When it comes to yards, size matters. But if your big yard is bumpy, has low spots, or is otherwise ugly, or difficult to mow and care for, you will probably want to level or grade it to improve your yard’s drainage and appearance. In this article I’ll share how to level a large yard, and why you should.
Doing big projects like this the right way the first time will save you a lot of time and money.
So let’s get into it!
What is the Difference Between Leveling and Grading a Yard?
In this article, I’ll discuss both leveling and grading your yard, since a lot of weekend warriors use the terms interchangeably.
While these words are often used as if they mean the same thing, there is a difference between the two.
Grading is a landscaping term used to refer to the sloping of a yard away from the foundation of a home.
Leveling is the process of creating a smooth surface in a lawn or yard.
Both are important pieces to the puzzle when creating a beautifully landscaped yard.
Why Grade a Yard?
Water is the biggest enemy of any home.
And excess water that is often a result of heavy rainfall throughout the seasons needs to drain off of your yard and run away from your home to avoid damage.
This requires proper drainage, which requires proper grading.
A well-graded property allows water to move away from the foundation of your home and helps to prevent water from pooling and leading to other problems in and around your home.
It’s important, and it’s one of the first things home inspectors check when you’re looking to buy a home. Improper grading will ALWAYS create problems.
You’ve got to get this right.
Why Level a Yard?
Leveling your lawn promotes the yard’s overall appearance while reducing risks of accidents and safety hazards.
A leveled yard ensures proper drainage and distribution of water (no puddles).
It also will make your lawn easier to mow and enjoy. Mowing a bumpy lawn will result in an uneven mow. It’s also frustrating to hold onto your walk-behind or self-propelled mower like it’s a bucking bronco every weekend.
Over time parts of any lawn can become uneven. This is especially true of older times which haven’t been leveled or graded in years.
Some common causes of uneven lawns include:
- Animal digging
- Poor lawn care practices
- Thinning Turfgrass
- Compaction due to heavy traffic
- Change in water flow
- Contractor repairs
- Original home builder mistakes or careless work
The Best Tools for Leveling and Grading a Yard
There are a couple of different approaches to leveling a large yard, or improving grading away from your home.
You can either:
- work with smaller walk-behind machines and hand tools for minor yard repairs,
- rent large equipment like a bobcat or a small excavator to save some time and energy, or
- hire a contractor to come in and professionally grade and/or level your yard.
Most people reading this article will probably be going the DIY approach, so these are my recommended tools for leveling a large yard by yourself:
- Thatch Rake
- Landscaping rake
- Lawn Mower
- Dethatching machine
- Flathead shovel
- 4 Stakes
- Ball of string
- Line-level/carpenter’s level, bricklayers level, or a string level
- Lawn Roller
- Wheelbarrow or Cart
- Topsoil or Mulch
- Push broom
Steps for Grading a Yard
Grading your yard seems a lot more complicated than it actually is.
You can do a pretty good job of grading your yard and grading the soil around your foundation by just using your eyes and some common sense.
I recommend that you:
- Make mental note of low spots around the foundation of your home by walking around the base of your home.
- Determine the slope of your current yard area.
- Use fill dirt to fill up particular areas and measure to determine they fit within the desired grade slope, and are consistent with other areas of your home grading (so it looks better).
Steps for Leveling Yard
Before you begin leveling your yard, ensure that there is proper grading. This will save you time, and make sure that your hard work doesn’t have to be re-done.
After grading you can begin the leveling process.
Generally, leveling can take place with the following steps, and will take you a day or less (depending upon how big your yard is):
- Determine which areas of the lawn need to be leveled. This will help you avoid unnecessarily digging. It’s much less expensive to re-seed where needed than to re-seed your entire lawn.
- Next, give your lawn a quick trim with your mower, mowing slightly shorter than you normally would.
- After mowing, walk around and determine areas with grooves, bumps, or ridges. I like to mark these areas somehow so they’re easy to spot.
