If there has ever been a time to remain frugal, it’s now. With the global pandemic having affected the worldwide economy, more and more people are looking for ways to save money. One of the problems is that, as spring rolls in, homeowners want to create a beautiful, well-maintained outdoor space at a fraction of the cost. But some of the equipment you might need, such as a digger, isn’t cheap to hire. So, how do you level a garden without a digger? Is it possible? When you put your mind to it and are prepared to be a little innovative, anything is possible. If you are looking to level your garden without the aid of a digger, you can do this with tools that you may already have in your garden and a little bit of hard graft. As with anything, there is a process that you should follow to achieve the best results, but we’ve got you covered. In this guide, we will be talking you through exactly what you need to do. So, let’s get started!
Why Should You Level Your Garden?
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that one of the main reasons you might level out your garden is to boost its aesthetic appeal. An uneven garden doesn’t look terribly pleasing to the eye but there are other benefits to levelling your garden that you may not have thought about:
- Maintaining your garden becomes much easier without hills or slopes.
- When the grass is flat, it is far easier for it to soak up moisture and important nutrients that will help with its growth.
- If your home has a sloped or uneven lawn, you may find that space is limited.
- If you have children, a flat garden gives them more space to play without hazards.
- You will have more areas to place seating and relax.
Do I Need Special Tools To Level My Garden?
When you come to level out your garden, you must be prepared to put in a degree of hard work, but your dedication and effort will pay off and you will be the proud owner of an attractive, level garden.
What You Need
- String and stakes
- Spirit level
- A shovel
- A rake
- A soil compactor; this only applies if you have a larger garden
- A wheelbarrow
- Protective gardening attire such as gloves and gardening shoes
- Grass seed or turf (optional)
Step 1 – Plan
Before you begin the physical work of levelling your garden, it’s crucial to have a clear plan in place. Start by taking a good look at the area you intend to level. Consider what you want the final outcome to be: Are you preparing the ground for a new lawn, a flower bed, or perhaps a patio or pathway? Understanding your end goal will influence how you approach the levelling process.
Step 2: Clear the Area
With your plan in place, it’s time to prepare the site. Begin by clearing away any obstacles that could interfere with the levelling process:
- Remove Plants and Debris: Start by taking out any unwanted plants, weeds, rocks, or garden debris. If there are plants you wish to keep, carefully dig them up and set them aside for replanting later.
- Cut and Remove Turf: If you’re working on an area that’s currently grassed, you’ll need to remove the turf. Use a spade or a turf cutter to slice under the grass, then roll it up or cut it into sections to be lifted away. This step is essential for getting down to the bare soil, which you’ll need to manipulate to achieve a level surface.
Step 3: Measure and Mark
Once your garden area is cleared, the next step is to measure and mark the uneven spots. This is where you’ll establish the parameters for levelling:
- Set Up Your String Line: Place stakes at the corners of the area you’re levelling. Tie a string around the stakes at the height where you want the ground level to be. This string will act as your guide to identify which parts of the garden are too high or too low.
- Identify and Mark Uneven Areas: Walk around the area and observe the string line. Where the ground is higher than the string, you’ll need to remove soil. Where it’s lower, you’ll need to add soil.
Take your time with measuring, marking, and adjusting the soil levels to ensure the best possible foundation for your garden projects.
Step 4 – Adjust the Soil Levels
With the uneven areas marked, it’s time to start the levelling process:
- Move Soil from High to Low Spots: Using a shovel, dig soil from the areas you’ve marked as too high and transfer it to the lower areas. Be careful not to over-dig; you want to avoid creating new low spots as you’re trying to fill in the old ones.
- Evenly Distribute the Soil: After you’ve moved the soil to where it’s needed, use a garden rake to spread it out. Rake back and forth across the area to distribute the soil evenly. This will help you get closer to the desired level across the entire garden.
- Check Your Progress: Periodically step back and use your string line to check that the soil is even. It doesn’t have to be perfect at this stage, but you should aim for a rough level that follows the guide string.
Step 5: Tamp Down and Re-measure
After you’ve moved and raked the soil to an approximate level, it’s important to solidify your work:
- Tamp the Soil: Use a tamper or simply walk over the area to press the soil down. This step is essential to remove air pockets and compact the soil, which prevents it from settling unevenly later on.
