You’re in your backyard trying to balance as you put all your weight on your shovel only to get it 1″ into the ground. Leveling ground is tough work… leveling hard ground can seem like a nearly impossible feat. Here are some ways to make this hard work pass a little faster.
To level hard ground you must identify the type of ground you have and then use a mixture of topsoil and sand to either cover the top of the land to flatten it or soften the surface layer of the ground through the mixing process to and move it to areas that require it.
Leveling hard ground can be a challenge, however there are ways to make it easier on yourself. Doing some research and making a plan before starting your project will save time and money. Fortunately I did a bit of research already that you can read about below.
What Are The Steps To Leveling Your Ground?
- Firstly, whats making your ground hard? Get out your shovel (a pointed digger works best) and dig to find out. It could be the type of soil you have, whats in the soil, recent construction work, or something else. Below you will find common reasons your ground is hard.
- Second, make a plan. Planning how you will accomplish this is certainly the most critical step, don’t underestimate this. Whether you are leveling small sections, only require part of your lawn leveled, or going all out for your whole lawn planning it out is a must. If you do you will most definitely thank yourself later.
- Third, prep yourself and your ground for leveling. Sometimes wetting the ground until it is damp hours before you plan to begin can save you a lot of heartache and picking the right tools is critical in maintaining some of your weekend to relax.
- Lastly, start digging. It will be over with soon. Just keep digging and raking and soon you will have a yard that is ready and waiting for any further projects, or perhaps just to grow grass and enjoy.
You may find yourself prepping to make a garden, if your garden is right next to your house than you need to read here.
These are general guidelines leveling your backyard, but finding out what makes your ground hard or a good plan of attack can be a challenge. There is also a wide array of tools you can use to dig up the dirt and several things to consider. No one wants to set out spending one weekend and no money and actually spend over a month buying and renting the wrong tools for the job. Lets dig a little deeper to make sure that both our weekends and our pockets are safe from a lack of planning or knowledge.
If parts of your yard are falling or caving in making ditches than you may have something else wrong entirely. This article explains what could be causing this and how to avoid it.
What Is Making My Ground Hard?
Knowing why your ground is hard could save you a lot of time. Whether you are leveling your lawn because you are building something on it or just to have a nice flat surface for lawn games or relaxation, it is critically important. The problem of knowing why your ground is hard starts with the type of soil you have. Below are only some of the broad common types of soil and how to identify them.
- Clay soils – heavy, more malleable when wet and very hard when dry. Colors vary so they could be light brown/red or very dark and nearly black.
- Silt soils – retain lots of moisture and generally light, however easily compacted due to anything from foot traffic to construction.
- Loams – mixtures of sand, silt, and clay. Generally it will not be particularly hard, however even in regions where this type of soil is common you may have a particularly large clay deposit or significant compacting.
- Sandy soil – light and often dry due to not retaining moisture for a long period of time.
- Peat soil – lots of organic material and retain moisture well and easy to work.
- Chalky soil – can be light or heavy but often have visible chalky rocks.
These are not the only types of soil, and if you’re having trouble identifying your type of soil from digging a quick hole take a moment to look at this quick resource for types of soil by state created by the Soil Science Society of America. It may be a little in the weeds, but if you are leveling for a garden it also provides a lot of information for how to cultivate your soil for long term results.
A common result of hard lawns that lack the proper nutrients is dying grass, if your wondering why your grass discolors and does not survive than check out this resource to help solve your problem.
Once you know your soil type its time to make a plan of action.
Make Your Plan!
Now that you know what your base is made of lets make a plan based off of what your goal is. If you want a flat lawn to run and play on than this matters less but if you are building a shed on top of a plot, a deck or patio than it is important you have the right base. Remember each job has its different challenges and you don’t want to find yourself in the middle of the project having to spend twice what you were expecting because you didn’t think of it beforehand. If you are digging in a large area you should consider getting your yard marked for utility lines. You do not want to cause costly mistakes from damaging a line, plus most counties will do this for free to avoid this. Further below are some quick references on how to estimate what you will need from materials, tools, to maybe some professional help.
If your lawn has been overgrown and you are developing land that has gone unused for a long time than the grass and other plant matter may be thick. To find out what to do in this circumstance check out the reason that your lawn is thick in first place.
Here are some common reasons for leveling a lawn and some things to consider while you make your plan. For a Garden it is important to consider the water retention and nutrient characteristics of your soil. Here is a terrific resource for quick facts of what you might need for your garden, often times lots of organic material which can be found near the woods, your handy compost pile, or bought to fertilize your ground. For a Building that requires a sturdy base or foundation having sandy, peat, silt, or loam soils can be of concern unless treated properly. Often after leveling, the ground can be even but have a significant amount of air pockets in it. This can be dangerous for a structure and you may find yourself paying for expensive solutions because your deck has begun sinking into the ground, building foundation has cracked, or patio stones are now uneven. These are just examples because each situation is unique.
Picking Your Tools And Materials
Here is a quick and easy guide to identifying the types of tools you will need for the size of project you have if you want to get the project done this weekend and an easy way to estimate square footage.
For small project ranging from 5 to 300 SqFt(about the size of a flower bed to a small shed or pool) the required tools are:
- Tiller(or Power Tiller if you want it done faster)
- Wheelbarrow or Bucket
For large projects greater than 300 SqFt(about half of your lawn or greater) you really want to use some type of power tiller if being done by hand, but you can also consider renting larger machines to move the dirt such as a Mini Excavator or Tractor which can be rented on average for $250 to $500 a day.
Eyeing the area can still be hard, here is a resource that will accurately measure over a large area from the comfort of your home. It will also help you estimate how much soil you might need to bring in if you need it. Remember, once the soil is broken up it may be an optimum time to add in some mix of sand and topsoil to help smooth things out and keep your ground workable in the future. Here is a Square Feet to Cubic Feet Calculator that will do the math for your. Adding a couple inches can make the job all that much easier since your no longer working with only the hard soil you dug up. Picking the right tools is not an exact science. If you have 4 weekends to spend on and off maybe it is not out of the question to just use a tiller, shovel, and wheelbarrow for a backyard to save some money. If you only have one weekend for your whole lawn a mini excavator depending on your area can rent for $300-$600 a day and may be worth it.
Leveling Over Any Distances
You know the tools for working the soil, now lets level the ground. For small areas or if you are going to do small plots at a time using a hand level is cheap and easy. You also may already have one in the garage. For anything greater than 5 ft it may be hard to accurately measure over that long of a distance. Using a 8 ft long 2×4 with a level attached can help. Once you get to the length of half your yard or more you need to level by section or use a long distance level like a water level or laser level so you can accurately measure over those long distances.
Pro, Joe, Or Compromise
Now we come to the real part of the conversation a little close to home…or the pocketbook. If you want to save money and have a bit of time on your hands this can be a perfect project to get you up and working. If you want to spend time with your family on the weekend or really need a job well done to set up for another project than bringing someone in to get this done for you might be the best answer. On average the cost to level a lawn for a homeowner can range from $500 to $5,000 depending on lawn size and grade. The average cost close to $1,900. If you have a large lawn with a steep slope than you will be closer to the upper end, however if you have a small yard with bumps here and holes there your probably closer to the other.