Why should you never roll your lawn!

By | 13/04/2016
Lawn Roller

I am often asked by customers if they should roll the lawn, and the short answer is nearly always NO! You should not roll your lawn.

Many lawn owners see lovely, smooth cricket pitches or bowls greens in their local area and dream about rolling their lawn into a beautiful smooth, manicured state, good enough to putt a golf ball on. They then see the groundsmen on their rolling machines going up and down on these pitches, preparing them for play and so decide they need to roll their lawn too!

The reality is, in a domestic lawn, rolling may help to level the lawn but will damage the soil by compacting the surface. This will compress the soil, drive out the air pockets and create a difficult environment for the grass roots. Water will then have a difficult time penetrating down to the roots and they will gradually shrink, weakening the grass.

Your lawn is not the same as a sports pitch!

Sports pitches can cope with this because they build their grounds from scratch on a very sandy base. This enables the surface to be rolled very flat and hard whilst keeping it well drained. For example, the highly manicured lawns at the Wimbledon all-England tennis club are on a 100% sand base!

The difficulty with growing grass in such a harsh, sandy environment is that it is not a natural substance for grass to grow in. The sand does not hold any nutrients or moisture and is not a great home for beneficial bacteria which help the grass to grow. This means that, to keep a sports pitch healthy, the grounds staff need to maintain an intensive feeding and watering regime just to keep the lawns alive!

Roll your lawn to ruin your soil

This is obviously not possible with your home lawn. The more natural, bulky soil is a great home for the thousands of tiny organisms, bugs, grubs and worms. These need access to moisture and air held in air pockets within the soil, so rolling your lawn and squeezing out these air pockets is a very bad idea.

So how do I level my lawn without rolling?

There are only two reasons why you may wish to level your lawn, but both have safer alternatives to rolling. The first is to smooth over the worm casts after winter. The best way to smooth these is to put the lawn roller away and, on a dry day, brush them away with a stiff broom or a long cane. Secondly, to eliminate large bumps or mounds. The way to fix these is to “operate” on your lawn, removing soil underneath the turf as required. I will cover this in more detail in a future post.

For the longer term, an annual top dressing is a fantastic treatment to apply to your lawn to keep the minor cracks and dips filled in, keeping your lawn level and maintaining a good quality soil texture.

If you would like to discuss if you should roll your lawn, top dressing, or would like me to measure your lawn for compaction, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Kris Lord
Lawnscience (South Manchester) Ltd

 

Main image credit: CC Image by Kerry Garratt on Flickr

21 thoughts on “Why should you never roll your lawn!

  1. LouAnne Koller

    I have an over abundance of white clover taking over my lawn and I don’t like it. I am working on thickening my lawn to crowd it out and it still seems to grow abundantly. Other than killing the clover which also kills the surrounding grass then replacing the desdened area with grass seed I can’t think of a solution. I previously tried digging it up and replacing soil and seed as well. Clover is supposed to be lucky but not too much of it.

    Reply
    1. Kris Lord Post author

      Hi LouAnne,
      To get rid of the clover you will need to use a selective herbicide which targets the clover but which leaves the grass unharmed.
      Your local lawn care service can do this for you, or ask at your local garden centre.
      Thanks for reading,
      Kris, Lawnscience

      Reply
  2. Nick Diggins

    Hi Kris

    Could you advice me on how I can make my lawn good to do Tai Chi on? The best surface for that is a very firm and smooth surface.
    I have a very small lawn (about 3m by 4m) and I created it to do Tai Chi on. THe garden is on a slope so I built a small retaining wall, leveled and rotivated the (chalky) soil, put topsoil down and then laid turf. Annoyingly it is now bumpy in places even though the turf was pretty much perfectly flat when laid. It’s also a bit softer than I’d ideally like.
    Is it really a bad idea for me to use a roller – as I thought this might compact the surface to make it firmer. The Downs in Sussex where I live have a chalk soil and many open ‘heavy traffic’ areas are naturally flat and compact with short grass – perfect for doing Tai Chi on!

    Many thanks Nick

    Reply
  3. rob

    Hey Kris,
    I have a two year old lawn that is so bumpy I feel like I’m off-roading…like if I go too fast with the mower, it will literally go airborne over the bumps so I have to walk slowly, especially on hillsides or it becomes downright dangerous! My plan was to roll the lawn this September, then aerate and seed so the seed has time to germinate before winter. All this in order to finally smooth out the lawn and get deeper a deeper root system for next year. I just don’t know of any alternative solutions. Thoughts?