- Re-measure the Area: Once the soil is tamped down, check the level again using your string line or lumber and level. This is to ensure that the compacting process hasn’t created any new high or low spots. If necessary, add or remove soil and tamp down again until the desired level is achieved.
For larger areas, you might consider renting a lawn roller to ensure an even and firm tamp across the entire space.
Step 6: Add Topsoil
With a firm and level base prepared, it’s time to enrich the planting area:
- Spread Topsoil: Apply a generous layer of topsoil over the area. Topsoil is rich in nutrients and will support healthy plant growth. Ensure that this new layer is spread evenly across the entire area you’re working on.
- Fine-Tune the Level: Use your rake again to smooth out the topsoil. This is your opportunity to make fine adjustments to the level, creating the perfect bed for planting. The rake will also help to break up any clumps in the topsoil, ensuring a smooth, even texture.
- Final Check: After raking, measure the level one last time. The surface should be even with your string line. Any minor discrepancies can be adjusted by adding or removing topsoil and raking again.
Step 8: Maintenance and Planting
With the ground levelled and topsoil in place, you’re now ready to move on to the final touches that will bring your garden to life:
- Settle the Soil with Water: Before planting, water the area thoroughly. This will help the soil to settle and reveal any areas that might need more soil or further levelling. The moisture will also make the environment more welcoming for new plant roots or seeds.
- Planting: If you’re creating a lawn, now is the time to sow grass seed or lay turf. Make sure to follow the instructions specific to the seed or turf type, as some may require light covering with soil or specific watering schedules. For flower beds or vegetable gardens, you can start planting your chosen plants according to their spacing requirements and care needs.
- Begin Construction: If your levelled area is destined for a garden structure like a shed, patio, or pathway, you can now begin construction, confident that the base is firm and level.
- Ongoing Maintenance: After planting or construction, keep an eye on the area. Plants will need regular watering, especially in the early stages of growth. If you’ve sown seeds, protect the area from birds and pests, and ensure the soil remains moist for germination. For construction projects, check the level as you go to avoid any surprises once the structure is in place.
Having a digger may be one of the easiest and fastest ways to level out a garden but if you are looking to save money, then this isn’t a viable option. Doing the job yourself will be much more wallet-friendly and, provided that you are willing to put in a little effort, can be relatively simple.
Garden Doctor Tips
“If you are unsure or are not in the best shape, hire a professional who will do it in no time!”
“If you have a large garden, hire a soil compactor from your local hire station!”
“If you are attempting this on your own, slow and steady wins the race. It is extremely hard work and you do not want to injure yourself!”
“Water the area well for a few days beforehand to soften the area ready for digging – do not overdo it though or it will make things harder!”
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I level my garden cheaply?
If your land only has a few depressions, the fix is easy! Add some fill dirt and level out any low spots. For small areas of depression, use 1/2 inch of garden soil mixed with sand at a ratio of 1:1 in an even layer on top to help the area firm up over time.
What is the easiest way to level ground?
Every gardener knows that it can be difficult to maintain a level garden. Uneven ground is often caused by erosion or high water levels, and many gardeners find themselves struggling with the task of making their garden look great again. Luckily the easiest way to do this is by hiring a professional to do it for you!
What should I use to level my lawn?
A top dressing mix is a mixture of sand, soil and compost that helps fill in the sunken areas of your lawn. Sand has an even weight distribution that doesn’t compact easily while there are nutrients from both the soil and compost which help keep your grass healthy.
Trevor Wright is not just a seasoned horticulturist; he’s the esteemed Garden Doctor. With a BSc in Horticulture and years of hands-on experience in the soil, Trevor has become a trusted mentor for all things gardening. As the founder of Garden Doctor, he’s committed to clarifying the intricacies of gardening, offering straightforward advice that’s rooted in years of practice. His writing is a garden of how-tos, savvy insights, and comprehensive guides that enable individuals to nurture and grow their garden dreams. When he’s not knee-deep in garden beds, Trevor is at his keyboard passing on his green-thumbed wisdom to budding gardeners, ensuring that the legacy of sustainable and joyful gardening blossoms far and wide.