How To Level A Bumpy and Uneven Lawn

Besides tripping us over from time to time and giving our neighbors a good laugh, the odd bump in our lawns here and there may seem rather benign, but they can actually lead to some pretty severe problems.

The issue we face is how to address these lumps and bumps. It’s not exactly something everyone knows how to deal with, and let’s be honest, altering a landscape is no mean feat, even over a small area.

How to Level a Bumpy Lawn

Not to worry though, my fellow green thumbs, having dealt with plenty of lawn lumps myself, I know exactly what needs to be done to rekindle that putting green aesthetic. Consider this article your comprehensive bump abolishing guide.

We’ll be discussing why a level lawn is important, what causes these earthy growths and depressions, and, of course, how to remove them. Sound good? Excellent; let’s get started!

Why Are Bumpy Lawns Problematic?

Before we dive into some bumpy lawn remedies, let’s take a quick look at why they can be such a nuisance.

Trip Hazards

You’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s perfectly okay to let the odd yard bump slide. It’s not hurting anyone, right? Well, actually, it might do.

If your children have claimed the turf as their private sports field, firstly, my condolences, and secondly, the bumps in your yard pose a trip hazard. It only takes one awkward fall for a little one to end up in hospital with a dislocated thumb, a sprained ankle, or even – god forbid – a broken bone.

In fact, I myself as a child tripped over uneven ground in my family’s front yard, took flight, and landed on my knees with a resonant cracking sound. I seemed fine at first, but the next day I couldn’t walk. 

Adamant that I was faking to get out of a grueling day at school, my mother decided to call my bluff, loaded me in the car, and took me to hospital, where an X-ray confirmed I had a hairline fracture snaking along the top of my right shinbone.

If we level out those pesky bumps, we create a safer environment for kids to play tag, soccer, football, croquet (for the fancier sprogs), or, well…anything really. That means no medical bills — hurray!

Plus, the even playing surface will prevent the ball from taking unpredictable turns during the game, inevitably leading to arguments about whether that goal was really a goal, if that touchdown should count, or…whatever the croquet equivalent is (I’ve never played).

But it’s not just kids that stand to injure themselves when coming into contact with the lumpy scourge. Seniors are also at risk. As it can be difficult for people living out the autumn of their years to get back up off the ground after falling over, if no one’s around to help, they may be stuck there for a while.

Sadly, in some cases, the fallen aren’t found in time and pass away. Suddenly those little hills don’t seem so innocent, huh?

Lawn Maintenance

I’m sorry to say, but bumps are bad news for the health of your lawn, folks. The reason being, when you’re cutting your grass, the uneven surface may cause the blades of the mower to scalp the lawn. And the only thing worse than a bumpy lawn is a bumpy lawn with bare spots.

Navigating a smattering of lumps with a lawn mower can also be a pretty physically demanding activity, turning what is usually an enjoyable chore into a drawn-out nightmare.

What’s more, the scalping will take its toll on your lawn mower blades too, as they’re simply not designed to cut through earth. A nice, level lawn, facilitates a quick, healthy cut, allowing us to get on with the rest of our day.

Drainage

Of course, you can’t have highs without lows. Each of these irritating lawn pimples is connected by a dipped area. When it rains, and gravity does its thing, all the moisture collects into these low spots and stagnates, significantly increasing the chances of lawn disease.

A level lawn facilitates even drainage, so no one area gets drowned out, keeping your grass lusciously green, thick, and healthy.

What Causes A Bumpy Lawn?

Lawn lumps are usually caused by an underlying issue in your yard, so if you want to stop them from reoccurring, it’s essential that you diagnose this issue before doing battle with the bumps.

Drainage Issues

Even though a bumpy lawn brings along its own drainage problems, sometimes, the bumps themselves are symptomatic of a pre-existing issue in your drainage or irrigation networks.

For instance, if you’ve noticed any bumps or depressions in one particular area, and that area just so happens to be near some water pipes, an outdoor faucet, or a sprinkler system, you need to check for leaks.

