How Should I Level My Lawn?

Katy Willis
Written by Katy Willis
Updated January 17, 2022
Couple having breakfast in the yard
Photo: AzmanL / E+ / Getty Images

Level your grass or dirt yard with one of these simple methods and beautify your outdoor space

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What starts out as a pristine lawn can slowly end up as a gnarly, crater-filled headache. And it can happen so gradually that you don't even notice—until one day you're mowing and suddenly the blade snags on the depression you weren't even aware of. 

An uneven yard looks unsightly and can even be dangerous: one of the kids can take a tumble as they run across the lawn, or you're carrying a snack tray, step into a depression, and cookies go flying. 

Thankfully, there are a few different methods you can use to rid your yard of those pesky divots. How to level a yard depends on the cause of the unevenness and how wide and deep the affected areas are. You can do some of the simpler fixes yourself, but for more extensive work, it's probably a good idea to contact a local lawn care specialist.

What Causes an Uneven Yard?

There are many reasons a yard can become uneven. Some occur naturally, while others are caused by humans and animals:

  • Buried construction debris eventually settles, degrades, and breaks down, or compacts the soil beneath it

  • Soil erosion from drainage

  • Pesky pets and wildlife digging holes or burrowing beneath the soil 

  • Organic matter such as old tree stumps or roots slowly decaying

  • Damaged or ruptured water or sewer line (this requires professional intervention)

  • Mowing in wet conditions and always following the same mowing pattern

  • Using heavy equipment on the lawn in wet conditions

The Benefits of Ground Leveling 

Unlevel lawns are often unsafe lawns for kids, older adults, pets, and just about anyone enjoying a lawn after dark or covered in leaves. Unlevel ground occurs when lawns settle, drainage issues arise, natural causes pop up, after installing a pool—several reasons. Removing lawns’ lumps and bumps deliver several benefits. 

Safety is the primary benefit of lawn leveling. Uneven lawns can lead to trips, slips, sprains, breaks, and other unwanted issues. It also improves curb appeal, ensures more efficient water usage, and makes lawns easier to maintain from mowing to weeding, reseeding, and raking. 

Different Types of Ground Leveling Equipment

There are a few methods of lawn leveling, each requiring different pieces of equipment. But no matter which method you follow, you’ll likely need:

  • A lawn mower

  • Dethatching machine or thatch rake

  • A thatch rake

  • Shovel

  • Bow rake

  • Broom 

  • Topsoil 

  • Sand

  • Compost

How to Level a Yard With Topsoil

If your yard has one or more shallow depressions or ruts, or if it’s just a little bit bumpy in some places, a quick DIY fix is to simply top dress the irregular areas. 

1. Dethatch the Lawn

Using electric dethatcher in the yard
Photo: Ingo Bartussek / Adobe Stock

For the best results, dethatch the lawn where it's not level. Dethatching improves grass health and allows water and nutrients to reach the roots. If you want to save yourself some time, you can always hire a local dethatching service

2. Make a Leveling Mix

Woman mixing soil and compost with a shovel
Photo: manonallard / E+ / Getty Images

Yes, you can just use topsoil or compost, but for good drainage, rapid growth, and easy rooting, you need a well-balanced mix. You'll get the best results from a mix of 40% topsoil, 40% sand, and 20% high-quality compost. 

3. Pour Your Mix

Don't be tempted to just go wild and empty your barrow of leveling mix into the depression. Instead, apply no more than a half-inch layer. Any more, and you'll smother and kill the grass beneath. Then you'd need to reseed. The cost to reseed a yard will vary by location and other factors. 

4. Rake

Covering hole in the yard with dirt
Photo: VSFP / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

Rake over the top dressing, then take a stiff brush and sweep across the area. Raking spreads the mix over the space evenly, and brushing forces the mix down through the grass to the dirt.

5. Water

Lightly water the area to encourage the soil mix to settle and grass to grow. Try not to overwater or water too vigorously, or you'll wash away the leveling mix you just applied. 

6. Be Patient

Leave it for a couple of weeks. If it's settled, you can no longer see the leveling mix, and the grass looks healthy, you can add another half-inch layer of leveling mix if there's still evidence of unevenness.

How to Level a Lawn by Raising the Turf

If you've only got small depressions to fill in and you don't have the patience to apply multiple layers of leveling mix half an inch at a time, there's another attractive DIY option. 

