How to Level a Backyard: A DIY Step-By-Step Guide

Today we are sharing how to level a backyard using the simple step-by-step process we used on our our property. Fixing a bumpy or uneven backyard is easier than you think; we’ll show you how.

How to level a backyard

Leveling your backyard can increase its overall appearance, reduce potential accidents and foundation costs, as well as making it suitable for structures and activities.

If you are looking to tackle this project on your own, you’re in the right place. Depending on the size and the current condition of your yard you may not know where to start.

Luckily, despite how daunting it might appear, it is relatively easy to level your backyard with the proper steps.

Read on to learn the step-by-step process of how to level your backyard. Not only will we detail what to do, but we’ll also cover what tools you will need to have on hand to get the job done properly.

Tools To Level Your Backyard

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You don’t want to jump in with a shovel to your backyard without having all of the proper equipment necessary to successfully complete the task.

To make sure you have absolutely everything you need to get started, here is a list of all the equipment you’ll be using:

If you are leveling a moderately-sized backyard by yourself, here’s what you’ll need:

Backyard Grading Equipment

Backyard Leveling Equipment

Remember that if you are trying to level a significant amount of yardage by yourself, you might want to opt for more heavy-duty tools, such as a skid-steer loader or an excavator. Professional contractors are also an exceptional resource for these tasks. 

Properly Grade Your Backyard

Before you get into the leveling process, you want to be sure your yard is properly graded, so you don’t have to repeat the leveling process sooner than necessary.

Lawn grading can be essential to your lawn’s health and the foundation of your home. 

Although the ultimate goal is to level your lawn, you don’t want it to be completely flat. Your lawn should slope about 2 to 3 inches for every 10 feet (or 2%) away from your foundation. This will ensure water drains away from your home and prevents water from pooling in various spots around your yard.

Additionally, a proper slope keeps excessive amounts of water away from your home’s foundation, preventing significant water damage that could be costly to repair. 

However, you also don’t want your slope any greater than twelve inches for every four feet. This will cause water to pool at the end of the slope and inhibits your ability to use your lawn for structures and activities.

Steps to Grade Your Backyard

Using a string level to grade and level a backyard.
  1. Using two wooden stakes, pound one stake into the ground next to your home’s foundation and the second about 8 feet away. Ensure they are at least 100 inches apart.
  2. Tie some string around the stake closest to the foundation, then push it down to ground level.
  3. Stretch out your string until it is taught and then attach it to a line level.
  4. Hold the line level and the taught string and adjust the string until it is perfectly leveled (line-level bubble is centered).
  5. Tie the string to the second stake while maintaining its leveled position. 
  6. At the second stake, measure the distance from the leveled string to the ground.
  7. Divide this distance from the string to the ground by the distance between the two stakes. Calculate everything in inches.
  8. Multiply the product by 100 to get the slope percentage.
  9. Refer this slope percentage to the rule mentioned above to determine if dirt needs to be removed or added along this stretch. 
  10. Repeat this step throughout your yard to ensure it is the proper grade consistently. 

Properly grading your lawn beforehand will not only ensure its health, but it will make the leveling process much easier. 

Steps To Level A Backyard

In this tutorial we are assuming that your lawn is now properly graded, but has some high or low spots that need to be corrected.

This method works great for most grass types including cool season grasses like tall fescue, rye grass and Kentucky bluegrass. If you have a bermudagrass lawn it’s best to simply level using sand and a specialized leveling rake.

1) Mow Your Lawn

The easiest way to determine where your backyard needs the most help in terms of hills and divots is to start by mowing it relatively short. If you want to save as much grass on your lawn as possible, don’t overcut your grass for this step. If you cut it too short, your grass might dry out quickly and die.

2) Assess Your Lawn for Highs and Lows

If you graded your lawn before this process, you likely fixed the most significant leveling issues before this step. However, regardless of if you graded your backyard or not, it is important to quickly assess the land to determine the problem sections. 

You can either make a mental note of these areas or use basic spray paint to mark them out for later. This step can be performed prior to mowing the lawn, but if you’re using spray paint to indicate problem areas, it’s best to do so after the lawn has been cut.  