Sprinkler systems are the most common cause of lawn erosion as, once they’re installed, people often forget to check them over periodically.

Without a maintenance protocol, the system can easily fall into disrepair, spring a leak, and destabilize your lawn from beneath the surface.

Ground Settling

Ground settling refers to the downward movement of a surface due to the earth below compacting. This is particularly common in new lawns, and it can be exacerbated by the freeze/thaw cycles of the winter months.

The constant changes in state cause the earth to sort of buckle, and rise up into the air.

Ground settling may also be caused by heavy equipment, so if you’ve had any diggers in your yard, the solution may be as simple as moving them elsewhere.

Lawn Disease, Dogs, And Foot Traffic

Anything that kills off a section of your lawn can lead to a bumpy, uneven surface. Whether the perpetrator is a fungus, a dog that likes to relieve itself on the lawn, or even your own feet, the result is the same, bare earth.

Over time, rainfall, wind, and foot traffic will erode these bare spots, eventually forming depressions, ruining the pristine topography of your yard — boo!

The good news is that if it was a lawn disease that killed off your grass, it’s probably long gone by now, but stay vigilant. If you notice another flare-up elsewhere, you’ll need to identify and treat it as soon as possible.

If animals are the problem, it’s best to keep them off your lawn from here on out, and if foot traffic is the issue, you should consider an alternative path.

Should there be no other way to navigate your yard, why not invest in some stepping stones, so you can get from A to B without disturbing your lawn?

Alternatively, you may need to overseed with a more robust species of grass that can handle the heavy foot traffic, which brings me to my next point.

Soft Grass

They say to leave only footprints when you’re in the wild, but even footprints can be damaging to our own yards. Some species of grass are tougher than others; it’s just the way of things.

Softer grass doesn’t cope well with foot traffic, and once dead, the earth will erode and sink, so tread lightly, or better yet, don’t tread on it at all.

Animals And Insects

Burrowing animals, such as groundhogs, rats, and moles, are another reason your lawn may have taken on a rather rough complexion as of late. Ants pose a problem too, as they will often form large mounds as a base of operations.

Ants aren’t necessarily a threat to the health of your lawn. In fact, they can be a great deterrent for other more vicious pests, but their structures are unsightly and cause just as much a practical dilemma as any other form of lawn bump or depression.

I’d say an animal or insect intruder is probably the most difficult scenario to deal with, as you’ll have to find a way of relocating or repelling the squatter before you can flatten your yard back out again.

Buried Objects

Large pieces of debris hidden by surrounding grass or buried beneath the surface of your lawn will also lead to a bumpy surface, but once the object in question is removed, fixing it will be a total cakewalk.

Tree Roots

The last cause of the dreaded lawn bump is a wayward tree root, and this one is a doozy! Tree roots may take things pretty slowly, but they move with enough force to buckle asphalt, so needless to say, over time, their underground activity can cause bumps to appear in your lawn.

You’ll normally be able to tell if this is the case if your bump is situated near the base of a tree, but as tree roots venture far beyond the canopy diameter, it is possible for root lumps to appear a fair distance from the tree itself.

Unfortunately, besides raising the rest of your lawn to the same level as a bump, you’ll have to take pretty drastic measures to solve this issue (but more on that in just a sec).

Lawn Levelling – The Tools of the Trade

Now let’s take a look at the equipment you’re going to need to smooth out your turbulent lawn. I have a few personal favorites, but I’ll list all your options, so you can decide for yourself which will be most useful to you.

