Expert Tips On How To Level A Lawn By Hand

If you don’t have money to buy or rent a Bobcat, tractor, or lawnmower, you don’t have to worry about leveling your lawn as you can easily level it by hand.

A yard filled with grooves and bumps is not only ugly, but it also affects drainage, creating pools of water that kill grass and serve as breeding grounds for mosquitoes and other insects.

An uneven lawn is also hard to mow.

While having a heavy leveling machine will get the work done fast, there is no harm in getting down and dirty and learning how to level a lawn by hand.

Leveling high spots in the lawn

High spots bring about mowing problems and hurt drainage. To eliminate the spots, you need to redistribute the soil that makes up the spot.

You need to take care you don’t bury the nutrient-rich topsoil that grass and other plants grow best in.

Step 1: Begin with removing grass from the high spot and surrounding areas using a shovel. Dig out the topsoil layer and place it in a pile for later use.

Step 2: Using a tiller, till the exposed soil to a depth of 6 inches. Remove any pieces of plants, turf, and rocks larger than 1 inch in diameter that you might encounter when tiling.

Step 3: To smoothen the soil and match the surrounding yard’s grade, use a garden rake to rake the soil. It’s also wise to roll the soil with a lawn roller to better identify the uneven areas. Rake or till more if necessary.

Step 4: Once you are satisfied, cover the tilled and leveled law area with the topsoil you previously removed. Rake the soil one more time to distribute the topsoil evenly over the area.

Step 5: To cover up the bare soil, sow grass seed. You can also lay sod in the area.

Step 6: To cap it, run the lawn roller over the area again. Ensure you press the grass seed deep into the soil.

Pro tip: Add peat moss, compost, or organic material to the topsoil to improve the soil’s nutrient content. If your yard is having drainage issues, add small amounts of sand to the topsoil.

Leveling low spots in the lawn

Even if you take good care of your yard, it’s common for low spots to come about. Several factors can lead to low spots:

  • Following the same mowing pattern all the time
  • Allowing heavy machinery on your lawn
  • Driving on your lawn when it’s wet
  • Decaying root and other organic matter

The key to getting the most when fixing the low spots in your yard is timing. As a rule of thumb, fix the spots when the grass is actively growing. This is usually early fall for cool-season grass and late spring for warm-season grass.

Leveling low shallow spots in the lawn

If your yard has low shallow spots of no more than 1-2 cm deep, correct the problem with topdressing.

You can apply the top dressing mixture directly to the target area, then evenly distribute it with a rake until it has filled out and level.

To compact the soil, use your feet and the flat side of the rake. You should lightly water the soil to aid further compaction and then let it settle.

After the soil has settled, distribute grass seed, then apply a light dusting of topsoil mix. To assist the germination, lightly apply water four times a day. You should then water the area regularly and allow time for the grass seed to grow.

Repeat this process for all the shallow areas in your yard.

Care for the lawn normally after six weeks spread out and an additional ½ inch of topdressing material.

Pro tip: You need to use the right amount of topdressing mixture. A heavy or damp mixture is hard to spread out and can interfere with grass growth.

A too loose or light mixture is easily washed away or exposes the filled-in area to dry.

You need a mixture of equal parts, well-rotted compost or topsoil, and sand. If the mixture is clumpy or damp, first dry it out by spreading it out on a tarp.

Leveling deep low spots in the lawn

If the low spot is more than 2 cm deep, use a sharp blade or edger to cut one or more intact pieces of grass or any other ground cover from the bottom of the low spot.

Carefully lift the pieces from the spot and set them aside temporarily.

Follow up by filling the depression with topsoil to level with the rest of the yard. You should then replace the grass or vegetation pieces you had removed earlier and water them.

If no vegetation is growing in the low spot, fill the low area with topsoil, then reseed or re-sod it.

Pro tip: If the low spots in your yard are ruts or low due to heavy traffic that has pushed the soil down, inserting a digging or garden fork under the grassroots and lifting them so that the grass is 1-2 inches above the surrounding areas and then allowing it to settle, fixes the problem.

Leveling a sloping lawn

A sloped lawn brings about water runoff, uneven moisture retention, soil erosion, and difficulties when mowing the grass or tiling the flowerbeds.

