Create a level playing field using one of these simple methods
What starts out as a pristine lawn can slowly end up as a 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 a depression you had no idea was there. This is your sign that it’s time to learn how to level your yard.
An uneven yard lacks the curb appeal of its level counterpart, and it can even be dangerous. One of the kids can take a tumble as they run across the lawn, or you could be carrying a snack tray, step into a dip, and the next thing you know, the cookies go flying.
Thankfully, there are a few different methods you can use to rid your yard of those pesky divots. Figuring out how to level your yard comes down to discovering 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 unevenness occurs naturally, while other causes stem from humans and animals. Here are a few of the most common things to be on the lookout for:
Buried construction debris settling, degrading, and breaking down or compacting the soil beneath it
Soil erosion from drainage
Pets and wildlife digging holes or burrowing beneath the soil
Organic matter, such as old tree stumps or roots, slowly decaying
A damaged or ruptured water or sewer line
Mowing in wet conditions
Always following the same mowing pattern
How Much Does It Cost to Even Out a Yard?
The cost to even out a yard is around $2,100 on average. If your lawn just needs slight leveling, you might only pay for topsoil, which costs between $12 and $55 per cubic yard. You should anticipate higher costs if you need to rent an excavator to remove an obstacle.
The Benefits of Ground Leveling
Unlevel lawns are often unsafe lawns for kids, older adults, pets, and just about anyone else enjoying a lawn after dark or one that’s covered in leaves. An unlevel ground occurs when lawns settle, when drainage issues arise, when natural causes pop up, after installing a pool, and more. Removing a lawn’s lumps and bumps can benefit your backyard retreat in a number of ways.
Safety is the primary benefit of lawn leveling. Uneven lawns can lead to trips, slips, sprains, breaks, and other issues. Also, making sure your lawn is level improves curb appeal, ensures more efficient water usage, and makes lawns easier to maintain, be it mowing, weeding, reseeding, or raking.
How to Level a Yard With Topsoil
If your yard has just a few shallow depressions or ruts, or if it’s simply a little bit bumpy in some places, a quick DIY fix is to top dress the irregular areas with topsoil. Here’s how you can start:
Dethatching machine (optional)
1. Dethatch the Lawn
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
You could 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 wheelbarrow 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.
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.
Lightly water the area to encourage the soil mix to settle and the grass to grow. Try not to overwater or water too vigorously, as you could accidentally wash away the leveling mix you just applied.
6. Be Patient
Leave the mix in place for a couple of weeks and avoid walking on it or moving it around. If there’s still evidence of unevenness but the mix is settled, you can no longer see the leveling mix, or the grass looks healthy, you can add another half-inch layer of mix on top.
Repeat as many times as needed, giving plenty of time between applications, until you’ve fixed any uneven patches.
How to Level a Lawn With Deep Depressions
Does your lawn have significant holes, ruts, or depressions more than 2 inches deep? Do you need to level really large areas? If you answered yes to either of those, you'll be better off leveling everything in one go and then reseeding your lawn afterward. Leveling everything at once is probably a better option for you than trying to apply half an inch of topsoil at a time or lifting huge areas of sod.
1. Aerate the Depression
Aerating your lawn is the first step you’ll need to take to prepare it for reseeding. Aeration allows for good drainage and promotes the healthy growth of new grass. Use a spike aerator, plug/core aerator, or liquid aerator to get the job done.
2. Overfill the Depression
Buy topsoil that's screened and free of weeds so you don't introduce new problems to your lawn. Use this topsoil to overfill any depressions with a shovel. Rake the soil across the depressions, but be sure to leave a little extra soil on top, as the topsoil will sink as it settles. Aim to build up your pile of topsoil 2 to 3 inches above the yard line.
3. Water Thoroughly
Water freshly aerated and filled depressions with a sprinkler to help the topsoil settle and to remove air pockets. Watering also helps encourage nutrients from your old soil to mix with the new soil. If the topsoil immediately settles below the level of the rest of the lawn, add more topsoil.
4. Don't 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. Don’t stomp down the area or use a soil tamper after you’ve laid down the topsoil.
5. Leave It Alone for a While
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 using a spreader.
How to Level a Bumpy Lawn Caused by Obstacles
Before you learn how to fix a bumpy, irregular yard, find out what’s causing the unevenness. It could be that you've got something buried in your yard, typically organic matter (like sticks, logs, and roots) or construction debris.
You don’t want to just add topsoil and reseed the area to even the whole thing out; if the buried material continues to decay or settle, you'll have to level and reseed again and again. Spend your time and money wisely by finding out what's buried underneath the dirt and digging it out.