    Thanks
    Rob

    Reply
    1. Kris Lord Post author

      Hi Rob, I would prefer the method of aerating it, overseeding and then spreading a layer of good quality topsoil over the lumpy area to smooth it out. It may take several years of settling and re-smoothing to achieve a good level lawn, but persevere and you’ll get there! Thanks for reading. Kris

      Reply
  4. peter

    Hi Kris, I have a newly top soiled and seeded lawn that is growing beautifully however, the soil is so soft that when I walk on it I sink down a bit. I want to mow the lawn which is now about 12 cm tall but the wheels of the mower are sinking in and damaging the new grass. I figured getting a roller would fix it until I read your post. Do you have any ideas for my problem?

    Reply
    1. Kris Lord Post author

      Ideally, you should have gently firmed the surface before seeding by walking over it with ankles together. It might be a good idea to lightly firm the surface first with a roller, and then re-seed any areas which get damaged in the process. The grass roots will naturally firm the soil over time though.

      Reply
  5. Neil

    I have a cricket net installed on part of my lawn, and I used a bowling machine, but the bounce is extremely uneven. Presumably in this case a roller would help? Or would I be better off buying matting for the net? Also, I want to set up a croquet lawn on another section – would you recommend using a roller for that? Thanks in advance!

    Reply
    1. Kris Lord Post author

      Getting an even bounce for a playing surface is one area where a roller is needed. You’ll need to incorporate lots of sand and some loam into the top layer to firm it up too. Probably best have a chat with your local cricket club groundsman.

      Reply
  6. Peggy

    Hello,from NYState. 20 mi south of Buffalo. We’re not fancy but. I have a VERY bumpy front lawn about 100x 100′. Our leach bed is under about half of it. There has benefit A lot of driving on most of it with a large farm tractor and cars and trucks Omer the years. It is so bumpy when mowing. I use a riding mower because I have at least an acre of lawn. Can’t afford. A complete redo. Any thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks. Peggy

    Reply
    1. Kris Lord Post author

      Hi Peggy,
      Thanks for reading. I’m based in the UK so can’t advise on any american lawn care issues I’m afraid as the industry is very different across the pond!
      All the best.
      Kris

      Reply
  7. Steve

    Excellent advice all around. In the states I often face the same questions regarding rolling lawn or turf stands. Great point about sports surface!

    Reply
  8. Sarah midlands

    Hi Kris, we have over an acre of lawn, interspersed with trees and borders. the surface is very uneven after constant battle with moles etc. I understand the theory of not rollering but the area is to vast to undertake other methods of levelling. any ideas?

    Reply
    1. Kris Lord Post author

      Hi Sarah, For very large areas you’ll want to look at a more robust way of levelling. I would recommend running a chain harrow behind a small tractor regularly during the year. This will not only help the grass to stand up, but also level it out and flatten mole hills. Big hollows you can fill in with soil. Chain harrows are only really good for large areas though as they are extremely difficult to pull.
      Thanks for reading.
      Kris

      Reply
  9. Robin

    Hi Kris,
    Four years ago we laid a new 137 sq metre lawn. We dug out 8ins of old compacted soil, brought in new soil, laid turves, really looks nice. However in spite of top dressing every year with a lute to avoid rolling, the lawn is full of little bumps and peaks which can be felt when mowing. I am beginning to feel that there is no option than to lightly roll every spring before dressing to flatten these minor bumps.
    Thanks

    Reply
    1. Kris Lord Post author

      Hi Robin,
      Turf will usually become more lumpy over the years as you are importing clods of grass, some will take and some will die and rot. This is inevitable with turf.
      The only way to level it is to keep dressing and luting, as you are doing. It may take many years though.
      In future though, consider seeding your lawn, as this provides a much better lawn in the long term.
      All fine lawns and high quality sports pitches are seeded.
      Thanks for reading.
      Kris

      Reply
  10. Mike

    After a pool install brought in 8 yards of soil last Oct….soil/seed-fertilizer/soil…big rain washout. Did it again this spring with 5 more yards and seed…another big rain washout. Have tremendous pitting and bare dips (some up to 2inches). Need some advice…was planning on more top soil and leveling and seeding again, but can’t guarantee it will not be washed-out again. Van I seed /fill. And then roll??? Need some help. Mike

    Reply
    1. Kris Lord Post author

      Hi Mike,
      I assume from the style of writing in your posts that you are in the US?
      This is a British lawn care blog and my advise is only aimed at British lawns. I suggest you contact your local lawn care company, as they will be able to advise you more specifically on your situation.
      Thanks for reading!
      Kris

      Reply
  11. Grass Mats

    Great advice as ever. It is interesting to know how sports pitches such as Wimbledon are on a sand base. As you say a pitch is going to have maintenance around the clock which the domestic gardener just would be able to replicate.

    Reply

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