The lawn’s bottom catches the runoff water, making it remain too wet for healthy grass growth.

Sloping lawns are also unsuitable for patios, decks, gazebos, and lawn games. By leveling the sloping lawn, you decrease the slope, giving your lawn an inviting look.

For you to do it effectively, you need to follow a set of steps:

Step 1: Get rid of all vegetation from your backyard. Using a shovel, dig up all the plants and transplant them into pots. Remember to place the plants in a shaded area and water them to keep them healthy.

Step 2: To avoid accidents, contact the local utility companies and inform them about your project. The representatives will visit your yard and help you identify the locations of water pipes, power lines, and phone lines.

Step 3: Once you are given the green light to progress with your project, remove the entire topsoil layer and place it in a pile.

Step 4: At the bottom of the slope, add purchased subsoil.

Spread the soil, creating a slight slope away from your house. If your yard is big, distribute the soil to create a 12 inches slope for every 50 square feet of the ground. You should rake the surface until it’s smooth.

Step 5: To compact the soil and prevent future settling, push the lawn roller back and forth on the surface.

Step 6: Using a shovel, fill any present depressions with subsoil and rake the surface to smoothen it. For a pristine look, push the lawn roller over the surface one more time.

Step 7: Lay a board at the top of the slope. Position the board in such a way that its length runs down the slope. Place a level on top of the board and lift the board’s lower end until the level indicates that it is level.

Add soil if necessary. Repeat this process the entire length of the slope until you get an even grade on the entire lawn.

Step 8: Once you are done, replace the topsoil onto the graded area and spread it evenly. To compact it, push a lawn roller repeatedly over the surface.

Step 9: To further settle the soil, water the lawn area thoroughly. Give the surface time to dry completely, then inspect for any sunken depressions and regions.

To fill up the gaps and depression, use coarse rocks, finer soil, and gravel. The ground should remain depression-free after drying.

Step 10: If everything is perfect, go ahead and plant turf. You can manually plant a small turf sampling of grass or reseed the lawn. This is usually long and may require you to hire a professional.

Step 11: Instead, you can use older removed turf if it’s still in good shape. You can also plant the lawn using lawn carpet.

This is a simple patch of rectangular patch that you can lay down like carpet in your yard. The rug is inexpensive, and you can lay it to cover the entire yard.

Step 12: To get the most from the carpet, ensure that you lay it down evenly and adequately so that you don’t have issues with uneven ground later on.

When buying it, ensure that you buy from the same batch. This is to avoid having different lawn patterns.

Step 13: Once the new lawn is in place, take good care of it by regularly fertilizing, watering, and mowing it.

Pro tip: When leveling an existing yard, the lawn should slope away from the house. If you have a large lawn, the yard should have 3-2 inches of downward slope every 10 feet.
This is to allow maximum drainage during the rainy season.

What causes an uneven lawn?

Plenty of factors can make your lawn uneven. These factors include:

Animals: From your lovely dog to neighborhood cats, animals will make your lawn bumpy. Animals will damage your lawn in two ways: digging and compaction.

The animals can scrape the grass or sink ankle-turning holes. Moles are often the main culprits when it comes to digging, but dogs, cats, or even squirrels will dig up your lawn to store food, bury their droppings, hunt, or simply for fun.

While you can prevent your pet dog from digging by providing an alternative form of entertainment and sectioning your garden areas that you are less worried about getting damaged, it’s almost impossible to prevent the local wild animals from running amok on your lawn.

A great way to control the damage is to inspect your lawn every day and pat back into place any areas of your lawn that the animals have scraped.

If there are large holes in your lawn, fill them to level the lawn. If there is soil redistributed across the rest of the grass, rake it back to refill the cavity.

After filing the hole, pat the grass back into place, but plant new grass if the damage is extensive.

Animals will also compact your yard, especially if they use the same path as they move around your property.

If there are hedgehogs in your area, you are bound to have compacted soil as the animals are territorial and fairly rigid in how they enter and exit your yard.

Dogs are also creatures of habit and will often use the same route, so if you allow your dogs in your lawn, you are bound to have a well-beaten path as they move around your property.

