How do I level my lawn like a pro?

Having an uneven lawn can be frustrating. Large dips, bumps, and ridges make mowing difficult and create an unappealing look. Many homeowners try to fix a lumpy lawn on their own, only to end up with mediocre results.

Leveling a lawn properly takes knowledge, effort, and the right tools. But you can absolutely get pro-level results by DIYing it if you follow some key steps.

In this 5000 word guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know to level your lawn like a professional landscaper:

What causes an uneven lawn?

There are a few key culprits when it comes to lawn bumps and dips:

– Settling soil – New lawns are typically installed over backfilled soil that settles unevenly over time.

– Erosion – Water runoff can wash away topsoil in some areas, causing dips.

– Burrowing pests – Moles, gophers, and other critters can create tunnels that collapse.

– Poor drainage – Low spots tend to stay wet and compress down.

– Compacted soil – Foot traffic compacts the soil, creating bumps.

– Improper grading – The base beneath the grass may have humps.

– Sod seams – Seams between sod patches settle at different rates.

– Tree roots – Roots often push up through the lawn as they grow.

When is lawn leveling needed?

Leveling your lawn is typically only needed in cases of moderate to severe unevenness. Slight imperfections are normal and won’t affect the health or appearance of the grass.

Consider leveling if your lawn has:

– Bare or thin patches from mower scalping
– Dips or ridges 1 inch deep or higher
– Large bumps or sunken areas
– Extreme undulation across the entire lawn
– Poor drainage from uneven grading

If you can still mow and use your lawn comfortably, minor dips and bumps likely don’t require immediate leveling. But it’s smart to fill any holes or trips hazards for safety.

Should I aerate before leveling?

Aerating is a critical first step before leveling a lawn. Aeration punches holes in the soil to allow better water, air, and nutrient intake. This helps the grass recover faster from being buried during leveling.

Ideally, you should aerate 2-4 weeks prior to leveling. The holes have time to close up slightly, but still allow the soil and grass to breath under the added material.

Use a core aerator that removes plugs of soil 2-3 inches deep. Make passes across the lawn in different directions to punch holes every 2-3 inches.

What’s the best time to level a lawn?

Cool weather when grass growth has slowed makes ideal conditions for lawn leveling. This reduces stress on the grass while allowing several weeks for it to fill in fully before hot weather returns.

The best times are typically:

– Early fall (mid September through October)
– Early spring (mid March through April)

Avoid leveling during the peak heat of summer or when grass is still actively growing in early spring and fall. Freezing winter temperatures should also be avoided.

How much will a lawn leveling project cost?

The cost to level a lawn depends on several factors:

– Size of the lawn – Materials add up quickly for larger lawns.
– Amount of unevenness – Severely bumpy lawns need more material to fill dips.
– Type of leveling mix – Sand is cheaper than compost or soil mixes.
– DIY vs hiring a pro – Hiring a landscaper costs $700-$2000+.

On average, most homeowners spend $100 to $600 leveling a typical 5,000-10,000 sq. ft. lawn themselves. Professional landscapers may charge $0.15-$0.30 per sq. ft.

Here are some estimates for different lawn sizes and severity of unevenness:

Lawn Size Mildly Uneven Moderately Uneven Severely Uneven
2,500 sq. ft. $100-$150 $250-$400 $400-$700
5,000 sq. ft. $150-$300 $400-$750 $700-$1400
10,000 sq. ft. $300-$600 $750-$1500 $1400-$2800

Selecting the Right Leveling Material

Choosing an appropriate material to fill and smooth out dips is one of the most important decisions in lawn leveling. The options include:


Sand is the traditional choice for DIY lawn leveling. It’s inexpensive, widely available, and easy to grade smoothly. Sharp masonry sand is best. Avoid “play sand” which is too fine.

The downsides are that sand doesn’t contain any nutrients and drains quickly. Mixing in a small amount of topsoil or compost can help with this.


Topsoil contains organic matter that provides nutrients for the grass. This aids recovery compared to sand. But it’s also more expensive, may have weeds, and doesn’t level as smoothly.

Aim for loamy, high-quality screened topsoil without large clumps if using this option.


Compost offers an organic nutrient boost while leveling out dips. Well-finished, finely screened compost is ideal for this application.

The drawback is compost is light and fluffy, making it challenging to grade a flat, smooth surface. Cost is also higher than sand.

Soil/Sand Mixes

The best of both worlds is blending sand with compost or topsoil. A 60/40 or 70/30 sand to soil ratio is ideal. This takes some effort to mix evenly before spreading, but offers smoothing with organic benefits.

Manufactured Soil

There are also specialty products like leveling mix or lawn soil made for, well, leveling lawns! These contain sandy loam and sometimes fertilizers. The benefit is they’re pre-mixed and ready to spread.

Which is right for you?

Sand or compost/sand blends are good options for most homeowners to balance affordability with performance. Straight compost can work for minor dips. Topsoil is ideal if you don’t mind the higher cost. Manufactured mixes provide convenience.

No matter which you choose, make sure to select a high-quality product specifically meant for lawns. Buy from landscape supply stores rather than big box retailers when possible.

