Lawn Rolling: What It Is and Should You Do It

Lawn Roller

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Rolling a large drum across a lawn to create a smooth, attractive expanse is a great idea in theory, but it may not deliver the results you have in mind. The practice started in Europe to maintain the vast lawns of great estate homes before modern tools were available. Today, advanced knowledge about managing soil and turfgrass provides alternatives for maintaining an attractive lawn. Rolling is still commonly used to level high maintenance, professional playing surfaces like golf greens and soccer fields. But whether it's good for your lawn depends on several factors.

What Is Lawn Rolling?

Lawn rolling is a maintenance technique developed to flatten the top one to two inches of soil surfaces, rendering them smooth and level. Steel or polyurethane drums or cylinders, filled with water or sand, are pulled by hand or towed to flatten irregularities caused by frost heaving or to smooth out high-traffic areas.

Weight is adjustable for both types depending on how much water or sand is added to the cylinder. The drum is then rolled across the lawn in passes as in mowing. For most home lawns, one pass with a lightweight cylinder is recommended.

Is It Good to Roll Your Lawn?

Before you invest in a lawn roller, consider what is causing the turf to become uneven. When naturally raised areas or low, shallow dips are part of the terrain, lawn rolling won't repair these problems.

If grub infestations, moles, and other tunneling or digging rodents are the culprits, rolling the lawn won't fix these problems either. Pests will continue to burrow and dig unless they are eradicated and natural irregularities must first be repaired by adding or removing soil. When the freeze/thaw cycle, or excessive foot traffic leaves high or low spots in the lawn, rolling is more likely to provide the desired result. A light pass with a roller after seeding or laying sod improves soil contact and retention.

Rolling too often or repeatedly compacts soil which is another important consideration. This damages soil structure and defeats efforts to grow turf grass. Know your soil type, whether it has a sandy, loamy, or heavy clay composition. Clay-type soil is easily compacted by rolling, creating a need for extensive repair. Cool-season turf grasses with deep roots stand up better to rolling than warm-weather types that spread through rhizomes.

If you decide to roll your lawn, choose the right type of equipment for your needs, and find out about weight limits for your soil and grass type.

Benefits and Drawbacks to Lawn Rolling

  • Safer high traffic areas

  • Levels playing fields

  • Helps set sod

  • Improve seed/soil contact and retention

  • Corrects frost heaving

  • Improper use can kill turf grasses that spread through rhizome.

  • No long term fix for rodent damage

  • Won't correct grub infestations

  • Does not correct hard bumps, holes, or natural low areas

  • Compacts clay soils

  • Incorrect weight damages soil

When to Roll Your Lawn

Time of year, temperature, moisture levels, and grass type all need to be considered when rolling a lawn. Here are a few tips on when to begin.

  • Roll during spring after all frost has passed.
  • Roll when the weather is at around 50 degrees Fahrenheit when grass first emerges from dormancy.
  • Roll when soil is moist but not wet.
  • Roll before mowing season begins.
  • Roll after laying sod to increase soil contact.
  • Roll after seeding to improve seed-to-soil contact and retention.
  • Rolling will be best on cool weather turf grasses with deep roots 6 to 8 inches.

How to Roll Your Lawn

Choosing the right equipment and using the correct weight makes the difference between improving or damaging your lawn.

  1. Start with an empty lightweight roller adding weight only if needed.
  2. Walk behind the roller at a normal pace.
  3. Avoid applying downward pressure on the handles, allowing the cylinder to do the work.
  4. Roll back and forth or up and down in single passes and avoid overlapping.
  5. Divide a large lawn and mark the sections if weight differential is needed.
  6. Use the lawn roller in spring after the frost has passed.
  7. Roll the lawn once, annually before mowing begins.
  • Does lawn rolling really work?

    When done properly lawn rolling can yield good results when laying sod, seeding a new lawn, and leveling out frost heaving.

  • When should you roll a bumpy lawn?

    Rolling a lawn in spring after frost has passed can smooth out frost heaving. A bumpy lawn caused by rodent damage, grub damage, or naturally high and low areas cannot be improved by lawn rolling until the underlying problem is eliminated.

  • What is the purpose of lawn rolling?

    Lawn rolling flattens the top 1 to 2 inches of soil surface making it more even and level. It is most beneficial when laying sod or seeding to improve sod and seed contact with the soil and is used most for maintaining professional playing surfaces.