  • A hand rake – Full-sized rakes are great and all, but sometimes you need to tackle smaller areas with accuracy, which is where the trusty hand rake comes in.
  • A landscape rake – Landscape rakes are used for spreading leveling materials over a wide area.
  • A leaf rake – If you don’t want to fork out for a landscape rake, a leaf rake is a fitting substitute, but it will make the task at hand more difficult.
  • A leveling rake – This is my go-to cure for a bumpy lawn. They’re used by greenskeepers to maintain the pristine playability of golf courses. Not only do they distribute leveling materials evenly in record time, they smooth out any clumps and filter out rocks.
  • A push broom – In the absence of a leveling rake, push brooms are precisely the tool you need to work a topdressing into the grass and down to the soil surface.
  • A wheelbarrow – Whatever leveling tool you spring for, you’ll need a decent wheelbarrow to mix and haul your leveling materials.
  • A shovel – For distributing topdressings. 
  • An edger – This will help you straighten up any unkempt lawn edges.
  • A lawn roller – The lawn roller is another favorite of mine. You’ll be using this to level out mild bumps in your lawn.
How to Level Your Bumpy Lawn

How To Level Your Bumpy Lawn

Right then, you’re almost ready to get out there and make your stand against your craterous lawn. There’s just one final step…assessing the severity of the blemishes. The level of deformation will determine what methods, tools, and materials you’ll need to use.

If you’re only dealing with a few bumps, depressions, and gentle unevenness, all you’ll need is an affordable spreading tool (possibly even just a hand rake), some topdressing, and some grass seed.

On the other hand, if your lawn looks like you’ve been keeping a pride of lions in your yard, you may be faced with a complete regrade.

How To Level Tree Root Bumps

If the bumps caused by tree roots are reasonably close to the tree, it might be best to reach a compromise with your leafy friend and implement or expand a mulch bed around it. The mulch will cover the root lump, forming a smooth gradient from the tree down to your grass.

Unfortunately, this means you’ll be sacrificing a bit of lawn space, but at least you’ll be able to cut the remaining grass without worrying about crashing into roots and blunting your mower’s blades.

It saddens me to say, but the only alternative is to pick a side. Do you want a nice, level lawn, or do you want the tree? I know, I know…you want both, right? I’ve been in a similar situation before, but I’m afraid it has to be one or the other.

If you picked option A: a nice even lawn, fire up your chainsaw, because that tree has to come down. Once you’ve cut it down to size, it’s time to deal with those meddling surface roots by grinding them away.

I’d recommend using something along the lines of this DEWALT grinder fitted with a masonry grinding wheel. Those surface roots can be some tough customers, but this setup will make short work of them.

My advice is to grind them as deep below lawn level as possible in order to give your grass the best chance of thriving when you fill in the void with top dressing and overseed.

No one enjoys harming trees, but the silver linings here are that a small patch of lawn is easier and cheaper to maintain than a tree, and now you have years of firewood for free.

Just make sure you don’t make the same mistake I made when cutting down trees in my backyard. I cut so much down that I couldn’t fit the refuse in my wood store, and two-thirds of it rotted out when the wet seasons came around — I lost a lot of good wood that year.

You could also fill that tree-shaped void in your yard and soul simply by planting a new one. The problem with your current tree is that it roots invasively, meaning that its roots are shallow and fast-growing, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

There are plenty of species out there that exhibit non-invasive tendencies. The Japanese Maple, for instance, is a very lawn-friendly tree, as are Dwarf Korean Lilacs (bees go bananas for this species), Magnolia trees, Crabapple trees, and Kousa Dogwood trees.

Tree roots lawn bumps

How To Level Small Bumps And Depressions

Small Bumps

I’m happy to report that if you’re only dealing with a few small bumps, you may be able to patch things up without any equipment at all. The trick is to bide your time until the soil is at its softest, which is usually around springtime.

When that earth is good and spongy, simply don your finest garden boots, and start stepping on the bumps. Try this for a couple of days. With any luck, they’ll stay down, but if they seem to be popping back up, it’s time to bring out the big guns.

In this scenario, I’d fill a lawn roller to roughly ⅓ of its capacity, and drag it over the problem areas. Should you be dealing with some particularly stubborn bumps that still don’t want to stay down, increase the weight of the roller with some extra water and try again.

Remember not to go too heavy, though, as over compacting the earth will cause more problems than it solves.

