Should you ever roll your lawn?

We often see groundsmen and greenkeepers rolling the green velvet cricket pitches, tennis courts and sports fields we admire on television, but should it be something we carry out on our lawns at home?

Image Source: Bryan Ledgard
Image Source: Bryan Ledgard

Grandad’s old lawn roller but does rolling do more harm than good?

What does lawn rolling do?

Aerating our lawns, worm casts and, of particular relevance at this time of year, frosts can all contribute toward making the surface of lawns irregular, and rolling may be one way of correcting this.

But before you begin hauling a roller around your garden, you should take note of a few things. The first is to realise that rolling can only ever correct an irregular lawn, as opposed to an uneven one. Since a medium weight roller will only compress the top few centimetres of the soil, if there are even moderate differences in the level of the lawn, don’t expect to fix them in this way – top dressing (for small low areas) or completely renewing the lawn (for anything more severe) would both be much better strategies.
Another consideration is the soil type. Free draining sandy soils will withstand rolling time and again since their structure makes compaction less of a problem, but rolling clay soil even once (particularly if wet) could cause the soil to compact, preventing the grass from growing well, inhibiting drainage and requiring a lot of time and effort to put right again. This could be a problem on any soil type if the roller used is too heavy or the soil too damp at the time of rolling.

When do you roll your lawn?

If, after these considerations, you think your lawn could withstand it without becoming compacted, it’s more than likely rolling is still unnecessary.

A healthy lawn’s root system is sufficient to prevent frost from heaving the soil too much, and any small irregularities are likely to be put right by the first bit of usage and mowing the garden receives after spring. In fact, for clay soils, this freezing and thawing process is excellent for loosening the soil structure and rolling will only serve to undo this.

Bowling greens and golf greens are rolled to create a perfect playing surface

Sports pitches and greens are rolled as they need to be very firm for play and, partly as a result of rolling, require a great deal of maintenance – surely something most of us want to avoid at home.

The image of a roller on the front lawn of a grand house comes from before the grown-from-seed turf industry was established in the UK. The lack of specially grown turf varieties and finer grass’s increased tolerance to being rolled and trampled meant more ornamental lawns could be promoted by rolling.

So rather than going out and buying a roller, instead be thankful for having one fewer chore!