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How to level a lawn

beautiful lawn in sunshine with flowers - how to level a lawn

Keen to smooth out your lawn’s bumps, lumps and uneven surfaces? We show you how to level a lawn with ease

Learning how to level a lawn might sound intimidating at first, but it’s a great tool to have in your gardening arsenal. The process of levelling a lawn involves spreading a ‘top dressing’ mixture across your lawn’s surface, which helps to fill in and smooth over any shallow areas, plus digging out and removing any excess soil. It’s a pretty easy job that requires some forward planning and a bit of muscle – and, once achieved, you’ll be able to run your best cordless lawn mower over with ease.

We’ve put together a handy guide that will help you level your lawn by using sand, topsoil, compost and even grass seed if your lawn needs patching.

Why does my lawn need to be levelled?

Aside from the less than pleasant appearance of an uneven lawn, having bumps and holes present will make it much harder to mow the grass and to remove weeds, and can even be a trip hazard if it’s particularly rutted.

You might want a levelled lawn if you’re planning renovations to the garden, too, such as laying decking, installing a trampoline or setting up a fire pit, hot tub or outdoor fireplace.

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What causes lumps and bumps in my lawn?

Even the best lawns can become uneven and lumpy over time. The most common causes can include:

– Frost – Lawn growth can be stunted by frost, particularly in any overly shady spots that are regularly walked on.

– Rain – Exposed areas of the lawn get more wear and tear from inclement weather than the sheltered parts, and if the rain drains away too slowly it can damage turf and encourage moss growth.

waterlogged lawn with twigs and leaves - how to level a lawn

– Foot traffic – Walking the same paths and routes across the lawn will eventually wear channels and furrows into the soil.

– Animals – Foxes and cats are known to dig pretty sizeable holes, while ant mounds can easily get out of control. For the latter in particular, keeping your turf healthy goes a long way towards eradicating the nuisance.

– Soil type – Depending on your lawn’s soil type it can be more prone to damage. Clay-heavy soil can be easily compacted if walked on when wet, and can also swell in the cold, leading to bumps.

When should I level my lawn?

The best time of year to level a lawn is in the spring, once there’s no more frost and the grass is actively growing again. Levelling at this time of year will allow new grass seed to grow, and the soil will have enough residual moisture to encourage that process along. Alternatively, aim for the end of summer when it’s hot enough for germination but not at sun-scorching temps.

What do I need to level a lawn?

You’ll need a few key pieces of gardening equipment for both the preparation and levelling stages:

How to level a lawn

While there are plenty of ways to level a lawn, they mainly fall into two categories: levelling shallow patches of 1-2cm deep, and levelling deeper holes or built up bumps. Both of these categories require the same preparations.

Mow the lawn

In terms of your lawn’s condition, it’s best to level when the grass is short so the uneven patches are easily visible. Make sure you rake up all the clippings so they aren’t strewn across the lawn.

Dethatch the grass

Raking over the grass will dethatch it, clearing out any debris that may be matted at the soil’s surface.

man watering lawn with hose in yellow trousers - how to level a lawn

Water the lawn

Watering a few days before will provide you with soil that is neither too dry nor too sodden to work with. For the same reasons, try to avoid levelling for a few days after heavy rainfall.

Assess the uneven spots

By checking the depth of the low spots in comparison to the rest of the lawn, you can ascertain whether you’ll simply fill them in or actually pull back sections of turf.

Aerate the soil

Aerating the soil can be particularly useful with helping overly compacted soil to breathe better. A few stabs with a garden fork will achieve this.

Once you’ve prepared the lawn itself, the next step is top dressing.

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How do I top dress a lawn?

Top dressing a lawn means covering the surface of your lawn with a thin layer of mixed organic matter. This can be used for your entire garden or solely to fill in dips and holes. You can make a top dressing mixture yourself – the ideal route if you’re particularly familiar with the qualities of your soil – or you can buy a ready-to-use lawn dressing mixture.

Generally speaking, top dressing consists of free draining topsoil, sand and compost in a 2:2:1 ratio; for example, 10kg topsoil, 10kg sand and 5kg compost. This combination works best because the topsoil fills out the lawn’s dips and hollows, the sand helps with drainage and the nutrient-rich compost encourages healthy soil.

You can also mix grass seed into this mix if your lawn is patchy and sparse, or use a sand and topsoil mix (known as sand topdressing), which is a sturdier version for permanently levelling low spots.

Levelling a lawn with deep holes

If your lawn’s uneven patches are only 1-2cm deep, you can get away with just using topsoil. However, deeper holes require another approach of carefully lifting the turf, topping up with additional soil then laying the turf down again.

1. Cut the uneven patch in an H-shaped or cross-shaped incision with a knife and peel the turf back.

2. Fork over the pre-existing soil, then either add new topsoil to raise the level or remove any excess soil.

3. Tamp all the soil down and place the turf back.

4. Once you’re sure the patch is level with the surrounding lawn, brush some topdressing across the patch.

5. Use the back of a garden rake to tap the turf’s edges and bed them in. You can also use your feet.

6. Finally, water the patch lightly to aid with the compacting and leave it to settle. After a few days you can water it daily.

This same process applies if your lawn has large bumps that rise above the lawn’s surface: cut the turf back and remove any excess soil before placing the turf back.

man levelling lawn with soil and tool - how to level a lawn

Levelling a lawn with shallow areas only

For shallow dips of 1-2cm deep, simply spread the topdressing mixture directly across the lawn’s surface instead of cutting into the turf. Once the topsoil has settled into the dips, smooth out the mixture with the back of a rake. You can compress the mixture with your feet and leave it for a few days to settle.

After a few days you can water the patch in further, and if it sinks, just add more of your mixture to level it out again.

Can I overseed my lawn while levelling?

Yes: if you’re also planning to reseed new grass after the levelling process, using top dressing will create the ideal growing conditions.

Once you’ve finished top dressing, spread or scatter grass seed down in an even layer and rake it lightly. Water lightly a few times a day in the first 48 hours so the soil stays moist while the seeds germinate, then water the sprouting seeds daily.

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