Before you lay your first piece of sod, are you sure you don’t want to smooth out some unsightly bumps and lumps in your yard? Maybe at some point your lawn was nice and flat, but over time it has settled into an irregular grade due to erosion and heavy rainfall. In some cases, even heavy foot traffic can create valleys over time. You may even have a curious pet or critter that likes to dig up holes in your lawn.
Unfortunately, uneven grades can make mowing your lawn a pain and create a drainage nightmare by trapping moisture in certain areas which contributes to the development of mold. Uneven surfaces can also be unsafe for people to walk on. Or, perhaps you just don’t like the look of it.
Leveling Your Lawn
Leveling your lawn may seem like a big undertaking, but like most lawn care, it’s really quite easy and intuitive.
Before you get started, assess the severity of the problem. Does your lawn have only some slight irregularities or are there more serious, noticeable dips? There are two different methods that can correct either case, they just have slightly different procedures that both effectively solve the problem. For smaller dips and troughs, you can simply just fill them in to your liking and then re-sowing new seed on top to create a new surface. However, if your problem is more severe that affects your entire lawn, then you’ll need to resort to more aggressive treatment.
To fix slight irregularities, gather up equal parts topsoil and sand and mix them together. You will use this to fill in any dips and troughs. Sand will help with drainage and can cling to the clay in the soil, but be aware that too much sand can leave your grass dry and thirsty because the water will slip right through. If you want, you can add compost to the mixture to add nutrients, which will help the new grass seed grow. After you’ve mixed up the topsoil and sand mixture, use a shovel to scatter it over places you want to fill in. Rake the mixture evenly to your liking, making sure that the top is level straight across either side of the soil, and using the back of your shovel, pack down the layer. To make sure it’s properly level, you can use a straight timber plank and lay it across the surface to account for any gaps. This will ensure that there is a seamless transition between your actual lawn and the sand and topsoil mixture.
Sow grass seed throughout the area you just filled in and make sure to sprinkle a little bit beyond the original patch to make sure it naturally blends in. For a thicker lawn, add more seed than recommended. Feed and water the lawn. Remember that new seed needs some extra care before germination, so water twice per day until then, about 2 weeks. Repeat the process again once more during the growing season if it needs more filling in.
As for the more major grade repairs, start by lifting the grass in strips to uncover the soil below. As you can see, this is a much more aggressive course of action that should only be done when there is more than a few inches difference in your lawn grade. Anyways, you can lift your grass by scraping off the grass and top two inches of topsoil to keep the root system mostly intact during the process. You can use the flat edge of a shovel to remove the grass section by section. Set the grass patches aside as you work.
Now, to level the ground, use the same sand and topsoil mixture mentioned previously to fill in large troughs. You may even need to build and install a sort of retaining wall to support the new layers of soil to keep them from slipping away. As for peaks, raze them with the edge of a shovel to level them with the rest of the lawn. Then, carefully place the grass patches back on top of your newly-leveled lawn. If the grass is too damaged from when you removed it, lay new sod in top. Be sure to water well to help the grass reestablish itself. Add fertilizer to encourage root growth.
Note that any lawn care should be finished up by fall in order to let it get settled by wintertime. Also, if you are installing sod on a new lawn, one of the preliminary steps in preparing your lawn for installation is to level the grade how you desire. The best time to level your lawn grade is before sod is installed, otherwise you’ll be ripping up your lawn later on down the line to fix something you could have fixed earlier. Keep foot traffic off of newly leveled areas, so set up some sort of barrier to keep people and pets from stepping on the area for some time. A few bamboo stakes and some string create a visual outline that indicates a “no walking” zone, but larger areas or places near the sidewalk may need a sturdier barrier made of larger wood stakes and chicken wire.
A few more tips to encourage grass growth: after the seed has germinated, apply some fertilizer to make it grow thicker at this stage in growth. It also encourages strong and deep root systems. Avoid mowing the area until the new grass has reached 5-7 centimeters tall and they’ve had a chance to put down roots. If you mow before they’ve put down enough roots, the lawn mower will just rip them right out of the ground. THen you’ll be left with patchy and uneven grass coverage. Also, if you are going to be lifting your grass, do not do so after a heavy rain. The soil will be thick and damp and hard to handle, not to mention you could run the risk of damaging the grass permanently. Above everything else, though, do not attempt this in the wintertime when the grass is dormant.