas the natural method feeds the soil ... Healthy soil benefits us all."
Carl Gorra, parks operations manager, said the park district has been trying to improve the health of its soil since 2004, when maintenance workers started using organic fertilizer in some locations.
Their efforts ramped up last year, when at the request of Non-Toxic Naperville, the district discontinued use of the weed spray Roundup at all 73 playgrounds and committed to use only organic or nonsynthetic products to maintain eight parks.
Organic weed killers typically contain vinegar and clove oil, and they work by wilting the weed above the surface, not affecting the root. This means repeat applications can be necessary and extra hands -- like the ones who helped Thursday -- are always welcome, Gorra said.
"This is just one of the tools in the toolbox to make us a little more earth-friendly," he said.
The Knoch Park dandelion population dwindled at the hands of helpers like 14-year-old friends Ian Olsen and Carlos Aispuro. During one five-minute spree, they pulled up 14 pounds of the common spring weed, winning a contest against a duo of girls and a family with young kids.
Ian's mother, Tracy Olsen of Naperville, also helped out with decreasing the density of a dandelion display she called "a little overwhelming."
Kerzee said her organization is hearing from more suburban residents and park districts interested in learning about green lawn care techniques.
"The next generation of parents have had a lot of environmental education," Kerzee said. "We're really understanding the ecosystem much better."
She challenged Dandelion Pull participants to pledge to care for their yards without pesticides and directed them to a list of tips on the organization's website at midwestpesticideaction.org.
But when all else fails on the dandelion front, the low-tech method of dig and pull can still come through in the clutch.
"It's the highlight of dandelion season," Kerzee said. "We'd like to put a little damper in their dandelion party."