A sloping lawn can be a big landscape problem. If you don’t deal with it in the right way or take too long, you can end up with soil erosion and flooding (because of poor drainage). And of course, a sloping lawn is an aesthetic issue for many homeowners. But leveling a sloping lawn is a tricky (and sometimes expensive) task. Today, I’m going to explain how to level a sloping lawn and share some things you’ll need to know before taking on this project.
What Does It Mean to Level a Sloped Lawn?
Leveling a sloped lawn is the process of smoothing out and re-grading the surface of your yard to give it a smooth and even surface that’s attractive, safe, and functional.
Not all sloping lawns need to be leveled, and every yard should be graded somewhat to help water move away from your home. Bit if you have a steeply sloped lawn, leveling it will help with drainage and give you more usable space.
You should also consider leveling your lawn if it has noticeable bumps or low areas.
Why Should You Level a Sloped Lawn?
Sloped lawns make it difficult to do anything in your yard, especially when the pitch of your slope is steep. If the lawn slopes toward your house, you definitely need to regrade and level your property to avoid water issues in and around your home.
Here are some reasons you may want to level a sloping lawn:
You Get a Larger Workable Space
It is easier to relax and perform activities on a leveled lawn. A sloped lawn makes it difficult for kids to play or to host parties due to its steep nature.
Avoids Water Problems
Flooding is a problem caused by excess water in an area, usually due to heavy rainfall.
You don’t want any area of your property to have flooding, but you definitely don’t want your lawn to slope toward your home as this will funnel heavy rainwater right into your house or basement.
Reduces Risk of Accidents
There is a high rate of accidents when you have a sloping lawn.
Leveling reduces the risk of an accident by making it easier to walk across the lawn.
Easier to Mow
A leveled lawn removes obstacles when mowing grass and tilling flowerbeds.
Prevents Drainage Issues
There will be proper drainage and water distribution on a leveled lawn. Without spots or bumps, there’s no place where puddles can form.
Reduces Soil Erosion and Runoff
Level lawns don’t have as many issues with topsoil washing away or nutrients from lawn treatments running off into local waterways.
Leveling lawns and improving drainage helps the fertilizer and nutrients you spread on your lawn stay in the soil longer.
With a slope, water levels are uneven and provide either too much or too little water to plants trying to grow, and nutrients run off onto sidewalks and streets before your yard can utilize that expensive fertilizer.
Not only does this make it more expensive to care for your lawn, you’re more likely to be harming local waterways.
Why Are Lawns Sloped?
These are some common reasons lawns have or develop a slope over time.
Mistakes by the House Builder
Mistakes or carelessness on the part of a house builder can result in a sloped yard that is improperly graded.
Improper Lawn Care
Failure to take care of the lawn in a proper way can cause sloping lawns too. This can happen over time when leveling or lawn top-dressing projects aren’t performed properly.
Sloping lawns are often the result of improper grading.
When animals dig through a lawn, it can disturb the grading and create uneven or bumpy areas. These areas often become improperly graded areas when homeowners try to patch and repair them.
Thawing and Freezing
Lawns can develop inconsistencies in grade over time as a result of season-to-season thawing and freezing.
Water Flow Changes and Erosion
Change in the flow of water and corresponding erosion can also cause a sloped lawn.
Compaction of the turfgrass from high traffic, driving vehicles on the lawn when it is wet and soft, and other reasons can also result in a lawn area with poor grading.
How To Level Your Lawn
Make sure there is proper grading before you undertake leveling of your lawn. Also, if it hasn’t rained for some time, it’s actually nice to wet your lawn a day before you begin the work so that the soil is easier to work with.
Prepare Your Lawn for Leveling
Here are the things you need to do to get your lawn ready for leveling.
Inform Local Authorities
You should notify the local authorities about the work you’ll be doing. Remember, this is a big, involved project that can disrupt pipes and wires underneath your house.
You need local ordinance permission to undertake this project. If you don’t, you can expect problems and disruption, and perhaps even fines.
