How to Level a Backyard: Step-by-step Guide

Last Updated on May 22, 2024 by Kimberly Crawford

Have you ever wondered why your backyard is always a mess after it rains? How to level a backyard might be the answer to your problems. Leveling your backyard is more than just about making it look nice.

A level yard is easier to maintain and more enjoyable to use. It can prevent water from pooling, make mowing a breeze, and create a perfect space for playing, gardening, or just relaxing.

By taking the time to level your backyard, you’ll not only improve its appearance but also enhance its functionality and usability. So, let’s dive into the process and get your backyard in top shape!

What is a Level Backyard?

multi level yard

A level backyard is a flat, even outdoor space where the ground is consistent and free of major slopes or dips. This kind of yard provides numerous benefits.

First, it improves the overall appearance of your outdoor area, giving it a neat and organized look.

Second, a level yard is much easier to maintain, whether you’re mowing the lawn or setting up outdoor furniture.

Lastly, it enhances usability, making it safer and more comfortable for activities like playing, gardening, or hosting gatherings.

Step 1: Assessing Your Yard

Inspecting the Current State of the Backyard

To get started with how to level a backyard, you need to understand its current state. This step involves taking a close look at your yard to see where the uneven areas are.

Walk around your backyard and pay attention to any spots where water tends to pool after it rains.

Notice if there are any high spots that make mowing a chore or low spots where the grass looks sad and soggy.

Identifying Uneven Areas and Measuring the Slope

After you’ve inspected your backyard, the next step is to identify the specific areas that need leveling.

Use a measuring tape to measure the length and width of your yard. This will give you a good idea of the overall area you’ll be working with. Then, use stakes and a string level to check the slope.

Drive the stakes into the ground at both the high and low points of the yard and stretch a string between them.

Place a level on the string to see how much it slopes. This will help you determine how much fill material you’ll need to level your yard properly.

Tools Needed for Assessment

Having the right tools can make the job easier. Here’s what you’ll need for assessing your backyard:

  • Measuring tape: To measure the dimensions of your yard.
  • Stakes: To mark the high and low points.
  • String level: To check the slope.
  • Rake: To smooth out any small bumps or dips as you go.

Using these tools, you can get a clear picture of your yard’s current state and plan the next steps in the leveling process.

Step 2: Planning and Preparation

Deciding on the Final Layout and Level

Before you start digging, it’s crucial to decide on the final layout and level of your backyard. Think about how you want to use the space. Do you need a flat area for a patio or play area?

Are you planning to install a garden or flower beds? Knowing your end goal will help guide the leveling process.

Mark out any key features you want to keep or add, like trees, shrubs, or pathways. This planning step ensures that you’re not just leveling the yard, but also making it more functional and attractive.

Gathering Necessary Tools and Materials

To level a backyard, you’ll need a few basic tools and materials. Here’s a list of what you’ll need:

  • Shovel: For digging and moving soil.
  • Rake: To spread and smooth the soil.
  • Wheelbarrow: For transporting soil, sand, and other materials.
  • Soil and sand: To fill in low spots and create a level surface.
  • Landscape fabric: To prevent weeds from growing through your new level yard.

Having all these tools and materials ready before you start will make the process smoother and faster. It’s frustrating to stop halfway through a job because you’re missing something important, so gather everything you need first.

Marking the Area to be Leveled

Once you have your plan and materials ready, it’s time to mark the area to be leveled. Use stakes and string to outline the boundaries of the area. This will help you keep track of where to dig and where to add fill. It also makes it easier to see your progress as you work.

Drive stakes into the ground at the corners of the area and stretch string between them to create a clear boundary. This visual guide will help ensure that you level the yard evenly and don’t miss any spots. If you have a large area to level, consider breaking it into smaller sections and working on one section at a time.

Step 3: Clearing the Area

Removing Debris, Rocks, and Vegetation

Clearing your backyard is a crucial step. Start by getting rid of all debris, rocks, and unwanted plants.

