How To: Level a Yard
Is your grass lumpy and bumpy? Learn how to level out an uneven yard with a few simple steps.
A yard with lumps and bumps is not only unattractive, but it’s also a potential safety hazard with ample opportunity to cause trips, falls, and sprained ankles. Many events can cause an uneven yard—including drainage issues, leaks in pipes lying beneath the surface, and lawn pests like grubs or moles disturbing the root structure of the turf—but none need to derail your landscaping efforts altogether.
Before you start working to level your lawn’s surface, troubleshoot the underlying problem so it doesn’t reoccur in the future. Then tackle these steps for how to level a yard to turn your lawn into the smooth, lush, green landscape you’ve always wanted.
STEP 1: Mow the lawn.
Start by mowing your lawn. Cut it short, but not so short that you scalp it. If you cut it so that grass blades stems become visible, the grass is vulnerable to drying out.
STEP 2: Examine the amount of thatch at the lawn’s roots, then dethatch as needed.
Take a closer look at your grass roots, and determine the amount of thatch on your lawn. Thatch is the layer of decayed grass and other organic material at the base of the turf. A quarter to ½-inch of thatch is acceptable, but any more than that will prevent the grass from getting adequate air and water.
If you have more than ½-inch of thatch, remove (or at least significantly loosen) it by systematically running a thatch rake over the surface to pull it up. Or, if your lawn is larger, run a dethatching machine over it. You can rent a dethatching machine from a home improvement store, and it will make the process much quicker.
STEP 3: Mix sand, topsoil, and compost.
Make a top dressing mix to fill in the area beneath the grass in sunken areas of your lawn from two parts sand, two parts topsoil, and one part compost. The sand helps maintain a level yard because it doesn’t compact easily, while the soil and compost contain nutrients that your grass needs to thrive.
STEP 4: Dig up the grass in sunken parts of the lawn and fill with the soil mixture.
If you have any low spots or divots deeper than two or three inches, you should remove the grass on top of them before filling the holes. Dig up the sod by putting the blade of a shovel into it at the outside of a low spot, and sliding it down and under about two or three inches to get under the grass roots. Then pry the grass up with the shovel to expose the dirt beneath. Fill the hole with the top dressing mix, and put the grass back into place on top of it.
STEP 5: Spread the rest of the soil mixture in a thin layer to even out the entire lawn.
Once lowest patches are filled, use a shovel to disperse the top dressing mix across your entire lawn to a depth of about ¼ to ½ inches. Even if you think your grass needs more than that depth to even out, err on the side of caution and keep to a thin layer—a heavier layer could choke your grass. If necessary, you can repeat this process (see Step 7) to add a second layer.
Then, spread the top dressing mix evenly across the grass by pulling and pushing it around with the back of a bow rake. Work the mix into the gradual low spots and pockets in your lawn. If the grass blades are completely covered by the mix, the grass will suffocate from deprivation of light, so follow up with a push broom to further work the mix into the soil at the base of the turf grass and reveal the blades.
STEP 6: Run the lawn sprinklers.
Water your lawn to help the top dressing mix settle into the grass and fill any air pockets. This step should also revitalize your lawn because it will jumpstart the infusion of nutrients from the compost in the mix.
STEP 7: Reapply the soil mixture as needed.
You may need more than one application of top dressing to completely smooth out your lawn. Apply the second layer following steps 5 and 6 once you see the grass start to actively grow, or when you can no longer see the first top dressing application you put down.