How to Level a Lawn

A quick guide, based on our experience

Written by Daniel Woodley. Reviewed by Elizabeth Smith. Published to Lawn Care on 3rd June 2021. Updated: 24th February 2023.

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There are several benefits to having a level lawn:

  • No lawnmower scalping.
  • Aesthetics.
  • Less puddling after rain.

I’ve helped several gardeners level their lawns and if you want a perfectly flat lawn, you’ll need to take a few steps first and repeat these periodically as soil contains organic matter, which degrades. This means your lawn is always moving and unevenness generally creeps in if you stop maintaining it.

Common Reasons Lawns Become Uneven

Here are the most common reasons why lawns become bumpy and uneven:

Uneven soil settlement – soil settles over time as the organic matter within it degrades, but this rarely happens evenly across the entire lawn. Anything deep in the soil that doesn’t degrade can cause surface bumps. I’ve seen tree roots, bricks, large stones, drains, water pipes, and other manmade objects buried in the soil cause bumps and humps to appear on the surface. I’ve also worked on gardens where drains, pipes and even an entire soakaway had collapsed, and this was the cause of the unevenness.

Foot traffic – areas that receive more foot traffic or even vehicular traffic often suffer from dips and channels. Most of the lawns I’ve worked on coped well with foot traffic, but occasionally I come across one that needs some TLC.

Animals – from pet dogs to wild animals, there’s plenty of wildlife capable of digging holes in lawns (as our Doogie has proven!). If you’re experiencing frequent lawn damage from wildlife, the animals may be digging for food. I have seen cases where the lawn was infested with grubs and leatherjackets and foxes, badgers and birds were digging up the lawn to get to them. Try our guide to lawn care, as we’ve published several articles about how to get rid of these pests.

Ants – worth a special mention is ants and ant hills. I’ve successfully removed and deterred them with nematodes and other organic products. Read more about ants in lawns here.

Waterlogging – I’ve also seen water damage caused by poor drainage or the incorrect positioning of water sprinkling systems, both of which can be corrected.

How to Prepare Your Lawn For Levelling

Here’s my step-by-step guide to levelling a lawn which is based on my experience over the years and plenty of trial and error along the way.

1) The first prep step I take is to check that the lawn issues aren’t being caused by collapsed pipes, soakaways, or drainage issues; if they are, I would resolve these issues first.

2) Next I would cut the lawn as low as possible without damaging or scalping it.

3) The third prep step I take is to dethatch the lawn with a rake to pull out any dead matter.

4) Next, I would water the lawn well the day before I start work. While the lawn shouldn’t be overwatered or boggy, I don’t want the soil underneath to be hard or powdery.

5) I would make sure I have enough horticultural sand (2 parts), soil (2 parts) and optionally fine compost (1 part). 

I’ve always added compost as it feeds the lawn, but you can exclude this and add lawn feed fertiliser afterwards if you prefer.

How to Fill in Minor Dips and Channels and Level a Lawn

This is how I have previously filled in dips or channels in a lawn; it’s worked for me every time:

Step 1 – I would mix 2 parts sand, 2 parts soil and 1 part fine compost together.

Step 2 – Using a shovel, I would fill in any dips or channels with no more than 2cm of the mixture.

Step 3 – Using a levelling rake (see image) or any item with a straight edge, I would work the mixture into the grass.

Step 4 – I never add more than 2cm of this mix as any more will smother and kill the grass (some experts suggest 1cm at a time with a month or two between each application to let the grass recover).

Step 5 – Next, I would pat the mixture down into the grass and go over one last time with the levelling rake.

Step 6 – I would then water the dips and channels with a very fine watering rose, while avoiding excessive watering and pooling.

Step 7 – I would repeat the watering twice a day for one week.

I never use more than 2cm of the mixture in any one attempt as it will smother and weaken or even kill the grass. 

If the dips or channels in your lawn are more than 2cm deep, follow the steps above and wait for the grass to grow and the lawn to look healthy, then repeat the process.

You may find it takes several attempts throughout the year or even over a couple of years, but by building up the base, you’ll eventually get a level lawn without killing the grass.

Lawn Level Rake Alternatives

I’ve used lawn level rakes hundreds of times, and they are effective pieces of kit and you won’t find a golf course gardener that has never used one before.

Unfortunately, in the UK they aren’t cheap.

As an alternative, you could use:

  • Anything this is straight such as;
  • The back of a wide rake.
  • A piece of wood from a DIY store.
  • A long spirit level.

Use Washed Sand Not “Lawn Sand”

The best type of sand for lawn levelling purposes is any fine sand that’s been washed to remove the excess salts.

“Lawn Sand” is a lawn moss treatment product that contains iron sulphate and is applied at rates of up to 150 grams per square metre, it should not be confused with regular washed sand.

If you were to put 2cm of “Lawn Sand” down it would cost you a fortune at £20+ a bag and the iron sulphate would kill the grass (I have seen a gardener do this before and it did destroy the lawn).

(More info about lawn sand here)

How to Fill in Larger Holes in Lawns

For particularly deep and wide holes, I’ve found that lawn levelling in incremental stages just takes too long.

I suggest filling the entire area and seeding over the top.

Or you can use what I call the cutout method:

Step 1 – Use a shovel with a sharp, square end to cut a large X into the grass with the middle of the hole in the centre of the X.

Step 2 – Using the same shovel, slice under the grass by about 8-10 cm deep.

Step 3 – Gently lift the grass and fill in the void underneath with a mix of topsoil and compost.

Step 4 – Fold the grass down and gently tread in.

Step 5 – Water and apply fertiliser.

Cutting an X into a lawn and lifting the edges is a popular way to fill in holes without ruining the grass, I’ve seen professional gardeners do this many times.

How to Remove Lawn Bumps and Level Out Raised Lawn Areas

I’ve worked on lawns before where the customer wanted the lumps and bumps removed and I have a technique to share with you:

Cut an X into the lawn again and lift the grass and roots.

Using a small garden fork or other hand tool, rake out the excess soil.

Fold the grass back down into place, and water/fertilise it to encourage growth.

I don’t recommend using lawn rollers as they aren’t always effective at levelling the lawn and will compact the surface and the soil underneath.

If you’ve ever seen large, heavy lawn rollers parked up next to bowing or cricket greens, it’s because these sports require a hard surface; they aren’t used to level the surface.

The Best Time of Year to Level a Lawn

I’ve only ever levelled a lawn in the spring or autumn as the grass is actively growing and will repair itself quickly.

I can’t see a reason why you can’t do this in the summer as long as you water the lawn until it’s recovered.

Meet The Author: Daniel Woodley

Daniel has over 18 years of experience in the construction, home improvement, and landscape garden industries.

He previously worked as a project manager and has experience in managing teams of tradespeople and landscape gardeners on both small and medium sized projects.

Daniel is also a keen gardener and enjoys growing unusual plants and tending to his lawn.

More About Daniel Woodley.

Daniel Woodley

Why You Can Trust Us: Our Experience of Levelling a Lawn

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Daniel wrote this guide as he has previous experience of levelling an old, poorly maintained lawn. He has also worked professionally on large landsscaping projects and liaised with landscapers and lawn experts over the years.

This guide was reviewed and fact-checked by Elizabeth Smith, who has qualifications and experience in horticulture.

Explore: Elizabeth’s profile and qualifications.

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