These items can interfere with your work and make it harder to achieve a smooth surface.

Use a rake to gather leaves and twigs, and a shovel to dig out larger rocks and weeds. Be thorough in this step to ensure a clean working area.

Considerations for Existing Structures and Plants

As you clear the space, consider any existing structures or plants you want to keep. If you have trees, shrubs, or flower beds that you want to preserve, make sure to mark these areas clearly.

You might need to work around these features, so plan accordingly. If there’s a garden shed or patio in the area, decide whether they need to be moved or if you can work around them. Taking these factors into account will save you time and effort later.

Disposal or Repurposing of Removed Materials

Once you’ve cleared the area, you’ll need to decide what to do with the removed materials. Debris and rocks can be disposed of at a local waste facility or repurposed in other parts of your yard.

For example, larger rocks can be used to create decorative borders, and organic material like leaves and twigs can be composted. This not only helps in your project but also contributes to a sustainable gardening practice.

Proper disposal or repurposing ensures that your cleared area is ready for the next steps in the leveling process.

Step 4: Excavation

Steps for Digging Out High Spots

When it comes to excavation, the first task is to tackle those high spots in your yard. Begin by marking the areas that need to be lowered.

Use a shovel to dig out the excess soil, removing it in manageable layers to avoid creating large holes.

It’s important to work systematically, ensuring each section is even before moving on to the next.

Keep the soil you remove handy; you’ll likely need it to fill in low spots later. By carefully removing soil from the high areas, you can gradually create a more level surface.

Tips for Managing Soil Removal and Depth Consistency

Consistency is key when removing soil. To manage this, always measure the depth you’re digging to keep it uniform.

Use a string level stretched across the area to check your progress. This tool helps you ensure that each section is at the same height, preventing uneven patches.

Additionally, consider using a wheelbarrow to transport the removed soil to low areas or a designated pile.

This not only keeps your workspace tidy but also makes it easier to reuse the soil. Regularly check your progress and make adjustments as needed to maintain a consistent depth.

Handling Large Slopes or Significant Elevation Changes

Dealing with large slopes or significant elevation changes requires a bit more effort. If your yard has a steep slope, you may need to create terraces.

This involves creating flat areas at intervals, with small retaining walls to hold the soil in place. For significant elevation changes, it might be necessary to bring in additional soil or sand to help level the ground.

Start from the lowest point and gradually build up to the desired level, compacting the soil as you go to ensure stability. Handling these larger challenges carefully will ensure a well-leveled and stable yard.

split level garden

Step 5: Adding and Distributing Fill Material

Choosing the Right Fill Material

Choosing the correct fill material is essential for leveling your yard. You can use topsoil, sand, or a mix of both.

Topsoil is ideal for planting areas because it’s rich in nutrients. Sand, on the other hand, is excellent for providing a stable base and ensuring good drainage.

Often, a mix of topsoil and sand works best, giving you the benefits of both materials. Think about the purpose of the area you are leveling to decide which material suits your needs.

Properly Distributing Fill Material Across the Yard

Distributing the fill material evenly is crucial for achieving a smooth surface. Start by spreading a layer of the chosen material over the low spots. Use a rake to spread it out and ensure it fills all depressions.

Work systematically, section by section, to maintain an even distribution. It’s helpful to use a wheelbarrow to transport the material across the yard. Regularly check the level with a string or laser level to ensure you’re not creating new high or low spots.

Compacting the Soil to Ensure Stability and Prevent Future Settling

After spreading the fill material, compacting it is the next important step. This process ensures the soil is stable and prevents future settling.

You can use a tamping tool or a roller to compact the soil. Walk over the area, tamping down the soil in overlapping passes.

For larger areas, a roller filled with water can be more effective. Compacting the soil properly will give you a firm, level surface ready for planting or any other use you have in mind.

leveling sloped backyard

Step 6: Leveling the Surface

Techniques for Smoothing and Leveling the Soil

To get a smooth surface, you’ll need the right techniques. Start by using a rake to spread the soil evenly across the area.

