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!
For very large lawns, groundsmen use a piece of equipment called a chain harrow. This help to flatten large lawns and pitches without compacting the soil. This is only really possible by using a tractor.
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. This includes building up soil to lay a new lawn.
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.
The Lawn Man