There’s a lot of confusion about lawn rolling.
You might have seen these large drums in the local hardware store and wonder why on earth someone would push it across their garden.
What is it for? Does it actually work? Isn’t it something out of a cartoon?
There must be a reason why professionals and (some) homeowners do it every year – right?
In this article, I aim to answer all these questions and more, with an in-depth look at the benefits of lawn rolling – if there are any at all.
So, without further ado – let’s roll.
- Lawn Rolling Benefits – In Few Words
- A Little Bit of Science
- Why Use a Lawn Roller?
- Do You Need to Use a Lawn Roller?
- Lawn Rolling Rollers
- How to Roll Your Lawn
- Cons of Lawn Rolling
- The Verdict – Does it Actually Work?
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Lawn Rolling Benefits – In Few Words
Time is precious, and it seems there are never enough hours in the day. As such, if you’re in a rush, here’s the “too long, didn’t read” version of this article.
Lawn rolling can help flatten a bumpy lawn, address mole and ant hill problems, help new seeds germinate, and even assist with lawn stripe patterns for that sports ground look.
It is, however, a lot of hard work (especially if you’re doing it manually) and not everyone has access to a roller.
Not to mention the fact that it can seriously compact the soil, which leads to poor irrigation and nutrient flow – among other problems.
A Little Bit of Science
Something called “mechanical” or “physical” weathering can cause all kinds of problems in the earth every year, thanks to the freeze/thaw cycle.
This weathering causes the break-down of rocks and soil, which will in turn affect the level of the terrain. By freezing and thawing, the earth expands and contracts – and is moving and adjusting all the time.
Freeze-thaw occurs mainly in rainy areas, where the temperature fluctuates above and below freezing point.
After rainfall, if the temperature drops and the water freezes, it will expand and cause stress within the soil or rock.
Over time, this cycle can cause serious damage to our landscape, and on a smaller scale, the natural occurrence can play havoc with the topography of our lawns.
Aside from this, a bumpy lawn can be caused by any number of factors, including animal activity, excess thatch (see this article on the benefits of dethatching for more info), tree roots, bugs and pests, clumps of grass, mowing damage, and more.
And speaking of mowers, make sure you’re using the right one for your yard – otherwise it might be causing you problems. Check out this piece on the different types of lawnmowers to be sure.
Why Use a Lawn Roller?
Our lawns are rarely perfectly flat, beautifully conditioned areas of green space similar to a football field (which are predominately fake, anyway).
Although we’d certainly like them to be.
And coupled with the freeze/thaw effects explained above, every year we might be looking at or walking on a different lawn.
Not to mention the mounds and hills caused by moles, ants, and other unwanted creatures and insects in our yards.
So, this is where lawn rolling comes in. And pretty much all the uses of lawn roller are exactly the same as their benefits.
A heavy lawn roller is used to flatten any lumps and bumps that might have appeared on the surface over the course of the winter. Or, as mentioned, through the undesirable actions of critters.
It can also be used when it comes to growing a new lawn, repairing bare spots, or overseeding – as the roller helps push new seeds further into the soil, away from the prying beaks of birds, giving them a better chance of germination.
(I could have done with that recently, as American Robins are ruining my front lawn overseeding efforts, and my fake owl needs to be fired.)
Lawn rollers can be useful when you’re laying new sod, as they will help the turf adapt to its new location and encourage it to take root.
Finally, from a purely aesthetic point of view, a lawn roller can help you achieve a beautifully striped lawn. And if you want more information on how to make your yard look like a ballpark – follow that link.
Do You Need to Use a Lawn Roller?
No, is the short answer. Millions (billions?) of people around the world don’t bother and just allow nature to take its course.
However, if you’re one of the special few who are keen to achieve the best lawn care possible, or you have a particularly bumpy lawn for whatever reason, then it might be a good idea to periodically use a roller to help flatten things out.
So, in the end it’s not necessary, but for taking care of uneven surfaces – it’s probably your best course of action, short of ripping the whole turf up and starting again.
(Which I don’t advise unless it’s a last resort.)
Lawn Rolling Rollers
Let’s take a brief look at some of the tools you might use to roll your lawn, and see if there’s one that is right for you.
There are generally two types of lawn roller available for the homeowner.
Push Lawn Roller
Ideal for small to medium-sized yards and gardens, the push lawn roller is arguably the most popular tool to use for flattening your lawn.