- Determine the amount of thatch on your lawn. Remove any thatch that’s present in your lawn by pulling it up or using a thatch rake across the surface. For larger yards, rent and use a professional dethatching machine. With smaller yards you choose from my list of the best dethatchers.
- Use topsoil or a topsoil mix (I like to use a 50/50 mix of compost and loam that my local nursery will deliver in bulk) to level out low spots and use a shovel to reduce bumps. If you want to, you can create a topsoil mix to use by mixing two parts sand, two parts topsoil, and one part compost. The sand aids in maintaining a level yard while the topsoil and compost provide your grass with nutrients to promote growth.
- Dig up the grass in low spots or divots deeper than two or three inches. Fill the hole with topsoil or topsoil mix and then replace the turf by pressing it right down on top of it.
- After adding the topsoil,l use a rake and/or lawn roller to level off the new soil.
- Compact the new soil by watering it in. Don’t wet it so much that there’s puddling or run-off.
- Use your shovel to redistribute soil as needed. You can save some money by using the soil you removed from raised areas to fill in low points and depressions.
- If necessary, a tiller can be used to break up the top of the soil. This will loosen the soil and make it easier for you to work with while leveling your large yard.
- To make sure you don’t do more work than you need to, and that your lawn is actually becoming level. I recommend that you stake out the section you want to level using the four stakes. Drive your stakes into the four corners of the section you plan to level, and tie your string to the stakes to create a square or rectangle shape. Adjust your line level to the string and measure every 3 to 5 feet to determine which areas need raising and which areas need lowering.
- Use the back of your rake to flatten the soil.
- Before you spread your seed, water your new leveled soil using some soft oscillating sprinklers. This will help topsoil settle and allow you to fill in any air pockets or depressions that form.
- When you’re happy with your newly leveled lawn, lay fresh sod or prepare for seeding your new lawn.
- More than one application of soil may be needed to complete leveling a large yard. Look for active grass growth or little to no sign of your initial application to determine the need for more leveling work.
What Time of Year Should I Level my Yard?
I recommend that you level your yard in the early fall, though you can have success leveling and seeding a yard in mid to late spring (around the time the Lilacs bloom) as well.
Fall is best in my view because the soil is warm enough for quick germination, but your new grass isn’t stressed by the heat of summer and is allowed to establish strong roots before winter.
My Final Tips for How to Level a Large Yard
Beyond the technical guide for how to level a large yard, there are a few things you should consider and remember before you start your project.
These will help to keep you safe, and may save you time and money.
- Before digging, always call 811 to have underground utilities marked on and around your property.
- Make sure your ground is easy to work with before you begin. The use of a tiller can make the ground softer and your job easier. If it hasn’t rained recently, water your lawn the day before you work to make your turf softer and easier to work with. This will also cut down on dust.
- Closed-toe shoes should be worn to avoid injuries. I don’t want you losing any little piggies!
- Before leveling, determine the underlying problem causing the ground to be un-level. Addressing these can help to avoid a recurrence in the future.
- Cut grass short before beginning work, but avoid visible grass blade stems. You want there to be enough leaf for grass to retain its strength and recover quickly.
- Remove any perennial plants from the area prior to leveling. These plants are tough, and will recover quickly when you replace them in your landscape (I use and recommend BioTone when re-planting them, which you can buy on Amazon).
- Spread hay or a thin layer of compost as mulch over bare areas when you spread your seed. This will decrease weed growth, keep your seed moist, and prevent erosion while your new grass establishes itself.
- Stones can be placed at the base of a new slope to allow you to more effectively back-fill soil. Stacking the stones will create an attractive retaining wall that discourages loose soil from eroding.
The Dethatcher I Use & Recommend
For lawns up to a half acre there’s one clear choice when it comes to dethatching tools. I recommend The Greenworks 27022 10AMP Electric Dethatcher.
It works really well and will pay for itself after a few uses when compared to renting a power rake.