Compaction is basically a reduction in the pore space in the soil, and reducing the pore space by even 10% is enough to notice a difference in your yard.

The beauty is that compaction is reversible as all you need to do is to aerate the lawn.

Kids: Your adorable kids are a lawn disaster if you allow them to play on a moist lawn. When kids play on soft soil, they put a lot of pressure on the grass, compromising its health.

The children will also dig holes as they are playing, making your lawn lumpy.

Earthworms: While small, earthworms shift between 20 and 25 tons of soil per acre in one area every year.

You can imagine what happens when the soil on your lawn turns every few months—you have ugly low and high spots.

During fall, spring, or other periods of extreme moisture, earthworms migrate to the surface and leave castings on the lawn.

The castings are worm excrement, and while they are highly nutritious to the soil, they form dark spots on the lawn.

When you go for a long time without removing the castings, they create a bumpy surface that can even be a tripping hazard.

To restore your lawn, you need to deal with the castings. Some of the ways of dealing with it include:

Raking or sweeping the castings: When they dry out, sweep or rake the castings across your lawn. Doing this breaks apart the unsightly lumps and spreads natural fertilizer over your lawn. To prevent uneven turf from developing, power rake your lawn in the fall.

Mow high: This won’t eliminate the castings, but it will hide them, minimizing the unsightliness.

Press the castings: Using a roller, press down the castings to achieve the flat lawn you are looking for.

Reduce your watering: To force the earthworms deeper into the soil, reduce the frequency at which you water your lawn.

Earthworms will stay near the soil’s surface if it’s continuously moist, but they will go down deeper in search of moisture if not much of it is on the surface, so if you reduce your watering frequency, you attract fewer earthworms hence you don’t have to worry too much of a bumpy lawn.

Lower the soil pH: The key to keeping the little insects out of your lawn is to keep the pH of your soil low.

Weather: During winter, water sits in the yard for a long time. This damages not only the grass, but also the soil underneath.

To prevent lawn damage due to excessive water, have an excellent drainage system.

Rocks: Sometimes, there might be rocks under your lawn that might be giving you high lawn spots. To fix this problem, excavate the affected areas and break up the rubble underneath.

Broken irrigation systems: Sometimes bumps and depressions will result due to broken water or irrigation pipes. Here the pipes leak resulting in erosion. If there are two to three low spots on your lawn where there may be water or drainage pipes, chances are water is leaking.

The irrigation systems will also wreck havoc when the sprinkler system is damaged. To confirm whether the unit is working properly, check whether the spray heads and rotors are working correctly and popping up to their full height.

You also should check whether the nozzles are clogged or damaged and whether the heads are leaking.

Ground settling: Overtime, settling occurs and causes depressions. It’s often hard to avoid settling especially if you have a new lawn or have had your yard done by a large piece of equipment.

If you live in areas with extreme temperatures, the freezing and thawing cycles can worsen the situation where the cycles make the soil heave and get bumpy and uneven.

Other reasons your lawn will be bumpy include:

  • People walking on lawns that are too soft
  • Buried objects such as wood debris from a construction
  • Ant mounds

Things you will need

While you will be using your hands, you will need a few essential garden tools to get the work done. These tools include:

  • Hard metal rake
  • Shovel
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Topsoil or mulch
  • Plastic pots
  • Lawn roller

To make digging easy, water the area to be leveled a day before. Take care that you don’t overwater the area as wet soil is just as hard to work with as dry soil.

Always wear closed-toes shoes for gardening to avoid hurting yourself.

Up to you

A smooth, even lawn without depressions or bumps provides an inviting surface to walk on or event to place to play soccer, bocce ball, croquet, and other lawn games.

A level lawn is also easy to mow and maintain.

As you can see, you can level a lawn by hand even if you have never done it before.

If you have a large yard, you have to put more effort into the project than when you have a small area.

If you have to dig up a large area, notify the local authorities to help you map the area, so you don’t tamper with the power, phone, and water lines.

By Cate Daniels

On my 15th birthday, I became the designated gardener in my home. Now at 32, I have a small garden and every day I'm out trying different plants and seeing how they grow. I grow guavas, peaches, onions, and many others. Want to know more about me? Read it here.