Tips for Leveling a Lawn

Bumpy, uneven lawn

Is your entire lawn or areas of the lawn suffering a sudden identify crisis due to ruts, low spots small hills or ridges, leading to an uneven lawn? When your lawn isn’t level it can lose its once-pristine look, and lead to damage and even accidents due to the ruts and higher areas creating tripping and lawn mower hazards. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a lawn care specialist to accomplish lawn-leveling repairs and bring the turfgrass back to its once immaculate appearance.

Causes of Uneven Lawns

Areas of the lawn and even the entire lawn can become uneven over time. This is especially true for older, established lawns. Common sources creating low areas or higher spots include:

  • Compaction due to high foot or motorized traffic.
  • New fences, sidewalks or other hardscape installed by you or your neighbor that change water flow.
  • Animals digging.
  • Higher spots created by seasonal freezing and thawing.
  • Pest or disease problems.
  • Thinning turfgrass.
  • Poor lawn care such as lawn mower-scalping.

Even regularly mowing your turfgrass at too low a height can quickly lead to uneven lawn problems. You end up scalping the turfgrass with the mower blades, damaging the roots, which leads to potential death, root damage and opens the areas up to pests, diseases and loss of soil.

As with any turfgrass problem, your quick attention results in your lawn-leveling repair job not being as labor-intensive or even as costly as it would be if you wait until it turns into a major renovation project.

First, Discover the Cause

The first step in correcting the problem of your uneven lawn is diagnosing what created the problem. Of course, you won’t be able to change what Mother Nature naturally throws at your turfgrass, but you can give your lawn what it needs to bring it back to a level of green, healthy lushness.

On the other hand, if it’s a problem that can potentially be corrected like animal digging or lacking lawn care creating pest and disease problems, you need to fix the problem first before you go about your lawn-leveling tasks. Otherwise, you’ll quickly end up with the same problems rearing their ugly heads again and you’ll be back at square one — an uneven lawn.

For example, if you have problems with animals digging holes or creating higher spots and tunnels, you’ll need to figure out ways to remove the problem animal from your yard. If your pet dog is a digger, consider designating an area where Fido can fulfill his digging tendencies in an out-of-sight location.

Treat pest or disease problems and if your turfgrass is naturally thinning due to age or too thick thatch, remove the thatch, do any lawn-leveling tasks, aerate and then reseed or install new sod. In addition, maintain proper lawn care practices by fertilizing at appropriate times and perform a soil test, if you feel your soil lacks the necessary nutrients.

DIY or Hire a Professional

If quickly caught and repaired, most lawn-leveling tasks are relatively basic and only require a minimum of inexpensive supplies and sweat. The project isn’t as labor-intensive when corrected in the beginning stages, as it will be if the entire lawn becomes filled with low areas, ruts and higher spots. This can be a determining factor in how much work you are personally willing to do in correcting the problem, or if you’d prefer to hire someone else to do the lawn-leveling work.

You probably own most of the tools required to repair the uneven areas, depending on the severity and square feet of the damaged areas. However, if your entire lawn is filled with ruts and hills and you can afford to spend a couple of bucks, you might consider calling in a lawn care company to do the job.

Basic tools you’ll need include:

  • Lawn Mower.
  • Soil mixture of topsoil, sand and compost.
  • Top dressing of topsoil.
  • Wheelbarrow.
  • Garden rake.
  • Shovel.
  • Aerator.
  • Push broom.
  • New sod.
  • Grass seed.
  • Sprinkler.

Expert Tip: Alice Covington, Horticulture Specialist with Nelson’s Landscape and Nursery suggests staying away from rolling your newly repaired level lawn, especially using a heavy roller. Using the roller compacts the soil, which leads to unhealthy and thin turfgrass growth and you can end up with new low spots and ruts that require repairing due to additional soil loss.

Basic Costs

If you aren’t afraid of breaking a sweat and doing the work yourself, even a relatively major lawn-leveling job will save you some cash compared to hiring a professional. You also have the option of slowly building the uneven areas of your turfgrass up over time, creating a less labor-intensive repair.

You’ll have zero costs for all the tools you already own, with additional costs going to soil improvements, new sod, grass seed and potentially having to rent an aerator at around $100 per day, depending on the type. Of course, you also have the option of adding an inexpensive aerator to your lawn tool collection with costs averaging around $40 to $60.

Typical Grass Seed Costs

The cost for grass seed per pound varies depending on the type of turfgrass and the amount you require. Therefore, it goes to reason that overseeding patchy areas of the lawn versus seeding an entire lawn costs less. Depending on the lawn service you hire and the amount of square feet requiring replanting, cost for the grass seed alone can set you back $500 to $1,500 or more. This doesn’t include the costs for labor, which can run you another $500 to $1,000 depending on the size of the job.