1. Make the Soil Moist

Woman using hose to water the yard
Photo: ArtistGNDphotography / E+ / Getty Images

At least an hour before you start to cut the sod, water the area to moisten the soil and make it easier to work with. This also results in less root damage when you lift the turf.

2. Cut the Uneven Terrain

Closeup of a gardener using lawn edger in the yard
Photo: Volga2012 / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

Take a sharp flat spade or lawn edger and cut around the perimeter of the uneven terrain. If it's a fairly large area, you should cut away the turf in multiple strips.

3. Remove the Sod

Insert your spade or half-moon edger under one corner of where you just cut and pry up the sod, breaking roots as you do so. Repeat this process with short, sharp cutting motions beneath the sod. Roll up the sod as you work.

When finished cutting, set the sod aside. If you plan to leave it for more than a couple of hours, water it to keep it alive and healthy.

4. Add Topsoil

Man using a shovel is adding soil to a lawn
Photo: Maria Sbytova / Adobe Stock

Apply enough topsoil or leveling mix to fill the depression. Water gently to remove air pockets and settle the area. You'll notice the volume reduces, lowering the fill level. That's okay! 

5. Replace the Sod

Gardener on his knees unrolling sod
Photo: herreid14 / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

Carefully unroll the turf to fill the remainder of the depression. Tamp the sod down gently with your foot. 

6. Water

Water the area lightly and apply a little rooting hormone or grass feed to promote growth and recovery.

How to Level a Lawn With Deep Depressions

If your lawn has significant holes, ruts, or depressions more than 2 inches deep, or if you need to level large areas, you'll be better off leveling the area and reseeding your lawn. it. This is a better option than trying to apply half an inch at a time or lifting huge areas of sod. 

  1. Aerate the depression to allow good drainage and promote healthy growth of the new grass. 

  2. Water the area thoroughly.

  3. Use topsoil that's screened and free of weeds so you don't introduce new problems into your lawn. Overfill the depression so it's raised and humped—you need the extra, as it will sink as it settles. You can encourage settling and remove air pockets by lightly watering. Then, if it immediately settles below the level of the rest of the lawn, add more topsoil.

  4. Don't intentionally compact the area. If you want to grow healthy grass, at least the top 3 inches of soil need to stay loose to allow easy root growth.

  5. Leave the bare patch for two weeks to let it settle fully. If it's still level with the rest of the lawn after that time, you can apply grass seed.

How to Fill Holes in the Yard From Your Dog

Black and white puppy digging holes in the yard
Photo: Emma Loades / EyeEm / Getty Images

If you've got one of those naughty-but-lovable pups who loves to dig, your lawn is likely to be full of holes sized and placed perfectly to trip you up. 

These holes are usually deep but fairly small, so they're easy to repair. Just follow the same steps as you would for filling in deep depressions—and then make sure Fido doesn't dig it all out again! 

You might want to rig up a temporary fence to keep your pooch off the area until the grass has grown back. You can also reserve an out-of-the-way patch of dirt for him to exercise his need to dig. Alternatively, you could install a sandpit and direct the dog to dig there instead.

How to Fix a Bumpy Lawn

If you've got a bumpy lawn, it could be that you've got something buried in your yard. Now, you can just add topsoil and reseed to even the whole thing out, but if it continues to decay or settle, you'll have to do it again and again. 

Instead, it's a good idea to find out what's buried underneath and dig it out, or hire a professional to do it for you. If you decide to do it yourself, check with your utility companies to make sure there's no cables or pipes running through before you start breaking ground. You'll need to dig out the debris, then fill in the holes, level the yard, let it settle, and reseed. 

Whatever the reason for your uneven yard, there's a fix. Most are DIY-friendly, but there are instances where you definitely need professional help. If, for example, you suspect a leaking water or sewer line, you need fast assistance from a local qualified plumbing contractor to repair the leak before you can even begin to repair the lawn. In this case, you'd most likely notice a depression that's quickly getting worse and drainage issues including standing water or a soggy patch around the area. 

Or, if you've got a lot of construction waste buried beneath your lawn, you may find that it becomes uneven again no matter how many times you level it. Here, you'll need a landscaping expert who can dig out all the offending material and repair your yard.

Once your lawn is levelled, following some simple lawn care tips is all you'll need to keep it looking great.

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