Wait for the authorities to visit your property and mark the underground wires, power lines, or water pipes if there are any.
This is essential for you and the work crew to avoid sensitive infrastructure and not damage anything.
Mark Out the Areas That Need to be Leveled
Marking out where work needs to be done saves you trouble and effort. This way you’ll avoid doing unnecessary work.
It will also cost you less to re-seed only the required areas, rather than the entire lawn. You can also make sure you won’t dig in the areas you want to leave untouched.
Remove Unwanted Growth and Existing Plants You Don’t Want
An unattended turf will surely be full of unwanted plants. The proper way to remove them is to uproot them one after the other.
Remove thatch using a hard metal or thatch rake on the lawn surface, and dig up any desirable plants and shrubs to protect them so you can transplant them later.
In most cases I recommend that you remove all sod before regrading the area as well.
Level Your Sloping Lawn
Once prepped, you can begin the process of leveling your sloping lawn.
Scrape the Soil
Using a shovel or inclinometer, scrape the soil from the higher area to the lower one. Use the soil to fill the spots or depressions. Make sure you don’t use new soil, which can cause nonuniformity in plant growth. Moreover, using the old soil will save money.
Spread the Soil Over the Ground
Spread the soil over the ground, sloping it slightly away from the nearby buildings.
Use a Lawn Roller or Rake to Level it Out
Once you’ve spread the soil, level it off using a lawn roller or rake.
After leveling, be careful not to overwater the lawn. This can compact the soil. Instead, water gently after planting new grass.
Check for Depressions
Once the lawn has dried completely, check to see if any depression or areas are still sunken. Fill them in with the soil again, and compact it with a roller.
You can do this again and again until there are no depressions and your lawn becomes leveled even after drying.
You can now seed your new lawn; then do daily watering.
The Best Time To Level Your Lawn
When you level, you want rapid growth of the grass through the fill. That’s why it’s best to level before the cold weather of the fall, when the grass is in active growth.
The soil is warm enough that grass will germinate quickly. Your new grass is then able to grow strong roots before winter, which is essential.
Tools to Level a Sloping Lawn
Here are the primary tools for leveling a lawn.
- A shovel
- An edger
- Iron landscaping or garden rake
- Plastic leaf rake
- A large push broom
- Leveling rake
- Lawn roller
- Line level and stakes
For larger jobs you may consider renting a bobcat or something similar (though if you don’t have experience using one of these machines, you may do more harm than good with it).
Before you try to level your sloping lawn, figure out why it’s sloping to begin with. You’ve got to address that issue, be it with a retaining wall or something less expensive.
Here are some other things you should do prior to starting your project.
Wet Your Lawn the Day Before
Wet your lawn a day before if there has been no rain recently.
Cover Your Toes (and ears)
This should go without saying, but whenever you’re working with tools or heavy equipment you need to wear shoes that cover your toes to prevent injuries.
Ear protection is important if you are driving any heavy machinery.
Remove Perennial Vegetation
Remove all perennial vegetation that can be replanted later.
If it’s plants you want to keep, dig them up and place them on a tarp out of the way. Keep the root balls moist and these plants will recover when you get them back in the ground.
Plant New Grass Seed When you Finish
Plant new grass seed in the areas where you worked to level the lawn, and water them gently per their instructions.
Allow the grass to grow to a minimum of 3″ before mowing, and don’t cut more than 1/3 of the grass blade on the first mow. Bag your clippings for the first few mows if you can.
If you’re not sure how much seed you’ll need for your project, I have a free grass seed calculator to help you order the perfect amount for a good result.
Final Thoughts on Leveling Lawns with a Slope
Leveling a sloping lawn is a big job, so make sure you carefully read all the information I’ve provided here before you get started.
If you have a sloping lawn, that may just be the nature of your property and you’ll have to decide if – beyond proper grading for drainage – you want to add retaining walls to make your yard more level and functional for you and your family.
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