3) Dethatch Your Lawn

It’s possible your lawn doesn’t have any thatch, and you get the luxury of skipping this step. 

For those of you who aren’t sure, thatch is a layer of living and dead plant matter that accumulates on your lawn around the base of your grass. 

You might notice some matted and dead areas of your lawn that are likely to be sources of thatch where there are significant layers of dead grass and roots building on each other. 

Thatch can make it difficult to determine your lawn’s true level, and it is ultimately unhealthy for your grass and other plant growth. At over ¼ of an inch, thatch already inhibits your grass’s ability to obtain proper amounts of air and water. Therefore, it is best to remove any thatch you see over ½ an inch before moving on. 

If you have minimal amounts of thatch, you can remove it using a thatch rake. However, if there is a substantial amount of thatch layering your backyard, you’ll want to use a more high-powered tool for this task, like a dethatching machine you can rent or purchase. 

4) Start Fixing Divots

A divot is a sunken area of your lawn that dips more than two inches below the rest of its surroundings.

To fix these areas, start by shoveling away the top layer of grass and loading the excess in your wheelbarrow (you can keep this for replanting purposes or to fill other divots). You’ll want to be sure to dig at least three inches deep to remove the grassroots.

After you’ve removed the grass, fill in the divot using a topsoil mixture consisting of 50% topsoil and 50% topsoil mix or two parts topsoil, two parts sand, and one part compost.

These mixtures will ensure your divot filler is sturdy and nutritious for the future plant and grass growth. 

5) Level Divots

After you’ve filled your divots with the desired topsoil mixture, you’ll want to level it off.

Using a level head rake, even out the topsoil. Then, using a lawn roller, a tamper, or your feet, pound down on the soil to be more compact. 

A line level will help you check to see if the divot is now level (the bubble should be centered).

Continue to add your soil mixture and tamp it down until you’re all set. 

6) Water and Repeat

Gently water this newly leveled area to help the dirt settle. Afterward, apply more topsoil to altered sections if necessary, to ensure they are completely level. 

Repeat this process for any sunken areas throughout your yard. If you are working with a large area, you will likely repeat these steps multiple times until the whole backyard is level. 

This step is essential because, if it is skipped, your lawn level will recede after it is exposed to its first rainfall, and you will need to repeat the process. 

7) Bring Hills Down

If you have hills in your lawn or sections that are slightly higher than the majority of the surrounding property, it is easier to use a shovel and rake to remove the top layers of these hills and bring them down than to raise the surrounding ground up. 

You can also save the dirt you remove from these hills to fills divots and help save on purchasing topsoil mixtures.

Backyard Leveling FAQ’s

When should I level my lawn?

The best time to level your lawn is when the grass is actively growing. For cool season lawns that will be in the spring and fall. For warm season lawns this will be during the summer months.

Leveling your lawn when the grass is growing is the best time because you won’t need extra seed to fill in areas after leveling low spots with sand or top soil. The actively growing grass will simply be able to grow through the medium you have added on top.

How much does it cost to level a backyard?

The total cost of leveling a backyard is going to depend on many factors:

  • Size of the yard
  • Is the yard sloping or flat?
  • Is the yard just dirt or do you already have a lawn?
  • Do you have the tools necessary on hand or do you need or purchase them?
  • Is your backyard easily accessible?
  • Will you need to re-grade the entire yard or are you just filling in small bumps and divots here and there?

Depending on your exact situation the total cost of leveling a backyard could range anywhere from $100 to a few thousand dollars. The higher end being a job that requires heavy equipment and professional excavators.

Can I level my backyard myself?

In most cases, the answer to this question is yes.

If you are prepping a bare area for grass, fixing a bumpy lawn or looking to improve water drainage by correcting an improper grade you can definitely take this on as a DIY project.

That being said, it is going to take time, effort and careful attention to detail.

If you have a large area, severe grading issues or a steeply sloped yard then you are most likely going to want to consult with or hire a professional to get the job done properly.

The last thing you want to end up with are draining issues that impact your foundation or cause water damage to your home.

More Backyard How-To’s:

A step by step guide to level your backyard.

How to Level an Uneven Backyard