Work in small sections to ensure consistency. For larger areas, a leveling board can help. This board can be dragged across the soil, smoothing it out as you go.

The key is to take your time and make sure each section is as level as possible before moving on.

Checking for Levelness Periodically

Throughout the process, it’s crucial to check for levelness. Use a level or a string line to ensure the surface is even.

Place the level on the soil and adjust as needed. If you’re using a string line, stretch it across the area and use a level to check the string’s height.

This step helps you catch any uneven spots early, making adjustments easier. Regular checks keep your work accurate and ensure a truly level yard.

Step 7: Final Touches

Watering the Soil to Help It Settle

Once the soil is spread and leveled, the next step is to water it thoroughly. Watering the soil helps it settle and compact naturally.

Use a garden hose or sprinkler system to apply a generous amount of water across the entire area.

This process allows the soil to fill in any remaining air pockets, creating a solid and stable surface. Be sure to let the soil dry out before moving on to the next step to avoid working with mud.

Adding a Final Layer of Topsoil for Planting or Sod Installation

After the soil has settled, add a final layer of topsoil. This top layer is crucial if you plan to plant grass or install sod.

Spread the topsoil evenly over the leveled area using a rake. The topsoil should be about 2-3 inches thick to provide a good base for roots to grow.

This layer not only enhances the soil’s fertility but also ensures a smooth and even surface for your lawn.

Recommendations for Planting Grass or Other Vegetation

Now that your yard is level and prepped, it’s time to think about planting. For a lush lawn, choose a grass variety that suits your climate and soil type.

Spread grass seed evenly across the topsoil and gently rake it in to ensure good soil contact. If you prefer instant results, laying sod is an excellent option.

Roll out the sod over the prepared area and press it down firmly. Water the new grass or sod immediately and keep it moist until it’s well-established.

For other vegetation, such as flower beds or shrubs, follow planting guidelines specific to each plant to ensure healthy growth.

Maintenance Tips

Regularly Checking and Maintaining the Level of the Yard

To keep your yard looking its best, regularly check the level of the soil. Regularly checking helps you catch any issues early, preventing bigger problems down the road.

Walk around your yard every few months, paying attention to any dips or bumps that might have formed.

If you find any uneven spots, use a rake to redistribute the soil and smooth it out. This simple habit will keep your yard level and enjoyable to use.

Addressing Any Minor Settling or Erosion

Even with the best preparation, some settling or erosion can occur over time. When you notice minor settling, fill in the low spots with a bit of topsoil and compact it gently.

For areas prone to erosion, consider planting ground cover or adding mulch to stabilize the soil. Tackling these issues promptly will maintain the integrity of your yard and prevent more significant problems from developing.

Best Practices for Watering and Mowing

Proper watering and mowing are crucial for maintaining a healthy, level yard. Water your lawn deeply but infrequently to encourage strong root growth.

Aim for about an inch of water per week, either from rainfall or irrigation. When mowing, keep the grass at a height of about 3 inches.

This length promotes a strong root system and helps prevent weeds. Regular mowing also helps maintain an even surface, as longer grass can create the appearance of unevenness.

How Long Does It Take to Level a Backyard?

The time required to level a backyard can vary depending on several factors, including the size of your yard and the extent of unevenness.

For small yards with minor unevenness, the process might take just a day or two. However, larger yards or those with significant slopes may require several days to a week to complete. It also depends on whether you’re doing the work yourself or hiring professionals.


Leveling your backyard might seem like a big task, but with careful planning and a bit of effort, it’s completely doable.

From assessing the initial state and clearing the area to adding fill material and final touches, each step is crucial for achieving a smooth and functional outdoor space.

Regular maintenance, like checking for settling and proper watering, will keep your yard looking great.

By following these steps, you’ll create a beautiful, level backyard that’s easier to maintain and more enjoyable to use. So, roll up your sleeves and get ready to transform your outdoor space into a perfect haven!