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Book Review: “The Organic Lawn Care Manual” by Paul Tukey | Organic Gardening 365
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Book Review: “The Organic Lawn Care Manual” by Paul Tukey

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This post is really a book review about a wonderful organic lawn care book.  But I’m going to preface it with a little personal experience that helped me see the importance of caring for my lawn organically.  If you want to get right to the book review, feel free to skip down to it.  I won’t tell any body.

When my kids were little, they were always out in the yard—whatever the season—rolling in the grass, playing catch and freeze tag and countless games of their own invention.  The built snowmen and snow forts.  They blew soap bubbles and built cardboard castles.

My oldest would often just sit in the grass with a book and read for hours.  My two youngest had a ritual every spring of digging in the dirt under an old blue spruce tree before it was warm enough to plant the impatiens there. I can still see them kneeling, digging, terra-forming the earth and constructing elaborate tunnels, pouring in water to see how it would flow.

When I grew up, we played in the yard just as much, but there was one big difference. 


Every spring my dad would ceremoniously borrow a neighbor’s fertilizer spreader and add a new layer of toxic chemicals…oops, I mean fertilizer, to the lawn. Almost overnight it would turn green and grow with added vigor.  I was always impressed with how effective that stuff was to make our yard beautiful.  It never even occurred to me to ask why it worked, what was actually in it, and if it was safe.

Same with weed killer.  It was for killing weeds.  So it couldn’t hurt us (right?)—even though the bag probably had some sort of health warning on it.  Or maybe not, back then in the ’60s.  I was too young to know I should care.

My big confession

For the first few years in my current home—even though I was gardening organically with my vegetables—I was not taking care of my lawn organically.  I didn’t go hog-wild with fertilizer, but I was definitely into the chemical weed killers for a few years.

That is, until my kids got a little older and were playing in the yard more.

It suddenly dawned on me that all those little bare feet were running in the same grass I had sprayed with herbicide just a few days before.  Oh sure, the package instructions say it’s safe to walk on after a few days.  But does the poison just disappear?  That would be a pretty good magic trick.  And that’s what the chemical companies want you to believe.

Well, I have used organic products on my lawn and flowerbeds for years now.  And I am so glad.  I think of all the time my kids—and lots of other folks—spent in the yard and my conscience is free and clear that I provided a safe, healthy environment for them to play in.

Hopefully, you’re gardening organically or at least working in that direction.  Are you “lawning” organically? 

OG 3565 Timeless Gardening Tip # 18:  Apply the same organic gardening principles to your lawn (as well as flowers, ornamentals, and trees) that you do in your vegetable garden.

It may seem like a giant leap to go organic with your lawn care if you haven’t done it yet.  But there are some great resources to help you on your way.

A book I highly recommend is The Organic Lawn Care Manual by Paul Tukey, (Storey Publishing).

This book is an absolute godsend for the organic gardener who wants to care for his or her lawn in the same environmentally responsible manner as in the garden.

In his book, Tukey relates his own experiences, which led him from a burgeoning chemical-based lawn care business to his current mission of promoting organic lawn care.

The big switch came because of health problems related to all the lawn chemicals—fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides he applied to his clients’ lawns.  When he quit using the chemicals, at his doctor’s orders, his health improved.  This falling apple launched him on his new path: preaching the virtues of organic lawn care.

“The Organic Lawn Care Manual” is a complete guide and answers every question you could possibly imagine—and many you never would have thought of but are glad he addresses—about growing healthy green grass organically. 

Stuff you didn’t know you needed to know

But Tukey doesn’t just start off telling you how to care for your yard.  He builds a foundation of knowledge so you can understand your yard and its needs.  Yes, your yard has needs!  He tells you how to evaluate these needs so you can come up with a comprehensive plan. How will your lawn be used?  Is it for show or for kids to play on?  How much rain and sun does it get?

There’s a whole chapter just on how grass grows.  Again, this is foundational knowledge so you will know what you’re doing.  What kind of soil do you have? Get it tested and add nutriments as needed.

I love the charts on pp. 66-77 that show 16 basic grass types, some of which I’ve never even heard of before.  Tukey gives you all the details to help you decide which particular grass is right for your lawn.

Planting an organic lawn

The author shows two paths. How to plant an organic lawn from scratch with seed or sod.  And how to renovate an existing lawn.  And he walks you through the process of establishing and maintaining your yard down to the minutest detail so you feel confident in how to proceed.  Amen to that!

Weeds, weeds, weeds!

One of the biggest worries about having an organic lawn is how to control weeds.  The OLC Manual has a brilliant chapter devoted just to weeds.  Tukey says you must “listen” to your weeds. He’s not talking about getting down and putting your ear on the ground.  But the weeds will tell you what’s wrong with your lawn.  For example, a lot of dandelions may indicate a lack of calcium in your soil.  He discusses many approaches to getting rid of and preventing weeds and in some cases even advises a little weed tolerance. Gasp!

And of course, there’s a chapter on how to deal with unwanted critters, big and small, as well as what to do about diseases.

To mow or not to mow

You probably thought you knew how to mow your yard, but you may be doing it all wrong.  Tukey shares some great tips for every possible approach to mowing.  It’s all about maintaining a healthy lawn, not a pretty one.

And maybe, just maybe, you don’t want to grow grass in your yard.  The Manual provides some wonderful alternatives such as creating a rain garden to prevent water runoff, using ground covers or creating a meadow effect.  He does not specifically mention the “Grow Food, Not Lawns” movement, but that is also a viable option for some folks.

Paul Tukey speaks with the authority of experience when he preaches the gospel of organic lawn care and outlines the process to achieve it.  But it’s not all just words.  Scattered throughout the book are in-depth “Organic Success Stories.”  These are real-life examples of people and organizations who have taken their lawns to the organic level.

And don’t overlook the great appendices in the back of the book.  There is an extremely thorough glossary and very helpful recommended reading list.  You’ll also find a list of resources for organic lawn care products and activities.

If you want to have a healthy organic lawn, this is a must-read, must-own, follow-the-instructions, and refer-to-often book to have in your gardening library.

IMG_2170By the way, Paul Tukey is the founder of SafeLawns, devoted to helping people have healthy organic lawns.  He has also written another book called, “Tag, Toss & Run: 40 Classic Lawn Games.”  Please check out his website, SafeLawns.org.  There are videos, lots of resources and a place to ask questions.  Paul speaks around the country and has made numerous media appearances.

Here’s to your fabulous organic lawn,

James Early
Organic Gardening 365
Helping you get more out of your organic garden (and yard) all year long.
P. S. For the complete series of OG 365 Timeless Gardening Tips, click here.

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