How to Level an Uneven Lawn

Digging to level an uneven lawn

An uneven lawn causes more than just a bumpy lawn mower ride. If you notice your lawn isn’t as flat and even as it used to be, you might need to level it. An uneven lawn can be a safety hazard, unsightly, and lead to further lawn damage. 

Read on to learn the causes of an uneven lawn, how to level your lawn, and the downsides of an uneven lawn. 

large, circular brown patch on grass
Brown Patch | Scot Nelson | Flickr | Public Domain

What causes an uneven lawn?

Your yard can go through significant changes over time, so bumps and depressions in your lawn can be a totally natural occurrence. In some cases, you might be able to point to a direct cause of the unevenness.

Pests like chinch bugs and grubs can not only damage your turf, but they can disrupt your soil layer. Grubs also draw wildlife into your yard that dig them up and feast. Read up on common spring, fall, and summer pests to ensure none of these are bugging your lawn. 

Lawn diseases like brown patch, dollar spot, and fairy ring can weaken and kill your grass, causing bare spots that can easily be eroded away by natural elements. If these diseases aren’t addressed, they’re likely to return even after you level your yard. 

Wild animals like voles, moles, skunks, crows, armadillos, and raccoons love to dig up backyards in search of worms and bugs to eat. These wild animals will often dig holes causing these bothersome bumps and dips in your yard. 

Your lovable pet might even be to blame. Make your landscape dog-friendly to deter them from digging in undesirable areas. 

An uneven lawn also can be caused by: 

  • High foot traffic
  • Motorized traffic
  • Hardscaping installations (in your backyard or neighboring yards) 
  • Fencing installations
  • Improper lawn care (thin grass, scalped lawns)
  • Frozen ground thawing unevenly
  • Broken sprinkler pipes eroding the soil
  • Children digging holes while playing in the yard
  • Walking on soft, wet grass after a long rain
  • Tree roots growing and spreading

You’ll want to get to the root cause of your uneven lawn because if it was caused by lawn pests, wild animals, or lawn diseases, your problem won’t be solved by leveling your lawn. These problems will return, and you’ll be dealing with more low spots and hills soon enough. 

Before leveling your lawn

You should dethatch before leveling your lawn. Thatch is a spongy layer that accumulates as grass grows faster than it can decompose. By removing this layer, you’ll have a better idea of the severity of the dips and ridges in your backyard. 

If your lawn needs to be fertilized, this should be done a few weeks before you plan to level or topdress. 

How to level a mildly uneven lawn

If your lawn is just a little uneven, with a few, shallow, depressed areas, you can easily fix it yourself by topdressing. This is an affordable DIY solution that doesn’t take much effort.

What you’ll need:

  • Wheelbarrow
  • Compost
  • Fine sand (like play sand) 
  • Topsoil
  • Garden rake or lawn leveling rake
  • Push broom
  • Grass seed

Directions: 

  1. Mix equal parts topsoil, compost, and sand in a wheelbarrow.
  2. Fill shallow depressions in your yard with ½-inch layer of the mixture. 
  3. Smooth the mixture over with a rake.
  4. Blend the area with a push broom.
  5. Overseed with new grass seed, if needed.
  6. Water regularly to establish new seeds and encourage growth.
  7. Wait until you see new grass growth.
  8. Repeat until the ground is level. 

You might want to adjust the topdressing mixture depending on your current soil type: 

  • If you have sticky-feeling soil with high clay content, just use compost. 
  • If you have soft, fine, or damp-feeling, loamy soil, nix the sand and just mix topsoil and compost. 
Aerating Machine on Grass
Aerating Machine | Shutterstock

How to level a moderately uneven lawn

If you have several dips and bumps in your lawn, it might take a little more effort to smooth them out. You can still try to fix it yourself, but if you have deep depressions or several ruts in your yard, don’t be afraid to consult a professional

What you’ll need:

  • Lawn mower
  • Garden rake or lawn leveling rake
  • Shovel
  • Topsoil
  • Compost
  • Fine sand
  • Aerator
  • Grass seed or sod

Directions: 

  1. Set your lawnmower to its lowest setting, and mow the lawn. 
  2. Use a rake and shovel to smooth out high areas and depressions. 
  3. Dig out your sod and set it aside (ideally in a shady spot) until it’s time to replant it. 
  4. Mix equal parts topsoil, compost, and sand to make a topdressing mixture.
  5. Fill dips in your lawn with the topdressing until the area is level. 
  6. Use water to relieve any air pockets that build under the soil. 
  7. Aerate your lawn.
  8. Replace the sod or reseed with grass seed, and avoid using the lawn for a few weeks. 
  9. Keep your lawn watered. 

