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How to level an uneven garden or lawn like a professional

Rear fence and turf at landscaping job in Leyland,.

Having an uneven garden or lawn can be a pain. They look unsightly and can be quite impractical when it comes to enjoying and caring for your garden. 

As landscape gardeners we get frequent callouts to level uneven gardens. We deal with lumpy, uneven gardens and sloped gardens on a monthly basis. 

This article will walk you through the main methods of dealing with uneven gardens and lawns. What your options are for fixing it and some professional tips along the way.

Two methods to level a lawn or a garden

Method 1: Patching up

Summary: Fill in gaps and chop off high points then add additional grass seed to the lawn. 

Best for: only slightly bumpy lawns with a few low and high points. 

Works for: most issues where the uneven areas are less than 50mm depth and 0.5m wide

Average cost per square meter: £4

Effort required: Low

Method 2: Starting again

Summary: Rotivate the whole lawn, level the area and turf over the top 

Best for: anything which method 1 does not work for

Works for: all but the worst lawns and gardens

Average cost per square meter: £13 

Effort required: Moderate

Step by step guide to leveling a uneven lawn or garden

Before you begin you need to work out which of the methods above would be effective. If you only have a small amount of unevenness with some dips or some mount then method one may be for you.

If the problems are more serious than that then it’s likely you will need method 2. Method 2 also practically guarantees good results whereas method 1 can sometimes have disappointing results.

Got poor garden drainage? Levelling a garden can be a great time to install drainage. Check out our smart drainage tool to see the best way to improve your garden drainage.

Method 1: Patching up

This method is called the patch up because most of the lawn or garden is still ok.

Step 1: Remove any high points or hard lumps

People with spades digging weeds out of uneven garden

To begin with, identify any points which are above the level you would like the lawn to sit. Using a good quality spade, dig these out and dispose of them.

don’t be afraid to go a little below where you need to be as the next stage will fill holes in.

Step 2: Add and level top soil 

Using some good quality fairly dry topsoil, add it generously to any areas which are below the depth that they need to be.

Use our top soil calculator to see how much top soil you need to order and how much it could cost

Areas which are significantly lower i.e. 3 – 5 cm add some soil then compact lightly using your foot. 

Add more loose soil to the top again. This loose soil will be finely levelled. 

Using a levelling rake rake out the soil first in one direction then in the adjacent direction. You will be able to see any dips by bringing your eyes closer to ground level. 

Levelling rakes are larger and flatter than normal rakes. They ensure and even spread of both the larger and finer particles of soil.

Here are two of our most recommend soil levelling rakes. Wider rakes make levelling easier.

Wolf-Garten Multi-Change Longspan Rake

  • Very durable
  • detachable head
  • Good width

Check price at Amazon

Fiskars Solid Soil Rake

  • What we use
  • Extremely strong

Check price at Amazon

When the soil looks level to the eye, you can move on to the next step.

Step 3: Seed the area

Make sure to choose good quality grass seed which has no weeds and has a good mix of of healthy grass specimens

We recommend applying around 50 g per square metre initially using a lawn seed spreader. For larger areas the push-along grass seed spreaders work fantastically. For smaller areas a handheld grass seed spreader will be adequate.

Scotts EverGreen Handy Spreader

  • Hand wound
  • Cheap

Check price at Amazon

Ryobi OSS1800 18V ONE+ Cordless Seed Spreader

  • Very fast
  • Great brand

Check price at Amazon

After applying the grass seed use a roller to lightly compact the soil. the soil should not be tightly compact as this will stop the grass being able to take root

After the light compaction spread another 30 grams of grass seed per square metre of soil.

Water thoroughly and make sure to follow so any guidance by the seed manufacturer on caring for the new grass.

Pro tip: there are many types of grass and many different types of grass seed mix. If you have any way of figuring out what seed was originally applied to your lawn make sure to find a mix similar to what you already have.

If like most of those you have no idea then go for a good quality general grass seed mix.

Method 2: Starting again

if your loan is too far gone for method one or you just want to guarantee great results then this method will be for you.

Step 1: Remove rocks, weeds or debris

In this method everything which is currently in the lawn will end up underneath the new lawn. To make sure your new lawn or garden is nice and flat you need to remove things which will disturb this.

Go through the garden and dig out any large rocks, weeds, debris or large lumps of clay if you have clay soil.

Dispose of these and move onto the next step.

Pro tip: If there are weeds in the garden or lawn you will need to remove them beforehand. Anything that is rotivated in the next step has the potential to grow up though the new lawn. 

If the lawn has lots of weeds you will need to add an additional step of removing the top 50mm and disposing of them before you continue. 

Image of lawn weeds

Step 2: Use a rotavator to churn up the soil 

Next you will need to to turn up the current garden or lawn so it is soft and malleable enough to level. Make sure to do this when the soil is reasonably dry to avoid a lot of unnecessary hard work trying to move wet soil.

Use a rotavator which can be hired from most hire shops for around £40 in the UK. Following the safety instructions, push the rotavator through the lawn or garden until it is completely turned up.

Step 3: Add or remove enough soil 

Now that you have a nice turned up lawn you can add or remove material to make sure your new garden or lawn is at the correct height. 

It could be a good idea to bring in some good quality topsoil to ensure that your new lawn has a fertile base. 

Bring the top of the soil to a few cm above where you want the lawn to sit. The soil will be compacted and settle over time so it will end up a little lower than it currently is. 

Pro tip: if you have clay soil which is not much good for growing grass this is a great opportunity to add sand. Before rotavating add a good 1 to 2 cm layer of sand to the soil. This will help break down the clay and make the ground much easier to work with.

Step 4: Level the lawn or garden

This step is very important to get right as it is the whole reason you’re doing this in the first place.

There are two primary ways to level small areas of ground such as a garden or a lawn.

  1. The less accurate but cheap way 

The first is using string lines which are setup between pegs and levels using a spirit level. Use small string line spirit levels to make adjustments quick and easy.

Split the area into sections of 3 x 3m and set up string lines to slightly above the level you want the soil to be at. 

Using a rake or a large flat spirit level, work around the area to make sure it is level with the string line.

Repeat this process until you have covered the whole garden area.

  1. The professional way

For this you will need to buy yourself a laser level and a laser receiver. These are fairly expensive items but will guarantee a high level of accuracy. They can be used for all sorts of indoor and outdoor DIY tasks.

Terraform driveways use these for large projects where a spirit level would result in too many inaccuracies

Self levelling green laser

  • Self levelling
  • Visible in sunlight

Check price at Amazon

Self levelling red laser

  • What we use
  • Self levelling
  • Visible in sunlight

Check price at Amazon

Set up the laser level in one corner of the area. Using the the laser receiver and a tape measure, workout how far below the line of the level you would like the surface of the garden to be.

You can now walk to any point in the garden and check using the tape measure and laser receiver if it is at the correct height.

Use a rake to shift soil around until all areas are at the correct level.

Step 5: Lay turf

We are producing an in depth guide on how to lay the perfect lawn but in the meantime there are ample guides to laying turf online. 

We hope you found a short guide to levelling gardens and lawns helpful. Take a look around our website for more information on garden improvements and landscaping work.

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