Small Depressions

So, that’s small bumps covered, but what about mild depressions? Well, the easiest, not to mention the least invasive, way of dealing with small dips in your lawn is to apply some quality topdressing.

Let’s take a look at the topdressing process…

Step 1. Cut your grass to the shortest possible level without causing it any harm. Acceptable lengths tend to change from season to season, so do a little research on your grass species before firing up the lawn mower.

Step 2. Use a garden rake or a dethatcher to dethatch your lawn. Thatch is the mixture of dead and living organic matter that accumulates around the base of grass blades. If left in place, it will prevent the topdressing from filtering through to the soil surface.

Step 3. Use your trusty wheelbarrow to mix and transport your topdressing.

Step 4.  Apply some of your topdressing mixture to the depressions with your shovel. It doesn’t have to be neat, as you’re going to tidy things up with your leveling tools after the fact.

Step 5. Using one of the rakes I mentioned in the Tools of the Trade segment of the article, spread the top dressing out evenly. You should be aiming for a rise of no more than 0.5 inches. Anything more may smother and kill your grass.

Step 6.  At this stage, the topdressing should be just about evenly spread, but we still need to work it deep into the grass using a push brush or a leveling rake. You’ll know you’re done when you can barely make out the topdressing mixture through your grass.

Step 7. Give the recessed zones a light watering. The moisture will make the topdressing a little more habitable and reinforce your grass.

Step 8. Keep a close eye on proceedings. You may need to repeat the process a couple more times to get your lawn perfectly level.

Just remember to give the grass in your low zones a chance to recover from the strain of the first topdressing application before you sprinkle on another.

What Sort Of Topdressing Is Best For Leveling Lawns?

There are three types of topdressing, each with its own benefits. 100% sand topdressings are the quickest for leveling. Sand has excellent stability and binds well with the clay content in soils. 

It’s also fantastic for drainage, as it allows the majority of water to pass straight through; however, this can lead to a dearth of accessible moisture for your grass.

Furthermore, sand offers nothing in the way of nutrition or microbial benefits, which can impart even more unnecessary pressure on your lawn.

Then there are soil/sand concoctions. These topdressings can be custom mixed, but there should always be more sand than soil — we’re talking roughly a 30/70 split.

The solid content makes for a much more lawn-friendly leveler, but if you really want to show your grass babies some love, go for a 3-way compost/soil/sand mix.

Compost stabilizes soil structure and introduces tons of nutrients for your grass to soak up in order to form a healthy and robust lawn. I recommend a ratio of…

  • 6 parts sand.
  • 3 parts soil
  • And 1 part compost

How To Level Bumps And Depressions Caused By Digging And Burrowing Animals

Digging Animals

If your fluffy friend has been searching for treasure in your yard, don’t be too hard on them, they’re just doing what comes naturally to them, besides, it’s a super easy fix.

If the disturbed earth is still hanging around, scoop as much of it up as you can, refill the holes, and pack the earth down.

This has happened to me before with my cat, believe it or not. I found that you’ll never be able to truly level the holes with the soil you can regather, so if you’ve got a friend that’s getting rid of some topsoil, ask them for a shovel or two’s worth.

Use it to top up the depressions, and, if the holes were small enough, your existing grass will patch the bare spot up.

If your dog is more wolf than dog, with a big old pair of front paws, I’m assuming you’ve got some slightly bigger holes to fill. You can follow the small hole steps, but it’s unlikely that your grass will self-seed over the bare spots, so you’ll need to overseed.

It’s best to look for grass that’s the same or similar to the established species, otherwise, your lawn can end up looking a little like a patchwork quilt.

Once you’ve filled the hole with any disturbed soil you can find as well as any topsoil to bring it to level, pack it down a little, then use your hand rake to fluff about ½” – 1” of the surface.

Sprinkle your grass seed over the bare spot, rake again to spread and submerge the seeds, then water them.

New grass is incredibly thirsty, so unless there’s some rain forecast, it should be watered every day. It’s best to water early in the morning to prevent stagnation.