Cost to Seed an Average Lawn
Grass TypeAvg. Cost / Lb.Coverage Per Lb.Cost, Avg. Yard*
Bermudagrass$3-$9500 sq. ft.$105
Centipede$2.50-$5188 sq. ft$174
Bahia$5-$7200 sq. ft.$261
Fescue$2.72-$3.58171 sq. ft.$160
Ryegrass$2-$3150 sq. ft.$145
Kentucky bluegrass$5-$6.43643 sq. ft.$784
Mixed$1.80-$320 sq. ft.$1,045
*Average yard size of 0.2 acres. Calculated at the midpoint of the price ranges.
Source:, October 2019

Repairing your now level lawn with new sod offers instant greenery and there’s no need to wait for grass seed to germinate and reach a lush appearance. It’s also more reliable than sowing grass seed as it takes minimum care for the roots to take hold in the soil and requires less water. However, and depending on the amount of sod required, it’s generally considered more costly than seeding or overseeding with new grass seed, which includes labor costs to hire a professional.

Spreading seed on leveled open dirt area
After leveling, grass seed can be broadcast.

Average labor costs to install new sod run around $30 per hour, compared to zero cost if you perform the task yourself. Prices for new sod average around 30 to 50 cents per square foot, depending on the type, region and amount of new lawn required. Two of the most expensive sods are Bermudagrass and Zoysia, with St. Augustine a bit less costly. Depending on the cost and amount of new sod required to complete your lawn-leveling tasks, you can expect to pay a professional several thousand dollars to do the repair.

Steps for Lawn-Leveling

The severity of the ruts and higher spots in the turfgrass determine which method works bests for getting back a level lawn area.

Leveling Minor Unevenness with a Topdressing

If you only have minor uneven lawn areas where the depressions aren’t too deep, you can solve the problem by using a top dressing soil mixture. This type of lawn-leveling repair is the least labor-intensive and costly.

  1. Using a wheelbarrow, create a top dressingsoil mixture that will support your turfgrass growth by mixing equal parts of compost, sand and topsoil.
  2. Apply ½-inch of the soil mixture to the low areas in your yard. Ms. Covington states, “It’s important not to apply the top dressing any deeper or you can suffocate the grass. This can be a gradual repair approach that may require repeating.”
  3. Using a garden rake, smooth the soil mixture evenly over the low spots.
  4. Next, use a push broom to work the top dressing into the area and grass blades.
  5. If grass was originally growing in the low areas, you should begin to see new grass growth popping up through the soil mixture. If the area still is a bit low, repeat the above steps until the turfgrass is level.

Expert Tip:  If the uneven areas lacked grass growth before you applied the top dressing, you need to overseed the area to promote additional turfgrass growth.

Leveling a Moderately Uneven Lawn

If areas of the lawn have more moderate and numerous problems with low areas and higher spots, it will take a bit more work to bring it back in shape. However, it still won’t take as much work if having to repair a lawn resembling the cratered landscape of the moon.

  1. For ease in applying your soil mixture and seeing where all the bumps and depressions are, mow your lawn on your lawn mower’s lowest setting. Think scalping the entire lawn or the areas of the lawn requiring leveling. If desired, you can stake off the areas needing attention.
  2. If you own a lawn tractor, you can smooth out any higher spots by attaching something like a wooden pallet to its back and dragging it over the areas. Otherwise, you can smooth the areas level by using a garden rake and shovel, working the area until its all the same height. This also helps removes any thatch buildup that makes air, water and nutrients difficult to reaching the turfgrass root system.
  3. Dig out the sod and placing it in a shady location until you are ready to replant.
  4. Fill the low spots with your top dressingsoil mixture. Once filled, water the area to release any air pockets in the soil and continue backfilling with the soil mixture until the area is level.
  5. If your soil has a compaction problem, now is the time to aerate the area. Generally, it’s better to leave the soil plugs left by core aeration in place to return their nutrients to the soil. But in the case of an uneven lawn, aeration also gives you the opportunity to fill any remaining low-lying areas with the plugs.
  6. Replace the repaired areas with the removed sod or new sod, making sure the roots have good soil contact. Keep traffic to a minimum for several weeks while the sod takes root and water regularly to keep the area moist but not soggy.
  7. If using grass seeds, overseeding is required if areas of the lawn were bare. If grass growth in the repaired areas was thin, apply a new layer of grass seed. Keep the area moist while the grass seed germinates and takes root.

Leveling a Severely Uneven Lawn

If your lawn is looking more like the moon’s surface than an earthly yard, refurbish the entire area. When low areas and high spots are too numerous, it will generally require new grading, soil preparation, followed by and grass seeding or planting new sod. Of course, this process comes with the biggest costs and most labor.

Keeping Things Green and Healthy

Regular and proper lawn care goes a very long way in keeping your lawn free of ruts and higher spots. Healthy and thick turfgrass promotes fewer problems and leads to a level lawn. Keep things healthy by:

Mowing at the proper height.

Fertilizing when necessary.

Overseeding areas where needed to keep the area thick with growth.

Aerating regularly to loosen compacted soil and lessen its lifting. When properly maintained, your turfgrass develops into a healthy specimen able to fend off pest and disease problems and best of all; you end up with a level lawn.

Joyce Starr

Joyce Starr

Joyce Starr has been writing on horticultural and landscaping topics for over 15 years. In addition, for the past 20 years she’s owned and operated a landscaping and design business. She shares her experience and passion for all things green through her writing.