Here’s how you can do it:
1. Check Before You Dig
Before you start chiseling away at your yard, call your local utility company or 811 Call-Before-You-Dig to ensure there are no cables or pipes running through the ground.
2. Dig Out the Obstacle
Once you’re in the clear to dig, use a shovel to remove the obstacle. For larger items, you may need to rent an excavator to get the job done.
3. Fill the Hole
Add a blend of 40% topsoil, 40% sand, and 20% compost into the hole using a shovel. Leave the top slightly elevated (2 to 3 inches) and rounded to account for any settling.
4. Add Water
You’ll need to add water to the freshly filled areas using a sprinkler or a hose and spray nozzle. Doing so helps ensure you’ve added enough soil, as the water will push the soil down and remove air bubbles.
5. Let It Settle
After you’ve added water and more topsoil (if needed), let the new soil sit for around two weeks to give it a chance to further settle. If you still notice a dip after two weeks have passed, you may need to add a little more soil and water it again.
6. Reseed Your Lawn
Once you’ve leveled your lawn, the next step is to reseed it to encourage new grass growth and hide any dead or wilting patches. Choose the best type of grass for your yard, and then reseed your lawn with seed, sod, or plugs for an even, green turf.
7. Call in the Pros
Whatever the reason is for your uneven yard, there's a fix. Most are DIY-friendly, but there are instances where you definitely need professional help.
For example, if you suspect a leaking water or sewer line, you’ll need assistance from a local plumber to quickly diagnose and repair a leak before you fix the lawn. In this case, you'd most likely notice a depression that's quickly getting worse and 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 you’ve leveled your lawn, following some simple lawn care tips may be all you'll need to keep your outdoor space looking great for good.
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. Here’s how you can make it happen:
Lawn edger (optional)
1. Water the Soil
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. Most soil also results in less root damage when you lift the turf.
2. Cut the Uneven Terrain
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 lawn 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 patches as you work.
When you’re finished cutting, set the sod aside. If you plan to leave it for more than a couple of hours, unroll it and water it to keep it alive and healthy.
4. Add Topsoil
Apply enough topsoil or leveling mix to fill the depression. Water the area gently to remove air pockets and settle the earth. You'll likely notice the volume decreasing, lowering the fill level; this is totally normal.
5. Replace the Sod
If the sod is still rolled up, carefully unroll it to fill in the remainder of the depression. Tamp the sod down gently with your foot.
Water the area lightly and apply a little rooting hormone or grass feed to promote growth and recovery.
Common Problems Caused by an Uneven Lawn
Though you might be tempted to overlook an uneven lawn, leaving your lawn uneven can come with several problems that might make you want to take action. Common problems that might arise from an uneven lawn include:
Potential trip and safety hazards
Difficulty mowing and maintaining
Low curb appeal
Drainage problems like flooding or stagnant water
Increased chance of diseases and pests in your yard
DIY vs. Hire a Pro
Knowing how to level your lawn is one thing, but actually being able to do it successfully is another. It can be a tricky and labor-intensive task that not everyone has the time or ability to do. But if you’re up to the challenge, you could end up keeping the $15 per cubic yard, the average labor cost for yard leveling, in your pocket for a rainy day.
While DIYing a yard leveling project can save you money on labor costs, if one thing goes wrong, you could end up paying double to fix the issue and hire a pro. If you’re not confident that you’ll be able to get it done right the first time or if you feel like your yard has significant and complex issues, calling in a pro might just be the best thing you can do for your lawn’s longevity.
Katy Willis contributed to this piece.
Frequently Asked Questions
Depending on your yard’s size, leveling a lawn costs between $1,000 and $3,000. On average, expect to pay about $15 per cubic yard. Shallow slopes may only cost about $400, while grades of 10 degrees or more may exceed $1,000. If you run into other issues, like a leaking pipe, you’ll have to pay more for larger repairs.
Spring is the best time to level a lawn. In most regions, the weather during this season offers mild conditions, meaning you’ll have an easier time dealing with the dirt. Ensure there’s no chance of frost and that your grass is in its specific growing season so that it’s easier for you to dig and your lawn bounces back more quickly.
The larger the lawn, the more you’ll rely on a dethatching machine. You’ll need to dethatch any thick, patchy grass in your lawn. Very uneven ground requires you to remove the grass completely so that you can dig and level your yard. After clearing the grass, you’ll need to add topsoil, raise the turf, or reseed it.
Yes, you can use topsoil on top of grass to level your lawn—but only to a small extent. However, be sure you don’t include more than a half-inch of topsoil at a time. You don’t want to pour too much topsoil on top of existing grass, as that can kill the grass and make it harder for grass surrounding the filled spot to grow.