How Much Material Do You Need?

The amount of leveling material needed depends on your lawn’s size and the depth to fill dips or holes. Here is an estimate:

– 1 cubic yard of material covers 150-200 sq ft at 1 inch thick
– 1/4″- 1/2″ is the maximum depth to fill per application
– Spread in multiple thin layers, not one deep layer

So for example, to cover a 5,000 sq ft lawn at 1/4″ thickness, you would need roughly 6-8 cubic yards of material.

To estimate your specific needs:

1. Measure lawn square footage
2. Determine average depth to fill dips
3. Divide sq. footage by coverage of 1 cubic yard at that depth
4. Add 10% more as a buffer

You can then purchase leveling material by the cubic yard or half-yard bag based on your measurements. Having a little extra is ideal so you can touch up any remaining low spots.

How to Level a Lawn – Step-by-Step

With the right timing, leveling materials purchased, and an aerated lawn, you’re ready to get started!

Follow this process for smooth, pro-level results:

Step 1: Mow Low

Cut the grass down to the lowest possible height. This allows the maximum amount of material to reach the soil. It also prevents the grass blades from interfering with grading a perfectly smooth surface.

For cool season grasses, mow to 1-1 1⁄2” height. Warm season grasses can be mowed to 1⁄2”.

Step 2: Remove Debris

Use a stiff rake or power rake attachment to remove any dead grass, leaves, or other debris from the lawn. Any material left behind will get mixed into the leveling layer.

Step 3: Spread Half the Material

Spread 50% of the leveling mix as evenly as possible across the lawn. Aim for a thickness of 1/4″ or less. Use a drag mat or wide board pulled behind a tractor to smooth and flatten this initial layer.

Step 4: Water Thoroughly

Water well to lightly moisten the layer of material you just spread. This helps it settle into any holes and prepares for the next layer. Allow it to dry before moving on.

Step 5: Spread the Rest of the Material

Spread the second half of the material, again shooting for around 1/4″ thickness. Pull a drag mat across the lawn again to smooth. Use the straight edge of a board to check for any remaining low spots and touch up as needed.

Step 6: Water Again

Water thoroughly a second time to soak and settle the final layer of leveling material. The lawn should now look flat and even across the entire surface.

Step 7: Allow Grass to Grow Through

Let the grass grow up through the thin layer of material. Provide extra water to help it push through and fill in fully. Avoid mowing for a couple of weeks.

Step 8: Reseed Bare Spots

Once the grass has grown through the material, inspect for any remaining bare or thin spots. Reseed and starter fertilize these areas to thicken back up.

Step 9: Maintain as Usual

You can now resume normal mowing and watering. The improved levelness will make mowing easier with fewer scalping issues. Fertilize to strengthen grassroots and fill in completely.

Top Tips for Success

Follow these key tips for the best results from DIY lawn leveling:

Use a drag mat for smoothing

Drag mats create the flattest, most professional looking results. Use a steel mat pulled behind an ATV or tractor if possible.

Apply multiple thin layers

Two or more 1/4″ layers ensure a smoother finish than one thick layer. It also prevents smothering the grass.

Level in crisscross patterns

Spread and drag material in perpendicular passes to account for any ridges from equipment wheels.

Mix in amendments if needed

Blend in a little topsoil or compost with sand for added nutrients and moisture retention.

Test for low spots

Use a board and carpenter’s level or string line to check for any remaining dips to touch up.

Be patient for grass regrowth

Let the grass fully grow in and strengthen before mowing or harsh use. This can take 4-6 weeks.

Overseed once grass is established

This will help thicken up thin areas and fill in completely. Wait until grass has grown through material and been mowed once.

Frequently Asked Questions

How often should you level a lawn?

Most lawns only need leveling every 3-5 years. But if certain areas erode or settle more severely in the interim, you can spot treat low spots as needed.

Can I use topsoil instead of sand?

Yes, topsoil will work but is harder to grade smoothly. Amend it with some sand or use high quality screened loam. Budget more material too since soil compacts down.

When is it too late to level a lawn?

Once soil temperatures reach around 55°F in spring, it’s best to wait until early fall to level. The summer heat stresses and could kill grass under added material.

Should I dethatch before leveling?

Dethatching right before application creates a smooth base for material to settle into. But it also risks damaging the grass. Aerating is sufficient to allow for growth through a thin layer.

Will a lawn roller work for leveling?

A water-filled roller will temporarily flatten bumps. But it doesn’t fill in dips without added material like sand or soil. Use a roller only after leveling to further smooth and compact.

How long does it take grass to grow through leveling material?

With proper spring or fall conditions, the grass should be fully filled in within 4-6 weeks. Allow 2-3 mows after growth before heavy use.

Can I level just part of my lawn?

Yes, absolutely. Identify problem low or high spots and level just those areas. Feather the edges of new material into the existing lawn.


Leveling an uneven lawn takes some work, but delivers a more functional and visually appealing lawn. With the right materials, tools, and process, you can achieve smooth, pro-level results doing it yourself. Just remember to aerate first, apply thin layers, water properly, and let grass fully recover. Your patience will pay off with a flatter, healthier lawn for years to come.

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