Burrowing Animals

Seeing as they’re actually living in your yard, burrowing animals poses something of a conundrum. We have to find some way of urging them to move on before we take action on the holes and bumps they’ve created.

I’m a big proponent of dealing with animal intruders humanely, so if you’ve got some form of rodent squatter on your hands, I’d recommend using something like this CaptSure humane trap.

After baiting the animal into the trap, release it in a suitable area at least 1 mile away for moles, and 2-3 miles away for mice or rats. 

It’s harder for humans to empathize with ants than fluffy animals, but be that as it may, they’re living beings, so I’d urge you to try a humane deterrent first.

Ants hate strong-smelling things like citrus, paprika, chili pepper, coffee grounds, and cloves, so place some of them either around or inside their mound.

Alternatively, you can make a homemade ant spray out of pepper and water. It won’t harm them, but they will hate it enough to figure out that they’re best off elsewhere.

Only if these humane methods fail should you consider a toxic solution. Ortho Home Defense Insect Killer for Indoor & Perimeter2 is the most effective insecticide on the market and is guaranteed to solve your ant farm issue in a single treatment. It’s safe for your grass as well — phew!

As soon as your unwanted guest has vacated the premises, just…

Step 1. Cave in their burrows with your boots, a shovel, or a lawn roller.

Step 2. Add topsoil if necessary.

Step 3. Then, finally, overseed if the scarring is widespread.

How To Level Depressions Caused By Heavy Traffic And Dog Urine

If you catch urine spots before the grass completely dies, leaving bare earth behind, you can use something like Scotts EZ Seed Dog Spot Repair to revitalize the problem areas.

However, if the grass is gone, and you’ve already seen a fair amount of erosion, you’ll need to…

Step 1. Bring the depressions to level using topsoil or a quality topdressing.

Step 2. Sprinkle some hardy grass seed over the bare spot.

Step 3. Rake the area to sow the seeds.

Step 4. Water lightly every morning for the first week or so. Within 10 days, you should see significant sprouting.

How To Level Moderately Sized Bumps And Unevenness

If your lawn’s looking a little moonly as of late, with large depressions and bumps measuring around 1-inch, topdressing can help, but being that you have to apply it in ½” increments, the leveling process could take a while.

In my experience, you’re much better off doing a bit of lawn surgery by removing the sod (if it’s still alive), investigating the underlying issue, compressing or refilling the problem area with fresh soil, then relaying the sod.

Pro Tip – I’d recommend waiting for some dry weather to give this a go, as saturated earth can be difficult to manage.

Step 1. Lifting the sod can be tricky if you’re working on a large area. Rather than trying to remove it all as one piece, it helps to split the area into 18” strips. Smaller sections are far easier to manage without damaging the grass.

Be as gentle as possible when lifting the roots out of the earth — you need them intact. After removing a whole strip of sod, roll it up like a carpet, and store it in a shaded area of your garden. This will help retain moisture and keep the grassy healthy and green.

Step 2. Grab your magnifying glass, because we’re about to go full Sherlock Holmes on your yard. Examine the earth beneath the sod, digging a little deeper if you have to.

Any underlying issues, such as buried objects or old garden features, will make themselves apparent. Remove them if you can.

Step 3. If you’re leveling a depression, add topsoil until it appears that it will be level with the rest of your yard once the sod is replaced. You may need more than you think to compensate for settling over time.

If you’re dealing with bumps, try and push the earth back down into place with your boot or a lawn roller.

Step 4. Sprinkle a little water on the topsoil as you’re filling any depressions. The water will fast-track the settling process by eliminating air pockets.

Step 5. Replace your sod, or if it’s looking a little worse for wear, you may need to do a full sod transplant with some fresh, healthy turf. Reseeding is another option.

Step 6. Water your sod or seeds deeply.

How To Level Large Bumps, Depressions, And Severely Uneven Lawns 

It doesn’t matter if those “molehills” are starting to look more like mountains, and those depressions more like the Grand Canyon; you can still use the sod removal method to bring some equilibrium to your yard.

