Lawn rollers; a needless expense that creates more work – or an essential lawn maintenance tool? Let’s find out…
Lawn rollers work if your grass has a few low bumps, but they will not flatten your lawn if it has major lumps caused by bad landscaping, ant hills or digging animals. A roller is useful when reseeding your lawn, as it will help the seeds come into contact with the soil and speed up germination.
Join me as we find out everything there is to know about using lawn rollers in your yard, what type to use – and if there are any alternatives…
Will a Roller Flatten My Bumpy Lawn?
First of all, we have to define “bumpy”. If you have a few, fairly low bumps, yes, a roller will flatten your lawn. However if your grass is pretty lumpy, an ordinary lawn roller won’t have much of an effect.
Lawn rollers work best if you want to finish off a fairly even lawn that has a few animal bumps in it. The roller is designed to work on the first couple of inches of soil, so that’s something to think about if you’re debating investing in one.
Gardeners recommend using a lawn roller no more than once a year, to help establish new grass or to even out those winter bumps. Because of this, you may prefer to hire rather than buy a lawn roller. You should be able to rent a lawn roller from your local Home Depot (or you may be lucky and have a neighbor who’s willing to loan you one).
When Should You Use Lawn Rollers?
A roller is super-helpful if you are planning to reseed your lawn. Once you’ve scattered the seeds, going over the area with a lawn roller will help the seeds to come into contact with the soil. This can speed up germination.
Likewise, if you’re laying new sod in your yard, a lawn roller will also help the sod make contact with the soil. Quite often, air pockets develop when new sod is laid, which makes it harder for the roots to dig in. Rolling the top of the newly installed sod can help to eliminate air pockets and establish the fresh grass.
Are there any other times when it’s a good idea to roll your lawn? If you look out of your window one spring morning and notice that it’s become a little bumpy over the winter, you can go over it with the roller to flatten out the more modest-sized lumps. Choose a dry day (rolling a wet lawn is counterproductive, as it squashes the soil too much) and use a lightweight roller.
What is The Best Weight For a Lawn Roller?
So, which is best: a lightweight or a heavier lawn roller? For a domestic yard, go lighter, as it’s better for your lawn. If you’re a groundsman for a soccer pitch or a golf course, then you can go for one of the mightier 600 pounders.
A lightweight lawn roller is around 200 to 300 pounds. 300 pounds is a pretty good weight for a roller, as it will even out low-level lumps without over-compacting the soil. It’s also worth remembering that you have to push it yourself: just how much of a workout do you want?
Of course, there are plenty of models that can be pulled using your lawn tractor, and these are the ones to go for if you have a large yard and already own a tractor. Brinly has a good choice of tow-behind lawn rollers, as well as combination push-pull models. Agri Fab also makes a tow-behind roller. Here’s the Agri Fab roller in action.
What Can I Use Instead of a Lawn Roller?
You don’t have to use a lawn roller to flatten bumpy grass. Yes, this will give an instant result; however, sometimes you can get a better and healthier finish by finding the root cause (sorry) of the uneven texture.
Lawns can become bumpy if the grass isn’t healthy. Tending to your lawn and giving it a bit of TLC can give you a great result, if you’re prepared to put some time in.
The aim is to encourage a thick, healthy lawn to grow. Aerating is great for your lawn, as it makes sure that the grass roots have plenty of air and water under the soil (more about aeration in a moment). Aerate your lawn in the Spring and Fall to keep the soil healthy.
Feed the grass with a top dressing of granular compost or soil. If you aerate, leave the plugs of soil on the surface of the lawn as a natural fertilizer.
A lawn can appear bumpy if the grass is unevenly spaced. Reseed the bald patches and think about overseeding the entire lawn to thicken it. Keep your lawn watered, and don’t mow it too low. A healthy height is about two and a half to three inches (and we’d go for three in the summer if you can).
But what about animal or insect damage? Yes, a roller is a good way to flatten out the evidence of tunneling, but it won’t solve the problem. Deal with bug infestations as they happen (take a look at our article about lawn shrimp as an example of active infestation management).
There are also plenty of ways to deter digging animals: again, look at our article about foxes and gardens (it may major on foxes, but there are some great general tips in there).
So, aim for a thick and healthy lawn, and you may never need to use a roller to flatten it. However, just remember that rollering is great for newly scattered seeds and recently laid sod, so don’t completely dismiss the idea of a lawn roller.
Should I Roll or Aerate My Lawn First?
Always aerate your lawn after using a roller. Here’s why this is so important.
Soil contains a lot of air: up to half of your ground’s volume could be made up from tiny open spaces in between particles of soil. These little gaps fill with water and air, which grass roots need to grow.
Too much roller activity can lead to the earth becoming too compacted. This squashes the soil into all these essential little air gaps, and the end result is that the grass will struggle. It can also lead to the lawn becoming waterlogged, which again, isn’t good for the grass.
So, if you’ve run the roller over your lawn to smooth it out, you’ll need to put those air pockets back in afterwards. If you have a modest-sized lawn, you can aerate with a garden fork. Simply stick the tines right in, give them a little wiggle, then pull them out again. Repeat all over the lawn.
If you have a larger lawn, you hire a coring machine, which pulls out little plugs of soil. After aerating, leave these plugs on the lawn, as they will help to enrich it. In general, aeration is best carried out when the lawn isn’t too wet or dry. Because rollering is best carried out on a dry day, your lawn may need a light water prior to aerating.
What is Better a Steel or Poly Lawn Roller?
Both steel and poly lawn rollers will do the same job. Steel can handle heavier jobs, but may be prone to rusting. A polyethylene roller isn’t as tough as a metal one, but won’t rust.
For general use in a residential yard, a poly roller should be able to deal with the job easily. These can be easier to push around, and certainly don’t require the same amount of maintenance as a steel roller.
You then have the choice of what you use as the weight for your roller. The drum needs to be filled before each use, and this can be either water or sand. Water is easier and literally on tap; however you will need to empty the lawn roller after each use. Sand is permanent, but you’ll need to buy it in.
In the final analysis, if your lawn resembles that scene from Caddyshack – when Bill Murray has been blowing holes in the fairway with dynamite to try and kill gophers – then a lawn roller won’t help you.
However, if the bumps in your grass are low and relatively minor – then repeated use of a poly or steel lawn roller will smooth it out over time.
We think the best use of a roller though, is when reseeding your lawn or planting a new one – as the action of the roller will help the grass seed push down into the soil, which evidence shows will speed up germination.