The large drum that actually does the work can be made from a number of different materials, including plastics and polys, steel, concrete, and iron.
Plastic, poly, and metal rollers can be filled with water via a plug on the side. This Vingali Lawn Roller is a good example – capable of holding 16 gallons.
Here’s a push roller made from iron (remove link) that is surprisingly lightweight when empty, and will offer 120 lbs when filled with 17 gallons of water.
While water rollers are much more portable, it can take a fair amount of time to fill, and they still won’t have the weight or flattening power as a concrete version.
And that’s an awful lot of water you’re using there – so you’d better find some environmentally friendly way to recycle it once you’re ready to empty the drum out.
Of course, the downside of the heavier rollers is they can be very hard to transport, and you can pretty much forget it unless you have access to a trailer.
For the most part, concrete rollers are mainly used for commercial or industrial purposes only. And I very much doubt your uneven lawn is so bad it requires a steamroller to fix.
Tow Behind Lawn Roller
Made from the same materials as the push rollers, the difference with a tow-behind model is you need to use a lawn tractor to pull it.
This is ideal if you have a larger lawn, and you’ve much more area to cover. It certainly takes the work and effort out of doing it by hand.
This one from Agri-Fab is made from a durable poly and can accept around 48 gallons of water to achieve a weight of 400 lbs.
And this Ohio Steel Lawn Roller has a massive 117 gallon drum and is capable of 1150 lbs in weight when filled. If that doesn’t crush those mole and ant hills – I don’t know what will.
Check out this article on the best zero-turn lawnmowers – which will be more than capable of doing the job of pulling these rollers.
Failing that, pick yourself up one of these riding lawn mowers for hilly terrain – if you have a particularly challenging landscape to negotiate.
Renting a Roller
Bear in mind that lawn rollers tend to be on the large and bulky side, so not everyone has the space to store them – especially if you’re only going to be using the tool once (or less than once) per year.
By the same token, they can also be quite pricey when you consider how much time they will spend in the shed.
As such, many homeowners opt to hire a roller from a local tool rental shop. As an example, Home Depot currently offers one for $13 for four hours (at the time of writing).
How to Roll Your Lawn
So, if you’ve navigated all the way through this article thus far, and you still want to go ahead with lawn rolling, here are a few tips on how you can get the best results.
Before commencing the roll, make sure you’ve removed any potential hazards and debris, as well as highlighted anything immovable such as utility lines or a sprinkler system.
You don’t want 1500 lbs of roller going over anything but the lawn. I’d also highly advise the wearing of some suitable gloves for protection, so follow that link to find some.
Regardless, 1500 lbs is going to be overkill for most people, so choose something a little lighter. Remember – you can damage the lawn easily without care.
Spring is the best time of year to roll, just as the grass has bounced back from the cold and is getting ready to pop. Read this article if you’re looking for more information on caring for your lawn after winter.
Contrary to popular belief, rolling your lawn is not an annual task, and over-rolling in this way will cause more harm than good.
Your lawn should be moist but not soaking. Rolling a day after it’s rained is ideal, or give your lawn no more than one-inch of water from your hose or sprinkler the night before.
Then it’s time to rock and roll! Put your headphones in, stick on some tunes about rolling (there are hundreds)* and make passes across your lawn with the roller – similar to when using your mower.
Once should be more than enough, but feel free to make a second pass if you think it needs it.
Then it’s a good idea to aerate your lawn afterwards, as you will have compacted the soil down somewhat – even if using a lighter roller on moist soil.
Check out this article on the ultimate guide to lawn aeration for more info. Adding a layer of topsoil in key areas to level things out might also be necessary.
Cons of Lawn Rolling
We’ve already explored the merits of lawn rolling – so what are some of the downsides – if any?
Unfortunately, there happens to be a fair few.
Used improperly (or if you’re attempting to use a particularly heavy roller that’s overkill for the surface and/or job) lawn rollers can seriously damage your turf.
You can end up making even more work for yourself with great dinks and divots where there were none before. Turning can be particularly tricky – and lawn edges can suffer.
Unless you’re using a lawn tractor, lawn rolling is ridiculously hard work. You need to be physically fit and capable, especially if you have hilly terrain.
In clay-heavy soil, lawn rolling is not recommended, as it can cause it to compact even more than it already is.
Even if your soil isn’t a clay mix, pressing the turf down in this fashion can cause you irrigation problems, and all the issues associated with lack of aeration.
