You landed on this page because you want to know how to grade and level your yard. And you probably don’t have access to a tractor, Bobcat or lawn mower that can do the job quickly for you, which is why we’re going to tell you exactly how to do it the easiest way possible with the only thing you have available…your hands!
While having some type of heavy-duty power equipment would make the job a lot quicker, the reality of the situation is not everybody can afford to rent or buy heavy-duty equipment for a job they may only do one time at their current property. And by the way, kudos to you for wanting to get down n’ dirty to get the job done!
POWER TIP FOR BEGINNERS: Before you start grading and leveling your lawn, it’s best to make sure the ground is easy to work with. Using a tiller/cultivator to get the ground nice and soft is going to make your job so much easier down the road. (Make sure to see the best tillers for breaking new ground that I recommend.)
Also, two of our favorite tillers can be found below (available on Amazon):
#1) Our Favorite Tiller for ANY Job
#2) Budget Tiller for Small Jobs
Not sure what other tools you’re going to need for this job? Check out our “recommended tools” list below
How To Grade and Level Your Yard (The Easy Way)
Keep in mind that there are many different ways you can go about grading your yard by hand. The way I’m about to explain is only one way and there’s a lot of people who are going to have their own opinion on the west best way to get it done:
The Fastest Way To Grade
- Step #1 – Depending on where you’re planning to grade, take a look around the base of your home and keep mental notes of any low spots that you see relative to the areas around it.
- Step #2 – You’re going to need to determine the slope of your current yard (from the base of your foundation) area by using two wooden stakes, some string, as well as a carpenter’s level, brick layer’s level, or a string level.See the video below for an easy guide on how to find the slope of your yard:
- Step #3 – Once you have found your slope and you know all the areas around your foundation that need to be fixed in order to fit the general rule, then use fill dirt to build up those specific areas and keep measuring to fit within the desired grade slope.
(Assuming you’re not having to grade a big area of landscaping, every 10 feet should be raised 6” higher than the 10ft section before it (for example: from the end of the planter beds going towards the foundation of the house). If you’re grading a large area and have moved outside of your planter bed, the grade slope should be more gradual at 2” for every 10ft section.)
Leveling Your Lawn Like A Pro
- Step #1 – The first thing that you’re going to need to do is to walk around your lawn and look for grooves and low spots that are making your grass uneven. These low or high spots can be because of a drainage problem or pipes that have been cracked and are leaking underneath the ground.
Note: If you do discover major drainage issues you’re going to want to consider tearing up your lawn and grading it so that you have a proper slope for the water to run off.
- Step #2 – For areas that are only ¾” or lower than the rest of the soil, you can use a topsoil to put over the low spots.
- Step #3 – Use your feet, the back of a landscaping rake, and a lawn roller to flatten all the areas that you put any of the topsoils down on, and be sure to water the area so that any of the topsoil can compact and settle. After watering, if you still notice low spots then repeat the process by adding more topsoil to the desired areas.
- Step #4 – After a few days we recommend putting grass seed down over the topsoil. Continue to water the areas after seeding at least 5 times per day to help the grass seed germinate and grow.
(For Low Spots On Your Lawn Deeper Than 1″)
If you have areas on your lawn that have recessed more than 1” to 1.5”, a different process of leveling is going to be needed:
- Step #1 – Take a flathead shovel and cut an area around the recessed lawn area. If it’s a big area of lawn considered cutting it into a cross shape so that you can pull back each section individually
- Step #2 – Approximately cut 2 inches down and keep the shovel an even height all the way around so you have the same thickness of soil underneath the grass.
- Step #3 – Peel back the layer of turf and add additional topsoil underneath the soil until you have reached the desired height that matches the area around it.
- Step #4 – Again, flatten the area with your feet or the back of the shovel and fill any gaps with top dressing.
- Step #5 – Consider adding lawn seed to the gaps and water regularly.
Lawn Leveling Tools & Accessories We Recommend
Before we get into the exact steps of how to grade and level your area, we need to go over some of the basic tools we recommend, even though you’re doing it by hand. I’ll mention these throughout the guide but here’s a list so that you can familiarize yourself and reference back to them in one spot:
(All tools below are available on Amazon)
Carpenter Level or String Level
Wheelbarrow or Cart
Grading vs Leveling: What’s the difference?
