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How To Fix a Bumpy Lawn

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Even some of the best-cared-for lawns can become bumpy and lumpy. Making them more difficult to cut and care for and less enjoyable to use. 

Uneven lawns can be caused by freezing and thawing, lawn equipment and mowing patterns, natural settling, lawn use (children and pets), pests (ants, worms, burrowing rodents), and more. Leveling your lawn requires some planning and some physical effort. It is usually a fairly inexpensive project.

Although a relatively simple process, knowing what to do, how, and when to fix a bumpy lawn makes your efforts more successful and satisfying.

Our suggestions will help get your lawn back to looking its best.

top view man worker cutting grass with lawn mower How To Fix a Bumpy Lawn
Bumpy lawn

How a Lawn Gets Bumpy

Lawns will become bumpy over time–naturally. Lumpy lawns are made worse by other forces. Knowing the cause makes it easier to fix and prevent.

  • Heavy Lawn Equipment. Riding mowers are convenient. They are also heavy and can leave ruts and torn lumpy sod. Particularly if used on wet soggy grass.
  • Bad Mowing Habits. Compounding heavy equipment damage is mowing the lawn the same way every time. Ruts can eventually appear along with high and low spots.
  • Spring Thaw. Frost expands soil by up to 10%. (A good example is frost heaves on roadways.) When the ground thaws every spring it is not a uniform process. More sun, quicker thawing. Bumpier lawn.
  • Constant Use. Parties, pets, and kids–even constant traffic walking on one section can cause low spots.
  • Invaders. All manner of wildlife, insects, and pests can move into your lawn. Moles dig holes and leave piles of dirt. Ants dig holes and leave smaller piles of dirt. Giant earthworms can turn your lawn into a lumpy mess.
  • Natural Settling. Soil settles naturally. Especially after being disturbed. New home construction, landscaping, and utility construction are examples of disturbed soil that will eventually settle–leaving high and low spots.
  • Underground Wood. Roots, stumps, and buried wood all rot and collapse. Topsoil will sink to fill the void. Leaving a dip in your lawn.
  • Water Problems. There is not much you can do to prevent a big rainstorm. But a leaking irrigation pipe or broken spray heads that do not extend fully can move a lot of your lawn to a different location in a hurry.

Note: My favorite ant killer. Mix 2 tablespoons Borax, 1/2 cup icing sugar, and up to 2 cups of water. Mix well. Spray into ant holes or onto hills. Done. Safe for birds, pets, and kids. 

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Molehills in the lawn

Note: Before leveling your lawn, all of these piles of dirt need to be removed and the causes have to be eliminated. Otherwise, your work on the lawn will be wasted.

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Ant hills in a lawn

How To Make a Lawn Level

Start by eliminating as many of the causes as possible. You can’t do much about the weight of your equipment or your weight walking behind the mower. You can change how you mow and when you mow. Make sure the lawn is dry and you vary mowing patterns.

No point in having a lawn you don’t use. Just try to vary party and play locations. If everyone walks the same path regularly, consider installing a sidewalk.

If you know of decomposing stumps or roots, dig them out, fill the resulting hole, and replace the sod or reseed.

Top Dressing

Top dressing is the preferred method of leveling a lawn if the dips and bumps are an inch or less. 

  1. Mow the grass as short as possible without scalping sections. Remove all of the clippings.
  2. Dethatch the lawn. Thatch is the layer of decomposing material on the ground at the base of grass stalks. It is spongy, so adding dirt on top of it is not really helpful. Use a dethatching rake or an electric or gas-powered dethatcher. (Can usually be rented in 4-hour increments.) See How Often Should I Dethatch My Lawn?
  3. Aerate the lawn. Particularly clay soil. Aeration loosens the soil and allows water, fertilizer, and oxygen better access to the grass roots.

Top dressing options include topsoil, finished compost, or a 50/50 mixture of topsoil and compost. If your soil is heavy clay, add up to 30% sand to the mixture. You can also buy premixed top dressing if you prefer or don’t have the ingredients.

      4. Distribute your top dressing into the low spots that need to be built up.

      5. Rake it out level. Then use a shop push broom to work the mixture into the grass. Do not apply more than half an inch at a time. Too much will cover the grass and kill it. Grass blades should be poking through the top dressing. If you need more than half an inch to level the lawn you will have to add soil in layers every two or three weeks.

      6. Water the lawn to help the new topsoil settle onto the existing dirt

      7. Check your work after a couple of weeks. If you still see dips, repeat the process until it’s level.

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Top dressing as required

Sod Removal Lawn Leveling

For lawns that need to be raised or lowered more than an inch, consider removing the sod, adding or removing the required amount of soil, and replacing the sod.

  1. Mow the grass as short as possible without scalping sections. Remove all the clippings.
  2. Cut the sod at 2 – 3 inches deep around the perimeter of the area. Cut into strips if it is too large to remove in one piece. (Sod is heavy.)
  3. With a flat-bladed shovel, loosen the sod. Roll it up to preserve moisture and store it in the shade.
  4. Add or remove soil as required. (Use the same top dressing mixture as above.) If adding soil, water in between layers to eliminate air and tamp it down. (If the new soil is not packed, you will end up with a low spot.) When you think you have enough, add another 1/4″. Regardless of how you pack and water it will still settle. 
  5. Sprinkle fertilizer granules onto the new soil and replace the sod. Pack it gently in place.
  6. Water well. 

Note: If the sod is not worth replacing, get new sod, or seed the area. Do not try to remove sod after a rain of watering the lawn. It will likely fall apart when you try to remove it.

Leveling severely Bumpy Lawns

Some lawns are too far gone for spot leveling. They require a complete re-grading, new topsoil, sod, or seeding. For a proper job, you have to remove all of the existing sod and rebuild your yard and lawn.

At this point, you may want to call a landscaping company for both advice and a quote.

What Not To Do To Level a Lawn

Logic suggests that running a heavy roller over your lawn will flatten the high spots. In some instances this is correct. Don’t do it. Heavy lawn rollers also compact the soil. More compaction invariably equals less grass growth. If the soil becomes compacted enough, you are left with a bald spot because nothing can root in it.

Note: Lawn rollers are used regularly on some turf–such as golf courses. They have full-time lawn care employees to make sure it looks like a tabletop.

Maintaining a Level Lawn

Although bumpy yards are caused by many things outside your control, you can slow the process down using normal lawn care.

  • Keep your lawn thick and healthy.
  • Aerate yearly.  Aeration loosens the soil helping to reduce compaction. Oxygen, water, and fertilizer can penetrate deeper and keep roots healthier.
  • Fertilize regularly. Ideally right after aeration.
  • Overseed regularly to keep turf thick. Don’t wait for bald spots to appear.

The appearance of lumps and bumps is natural. Quite often in early spring after the frost and/or rains. It is easier to spot and repair new bumps at that time.