Air, sunlight, and other nutrients won’t be able to reach the grassroots if your soil is too compact, which can be caused by heavy thatch, traffic, and – of course – a lawn roller.
Which means you’ll have to break out one of the best lawn aerators in order to address the balance. You might well be cutting your nose off to spite your face.
The Verdict – Does it Actually Work?
Yes and no. The lawn-care world is divided on whether rolling your lawn offers any merit.
While it can certainly help with small bumps and divots, the roller needs to be very heavy for it to have any real effect on seriously uneven terrain – and then you’re just asking for trouble.
And while it can be beneficial for overseeding, it’s nothing that raking the seeds in with a topsoil dressing, or aerating prior to broadcast spreading would do anyway.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the most successful use of a lawn roller is for creating stripes – which is something it happens to be essential for, as lawnmower rollers are very rarely heavy enough to do the job.
In short, I’m not a fan, but you’re more than welcome to give it a go – so long as you take care, don’t overdo it, and totally refrain from rolling if you have clay soil.
And you should take a look at this link for some truly essential lawn-care tools for some tips and advice on what you really should be using to achieve the best grass in the neighborhood.
Is rolling your lawn good or bad?
The jury is out. For the most part, I’d say it’s not worth the effort or risk. You can work to achieve a flat lawn with adequate dethatching, aeration, and top soiling when and where required.
Remember, for a really bumpy, uneven lawn, a roller will need to be very heavy, and the turf have just the right amount of hydration in order to achieve success.
How do you fix a bumpy lawn?
As mentioned, you can fix an uneven lawn with the right combination of dethatching, aerating, overseeding, and top-soiling.
You can also take more heavy-duty steps and follow the advice in the video below – if you have a particularly bad surface that you’re desperate to treat.
Alternatively, you can still try a lawn roller – because they can and do work if used correctly.
Why would you roll your lawn?
Folks roll their lawns to flatten an uneven surface, take care of mole or ant hills, and try to readdress things after the freeze/thaw cycle of several winters.
They can also be used for pressing new grass seeds into the ground, and are particularly effective at creating stripes.
Does rolling a lawn work?
Yes. No. Maybe?
I hate to say it, but it does depend on a number of factors, and what you’re looking to achieve. As ever, I suggest managing your expectations, and don’t see it as a magical cure-all remedy.
Watch the lawn guru Ryan Knorr give you his best advice with the video below.
How often should you roll your lawn?
You don’t need to roll your lawn every year – which is a common misconception. In fact, this is going to be doing more harm than good, as regularly compressing the soil in this manner will cause you all kinds of problems.
As such, there’s no set schedule for lawn rolling, and it’s difficult to say how often you should do it.
My advice would be to try it once – if you’ve never rolled before – and then leave it alone for a couple of years – even if it works.
In the meantime, find other methods for flattening your lawn if you really think you need to.
What is a good weight for a lawn roller?
Professionals recommend that a 300-400 lbs roller is perfectly adequate for most homeowner/residential uses.
You certainly don’t want to go too heavy otherwise you’ll risk damaging your lawn even further.
What can I use instead of a lawn roller?
Great question – and there are several options available to you if you don’t have access to a lawn roller, or you don’t want to take the trouble to rent one.
You can try making your own version from a water heater tank, a cardboard drum filled with sand, or any other large, cylindrical device you might be able to acquire – like a 55 gallon oil drum, for example.
When to use a lawn roller?
Use a lawn roller after seeding to press the new seeds into the soil.
For addressing uneven, bumpy terrain, it’s best to roll in the springtime, just when the grass is about to hit its seasonal growth spurt.
Don’t roll in the summer – as the heat is already stressing the turf out as it is.
Will a roller flatten my lawn?
It’s not a magic bullet, but it might work, depending on the type of roller used, the condition of your yard, and if you adhere to a few tried and trusted techniques when you’re doing it.
But it’s certainly not going to suddenly turn a bumpy lawn into Lambeau/Fenway/Wimbledon/Anfield – that’s for sure.
Are there any benefits of lawn rolling? Maybe yes and maybe no.
It can certainly help with an uneven lawn – providing you do it at the right time and in the right way, but I think you should ask yourself if it really is worth the effort?
Let me know your lawn rolling experiences, if you think my opinion is way off or on the money, and/or any successes/failures you might have had with it.
Best of luck – and happy rolling!