Like with mildly bumpy yards, you’ll want to adjust the topdressing soil mixture depending on your current soil type. 

  • Just use compost if your soil has a high clay content and is sticky to the touch.
  • Just mix topsoil and compost if your soil is loamy and slightly damp, soft, or fine.

How to level a severely uneven lawn

Leveling your lawn can be intense, timely, and expensive if you have a lot of holes to fill. Depending on the damage, you may need to completely re-grade your lawn. This is especially true if your lawn is sloped and causing pools of water to accumulate, or if your entire lawn is covered in uneven areas. 

If you don’t have the time, energy, or supplies, it might be beneficial to hire a professional to take care of it for you. This option is quite intense and takes a toll on both your wallet and your lawn. It’s best to address the bumps and hills in your yard when they’re small — before they become a bigger problem.

Problems caused by an uneven lawn

Uneven lawns are not just unattractive and annoying to mow. They can lead to even worse problems, like: 

  • Scalped grass
  • Drainage issues (pools of water in shallow spots) 
  • Tripping hazards
  • Blunt lawn mower blades 

Some of these issues will negatively affect the health of your yard, inviting pests and diseases to run rampant over your precious lawn. Take care of low areas in your yard as soon as you can, keep your lawn mower blades sharpened, and give your lawn plenty of TLC to stay healthy and strong. 

Man mowing Lawn
andreas160578 | Pixabay

Keep your lawn healthy, happy, and even

Take care of your lawn regularly to prevent unnecessary damage and keep your lawn looking fresh. A few ways to prevent dips and bumps in your new lawn include:

  • Mowing your lawn at the proper height
  • Treating lawn diseases quickly
  • Preventing lawn pests
  • Making your yard pet-friendly
  • Deterring wildlife from your backyard 
  • Dethatching and aerating regularly
  • Fertilizing when needed 
  • Overseeding bare patches with grass seed
  • Sharpening your mower blades
  • Winterizing your sprinkler system

FAQ about leveling an uneven lawn

When is the best time to level my lawn?

The best time to level your lawn is between March and October. In most areas, this is when your grass is actively growing. 

What is your grass type? 

Lawns with cool-season grass types should be leveled in the fall.

Lawns with warm-season grasses should be leveled in late spring. 

Pro Tip: Level your lawn on a dry day. Doing yard work soon after it rains can be a messy and muddy endeavor. 

How much does it cost to level a yard?

Hopefully you already have the basic tools, like a garden rake, wheelbarrow, push broom, and mower. If you don’t have a ton of dips or bumps to smooth over, leveling your yard should be fairly affordable. 

You can buy a simple motorized dethatcher for $100-300 on average, or a thatching rake for as little as $35. Renting is also an option, ranging around $100 per day, depending on the dethatching tool. 

You can buy a manual aerator for as little as $30, or you can spend as much as $300. Renting an aerator can cost around $90 a day. It can cost $80-$120 to pay a pro to aerate your lawn for you. 

Bags of sand, topsoil, and compost all run for less than $10 each. Grass seed prices range between $1.50 and $7 per pound. 

When should I avoid leveling my lawn? 

Your current environmental conditions can hinder your ability to fill in those annoying holes. Don’t level your lawn if it is:

— Frozen
— Waterlogged
— Stressed from drought, diseases, or pests
— Being treated for other problems

What are the other benefits of topdressing my lawn?

A thin layer of topdressing can be more beneficial than you’d expect. 

This soil mix is not only used to help smooth out areas of your lawn, it can help combat weeds, disease, drainage problems, and dull grass. Topdressing can rejuvenate existing grass, or be a fresh base for new seeds to be planted. 

Topdressing also can help with improving aeration, soil quality, seed germination, and thatch decomposition, and it adds beneficial microbes (from the compost) to regulate the levels of nitrogen, carbon, and phosphorus in the soil. 

Should I use a heavy roller to level my lawn?

Even if your entire lawn is full of uneven, shallow areas, you should not use a heavy roller to correct your bumpy lawn. Using a lawn roller can lead to further compaction and damage your healthy grass. 

Don’t let an uneven lawn get you down. If you don’t have the time or energy to level it yourself, rely on a local lawn care pro to get the job done for you. 

Main Photo Credit: GretaHoffman | Pexels

Sav Maive

Sav Maive is a writer and director based in San Antonio. Sav is a recent graduate from the University of Virginia and is a loving cat and plant mom.