Lawn rolling must be hormonal. Every spring, just about this time, some mysterious hormone hits the male of the species and the urge to “do lawn work” strikes. Personally, I try to resist this urge whenever possible but from the looks of the lawns in the surrounding area, many of you are simply not able to resist the urge to get out there and do something, anything, to make your lawn look better.
I Have a Bridge I Want To Sell
Many local homeowners, no doubt hormonally unbalanced by the passing of winter, like to go out and drag a heavy weight around the lawn.
I recently read one newsletter that said the reason for lawn rolling was to make sure the grass roots were in contact with the soil. Right, and I’ve got a bridge I can sell you.
Grass roots, if properly grown, are quite deep and no amount of frost is going to throw them out of contact with the soil.
The only thing lawn rolling accomplishes is to compact the soil.
A nice lawn in British Columbia, Canada
Compacting the soil squashes all the soil particles together.
This means that air spaces necessary for good root growth are eliminated. It also means that water can’t penetrate the soil because there are no holes for it to move into.
The bulk of the water runs off the lawn and never penetrates deep into the soil to the root zone level.
This run off water takes the dissolving plant food with it so the spring feeding is washed down the sewer. In one fell swoop, rolling a lawn eliminates the necessary aeration, prevents water from entering and assists in the removal of spring applied fertilizer.
I can’t think of an faster way to help put stress on a lawn than to roll the lawn first thing in the spring.
I once watched a contractor use a road leveling roller to roll a lawn about to be seeded. Occasionally I pass this street and take a look at the house and ask myself if the gardener inside ever wonders why they can’t grow grass on this concrete expanse. In this case, there was a sand bed and a shallow layer of top soil over it being graded (with heavy machinery) and then rolled for a smooth seedbed.
Water would have a tough time penetrating the top layer because of the compaction and then, once into the soil, would not easily drain into the sand.
You have to remember that for physical reasons, water does not easily move between layers of different soil types- the junction between sand beds and top soil layers would be one such hard-to-pass area.
What is created in this case is a parched top surface layer at the ground-air junction and a swamp layer at the top-soil to sand layer.
With few airspaces for the roots to penetrate and this mish-mash of water, the testament is to the versatility and strength of grass that it grows at all in this compacted bed.
Golf Course Greens
Occasionally, those of you who golf will see the greens crews rolling the green.
Rolling a green is not the same as lawn rolling your home lawn. To begin with, a green is not usually made of garden soil.
Your lawn sits on a mixture of soil types and these are easily compacted; a green sits on special sand chosen for its ability not to compact.
Turf being grown for putting greens is one of the most intensively managed grass surfaces in the world. It is fed, watered and treated for disease on a regular basis. (Which is why you should never pick up your golf ball and then wipe your hands on your face.)
Even with the special sand bases, if the putting greens are rolled several times a week, they will usually have to be regularly “cored” (cutting out hundreds of finger sized holes) to allow for expansion of the soil, and the introduction of water and air.
The turf manager at a golf course is really trying to do several things at the same time. This person is trying to make the golf ball roll better by making the surface firmer. If the ball rolls better on firm soil, the grass itself can be left to grow a bit taller.
Taller grass is healthier grass because it is producing nutrients and extra root growth. The turf manager at a golf course is treading a thin line between optimum grass health and optimum playing surface.
What is critical to understand is that the soils on the green and your lawn can’t be compared and so the lawn rolling practices will be different.
In any case, put the lawn roller into the neighborhood garage sale because unless you want to produce concrete, you don’t need it anymore.
Responses to Readers about Lawn Rolling
I thought I would make a few short points about the above notes on lawn rolling as I’ve heard a few comments about it from readers.
There seems to be two responses to the article (besides the one that says, “But, I’ve always done lawn rolling on my lawn.”).
The first is a question about the bumps on the lawn in the spring and if they are not rolled, how will they disappear?
Trust me, they disappear in the normal lawn, they’ll sink and find their own level and as soon as the grass begins to grow, you’ll never notice them. If there are large bumps in the lawn, the soil needs to be added and graded, not squashed.
The second question is a natural one and one I should have addressed in the first article. If I’ve rolled my lawn in the past, how do I correct the damage I’ve done?
The answer to that is deceptively simple, grow your grass in a proper environmentally sound manner. Given half a chance, the root growth of grass plants will penetrate deeply into the soil and work to create a uniform aeration level. If we allow our grass plants to do the work they can do without “help” from us, our lawn will be the healthier for it.
The other point to be made is that rolling a new seedbed with a light roller is an acceptable garden practice to ensure the seed is firmly in contact with the soil. This is not a mandatory step but can marginally increase the germination of grass seed.