How to Level a Lawn

Get rid of lumps, bumps and dips

By Daniel at DIY gardening

There are several benefits to having a level lawn:

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

If you want a perfectly level lawn, you’ll need to take a few steps first and repeat these periodically as soil contains organic matter, which degrades, meaning your lawn is always moving. Unevenness generally creeps in if you stop maintaining a lawn.

Common Reasons Lawns Become Uneven

Here are the most common reasons:

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. Tree roots, bricks, large stones, drain or water pipes and other manmade objects buried in the soil can cause bumps and humps to appear on the surface. Drain and pipe collapses typically cause dips or channels to appear on the surface of the lawn.

Foot traffic – areas that receive more foot traffic or even vehicular traffic may suffer from dips and channels. Most lawns cope well with foot traffic, but it will need some TLC if one particular area receives more than any other.

Animals – from pet dogs to wild animals, there’s plenty of wildlife capable of digging holes in lawns (as our Doogie as proven!). If you’re experiencing frequent lawn damage from wildlife, the animals may be digging for food; you may want to check your lawn isn’t infested with lawn grubs. Foxes and badgers love Leatherjackets and other similar grubs; in their eyes, your lawn could be the ultimate all-you-can-eat buffet. Learn how to deal with these lawn pests here.

Ants – worth a special mention is ants and ant hills. You can treat them with nematodes and other organic products. Read more about ants in lawns here.

Waterlogging – water damage can be 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

The first step is to check that the lawn issues aren’t being caused by collapsed pipes, soakaways, or drainage issues; if they are, these issues should be resolved first.

First, cut the lawn as low as you can without damaging or scalping it.

Then dethatch the lawn with a rake to pull out any dead matter.

Next, water the lawn well the day before you start work on lawn levelling. While the lawn shouldn’t be overwatered or boggy, you don’t want the soil underneath to be hard or powdery.

If you’re filling in channels or dips, you’ll need to buy enough washed sand, topsoil and optionally very fine compost. I’ve always added compost as it feeds the lawn, but you can exclude this and just add lawn feed fertiliser afterwards if you prefer.

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

If you have dips or channels in your lawn, follow these levelling steps:

Step 1 – Mix an even amount of washed sand, fine topsoil and optionally, fine compost.

Step 2 – Using a shovel, fill any dips or channels with up to 2cm of the mixture.

Step 3 – Using a levelling rake (see image), work the mixture into the grass.

Step 4 – Make sure you don’t 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 – Pat the mixture down into the grass and go over one last time with the levelling rake.

Step 6 – Water the dips and channels with a very fine watering rose. Avoid excessive watering; you want just enough water to help the mixture settle into the lawn.

Step 7 – Repeat the watering twice a day for one week and add a nitrogen fertiliser to boost growth.

You shouldn’t 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 are more than 2cm deep, just follow the steps above and wait for the grass to grow and the lawn to look healthy, then repeat the process.

It may take 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

Lawn level rakes are effective pieces of kit and are popular tools in the United States but are rarely used by domestic gardeners in the UK.

Professional lawn experts use these all the time, and you won’t find a golf course gardener that has never used one of these lawn level rakes.

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.

(More info about lawn sand here)

How to Fill in Larger Holes in Lawns

For particularly deep and wide holes, it might be best to fill the entire area and seed over the top.

Or use 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.

How to Remove Lawn Bumps and Level Raised Lawn Areas

Use the cutout method described above to lift the grass and then rake out the excess soil.

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

We don’t recommend using lawn rollers as they aren’t 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

Regardless of which method you use to level a lawn, it would be best if you did so when the grass is actively growing, so avoid the winter when grass enters a dormancy.

Spring is a good time, as is early autumn.

You can level a lawn in the summer, but you may need to water it regularly afterwards if there’s no rain.

Daniel Woodley:

This guide to levelling a lawn was created by Daniel Woodley and was last updated on the 3rd of June, 2021.

Discover more content throughout this site and over at the blog.

Daniel spent 17 years working in the construction industry, including large infrastructure projects, but his real passion has always been gardening.

He enjoys publishing guides about lawn care, plant choice and general garden maintenance.

More About Daniel Woodley.

Daniel Woodley

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