It’s only if you’re dealing with a severely uneven lawn that we’ll have to kick things up a notch. In this scenario, I’m sorry to say that you may have to say goodbye to your lawn altogether, as a full regrade is the only option.

Regrading is the process of leveling a medium-to-large area of ground in order to create a more suitable surface for whatever you want to furnish your garden with, be it plants, trees, patios, steps, pools, etc. You can think of it as a complete refresh!

Lawn Care

How To Completely Regrade A Yard

Before we get started with the step-by-step regrading guide, let’s hammer out the ground rules (pun definitely intended).

The golden rule of a re-grade is that your lawn should never, ever slope towards your house. If that’s the case, all the moisture from rainfall will trickle through the earth towards your home, and weaken its foundations, leaving you not just with a wonky lawn, but a wonky house too.

Your lawn should slope away from your house at a minimum rate of 2–3 inches per 10 feet of land. On the other end of the spectrum, the most severe slope away from your home that’s still considered stable is 12 inches per 4 feet of land.

Otherwise, you should consider building a retaining wall, nothing too large, but robust enough to prevent further sinking miniature landslides. 

Alternatively, you can level the slope out a bit with some ground cover or stabilize it with some clumping, ornamental grass.

But that’s enough chit-chat…let’s get down to business, shall we?

Step 1. Your first port of call should be to establish a level line, and you can do so by driving stakes into your yard at both ends of the slope, then tying a nylon string between them at the level you need for optimal drainage. A transit level makes things a lot easier, but they cost a pretty penny.

Step 2. Now you have your level line as a guide, you can get digging. Remove the topsoil and store it in a pile for redistribution at a later date. Start shifting the subsoil from steep to low areas.

Working with a shovel facilitates greater accuracy, but for extensive grading, doing everything by hand isn’t feasible, so don’t hesitate to hire some heavier machinery such as a small digger. Better yet, if money’s no object, hire a contractor to regrade for you.

Step 3. Once you’ve attained roughly the gradient you’re after, spread 2 inches of topsoil over the whole area, then till it 2 inches deep into the surface of the subsoil. This mixed layer encourages more efficient drainage, stabilizing the landscape.

Step 4. Spread your remaining topsoil evenly over your new gradient. This layer should be a minimum of 4 inches deep.

Step 5. Roll out your sod or sow your seeds, and voilà; you’re done! The aim is to get the finished product perfectly level with established fixtures and grass. As sod is a thick layer in of itself, you should leave an inch between your final grade and these established levels.

Caring For Grass After A Re-Grade

After you’ve laid out your new sod, give it a once-over with a lawn roller to remove air pockets and encourage good root-to-earth contact.

For both sod and seed, water frequently to make the grass feel at home in their new environment, and some fertilizer wouldn’t go amiss either. Avoid stepping on the new sod or seed, at least for a couple of weeks, and keep pets indoors.

What Season Is Best For Leveling?

I know you probably just want to get the job done already, so you can start enjoying rather than lamenting your yard, but when it comes to leveling, timing is everything.

Spring is generally considered the best time to make minor alterations to lawn levels, as the moisture in the soil creates a hospitable environment for grass to reestablish itself.

That said, excess moisture can make some projects more difficult, as the soft earth is more likely to form new bumps in the wake of heavy foot traffic.

In light of this, you may consider breaking ground in mid-to-late spring, or perhaps even waiting until fall when the ground is still fertile but not quite as saturated.

If you have a severe drainage issue in your yard, you can go ahead and ignore everything I just said, and get to work immediately. The sooner you solve the problem, the better.

Summing Up

I hope you found all the yard leveling information you needed here today; we’ve certainly covered some serious ground!

Unfortunately, there’s no way to completely prevent bumps from reappearing from time to time, but if we’re vigilant and catch them early, we can remedy the situation before it gets any worse. It’s time to reclaim control of your yard!