So I know you’re sitting there reading this and probably seen me use the words grading and leveling almost interchangeably, but what is exactly the difference between grading and leveling? I’ll tell you:
Grading – in landscaping we use the term grading when we talk about gently sloping your yard away from the foundation of your home.
Leveling – leveling your lawn or yard area is simply the process of creating a smooth even surface that doesn’t have unnecessary bumps or groups.
Just remember that both grading and leveling are crucial to having a beautiful front or backyard landscape. They’ll help with proper water drainage, which will aid to eliminate standing water (which could cause problems such as an overabundance of weeds growing in your lawn, and unwanted pests such as mosquitos.
How Much Does It Cost To Grade & Level?
Grading and leveling your yard and lawn can vary widely in price. Since you’re doing this on your own it’s not going to be as expensive as if you hired a professional, but here’s the average breakdown of both options:
Hiring a professional – According to Improve.net, the average cost is about $1,600. Depending on the job and specifications, that’s in line with what we charge customers to do a normal grading job for adequate drainage.
Doing-it-yourself – Since this whole guide is about grading and leveling your yard by yourself, it only makes sense to give you a reasonable idea of how much it’s going to cost. This overall amount will depend on whether you decide to buy or rent certain equipment, but we’ve found that, on average, it is going to cost about $400 to $600 to grade and level your yard by yourself.
Why Grade Your Yard?
People always seem to ask: why do I need to even need to grade my yard?
It’s pretty simple:
The reason you need to grade your yard is for proper drainage. During the fall, winter and even spring months when you may be getting quite a bit of rain, all that excess water needs to drain off of your yard and into some type of drainage or towards your street’s gutters. Without properly grading your yard away from the foundation of your home, you’ll quickly run into a few different problems such as water running into the foundation and pooling up which can cause more than enough issues for you as a homeowner.
Why Level Your Lawn Area?
You don’t want to have bumps and grooves throughout your lawn area, am I right? Not only does it look tacky, but it’s also going to affect drainage and create areas for pooling water. Eventually, this is going to kill your grass and cause more headaches than anything else. Properly grading and leveling the lawn is going to make your life easier and keep your home and basement from any unforeseen “flooding” issues.
Should You Use Sand or Topsoil To Level Lawn?
I get asked quite a bit whether you should level your recessed areas with sand and my quick answer is: NO because, in the summertime heat, sand is known to dry out pretty quickly. Over time, this will affect the grass above and will most likely starve it of water, therefore killing it.
By using topsoil or a compost instead of sand, you’ll be enriching the soil underneath and give it the nutrients it needs. If you are dead set on using sand, for whatever reason, I would highly recommend that it’s a 50/50 mixture with some type of topsoil or compost added in.
By now, I hope you have been able to see that grading your yard and leveling your lawn doesn’t have to be a huge, complicated process. Yes, if you do have a bigger area it may be a little bit more difficult and we do recommend at least consulting with a professional before you start on your own.
For most people with a normal sized yard and existing landscapes that has semi-adequate drainage, this is a pretty easy process that can be completed at a much lower cost than hiring a professional.
Have you graded or level your yard? If so, we love to hear how it went. Leave a comment below and let us know!
In one of my recent FAQ posts, I answer the common question, “What’s a Brushless Lawn Mower?” and give you all the pros and cons.
7 thoughts on “Do It Yourself Lawn Grading: How To Level A Yard By Hand”
This was so helpful! Thank you!
You’re welcome, Shannon! Glad you got some use out of it!
Very helpful….can you advise if the process is different when you’re grading to put in a deck attached to the house? Would you use different materials?
We are starting a project right now for leveling our yard to add artificial turf, and gravel or paver walkways, with a garden in the back. We have a 2000 sq ft backyard, which is right now all dirt with rocks in it due to the house build, and our side yards need better drainage. Are there any tips on doing this DIY? We obviously want to save on labor costs by doing it ourselves. We live in Arizona, so are dealing with the desert, any specific top soil composition for that?
Must add I meant are there any additional tips for the DIY project. I realize this article is about DIY leveling. Thank you for this article, it really helped me understand the direction to take our project.
I appreciate the comments, SCB! The best recommendation I can make is just do a lot of research. Consider watching some YouTube videos for any part of the DIY you don’t understand, invest in the (right) tools, and give it a go!
My backyard is bumpy and lumpy, It needs grading and leveling. I have had some pretty expensive estimate from five thousands and more. This is a tiny backyard, I never thought of doing it myself, but after reading your post I think I might be able to take it on.
Thank you so much