I can’t quite wrap my head around something. It concerns the practice of rolling greens during stressful periods.

I’m not sure if I’m crazy about rolling, or if I think it’s the worst thing since that dubious creation from Yugoslav/Serbian engineering – the Yugo. Anybody remember the Yugo? If you do, don’t tell anyone. (Sorry, but this begs for a joke I read from Time Magazine about five years ago: What do you call a Yugo that breaks down after a 100 miles? An overachiever.)

Part of me believes rolling is one of the best, most sound practices you can do for your course’s greens. I mean, we all know the benefits, right? Rolling smooths the playing surface. Speeds it up. Firms the surface too, which, actually, come to think of it, allows the previous two benefits to occur. Rolling also gives the greens a needed break from the cutting reels of the daily morning mow. And when rolling right after a mow, the roller has been a “I need speed now!” savior. A final benefit from rolling can be found during the “grow-in” phase, when the root-zone mix may need added firming to enhance that root zone stability.

But the other part of me thinks the roller’s detrimental side effects don’t make it worth it – the main negative here being the compaction (and possible reduction in water infiltration) of the greens during stressful periods of summer. This occurring stress may be from many sources at one time: heat and or drought stress; disease stress; stress from cutting heights being too low; stress from low fertility; stress from over-watering; stress from just too many people walking over them.

I’ve always been leery of rolling during these instances, especially when three or four of them are occurring at the same time. My fear being that rolling the green is just adding another stress to a situation that is already stressful enough.

However, it’s good to keep in mind that superintendents have been rolling greens since long before they were called superintendents. Greenkeepers in the 1800s rolled frequently, most often using a barrel-type water-filled drum pushed across the green.

Rolling is certainly not a new concept, but the fears associated with compaction are not new either. Rolling and over-compaction have gone hand in hand for over a century. My compaction fears here are not my own. I have had lots of company in this phobia.

Another concern with rolling comes during grow-in. Although not necessarily a typically stressful situation, a newly seeded green with young plants may not be the best candidate for rolling either. In Charles B. White’s “Turfgrass Handbook,” he suggests that although young greens still in the “growing-in” stage can be rolled, it should be done with extra care in mind.

“The damage from rolling only occurs when it is used immediately following or a short time after topdressing,” White writes. “Abrasion occurs when exposing the still immature plants to the sand particles, thus bruising the plants.”

Over-compaction is not the only damage that can occur from rolling. Abrasion can happen as well.

So it is not without a fair amount of reluctance that I send the roller out in certain conditions in mid-summer. To be honest, in years past, I’ve tended to air on the side of caution, keeping the rollers in the shop on these days. But the more I think about rolling, and the more I play around with rolling in different situations (including stressful ones), the more I think rollers can be used not only as devices to smooth and increase ball roll, but to actually alleviate stress as well.

There is no arguing the benefit to giving the grass blades a break from cutting. And there is also no arguing the benefit from not removing some of the needed nitrogen from the plants on a daily basis as well. And, of course, there are the obvious playability benefits the rollers give us.

So, where does that leave us? To roll or not to roll during stress? Well, that’s your call. Weigh the pros and cons, and be prepared to adapt on the roll.

Get it, adapt on the roll? Ha.


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